Sam Shepard is a playwright, actor, director, musician and perhaps the biggest Badass
you've never heard of. Let's just start at the beginning.
During his formative years, Shepard worked on a ranch in his hometown. Blue collar themes would figure heavily into his later work, and his genuine cowboy credentials figure heavily into his badass status.
His first brush with the mainstream came once he moved to New York City
during the mid-sixties, when he served as the drummer for the highly eccentric psychedelic folk band Holy Modal Rounders around the time of their third album. The Rounders subsequently appeared in one of Shepard's early plays.
Drumming for a reasonably successful rock band is a career in and of itself for most, but for Shepard, this was barely a hobby. He was highly involved in New York City's off-off-Broadway theatre scene in the 60s and early 70s. His best known plays came during the late 70s and early 80s, at which time he had relocated to San Francisco
. Some of his most notable works of the period are Curse of the Starving Class
, Buried Child
(for which Shepard won a Pulitzer) and True West
. At the same time, he was collaborating with no less than Bob Dylan
, helping him with his film Renaldo and Clara
and co-writing Dylan's song "Brownsville Girl."
His plays are just as awesome as he is. Falling somewhere between Absurdism
and Post Modernism
, plays by Sam Shepard tend to be darkly funny
and somewhat menacing. (Just read a synopsis of Tooth of Crime
or Buried Child
some time.) Also, if a play doesn't deconstruct
the American Dream
at some point, he probably didn't write it.
Did we mention that he's also an actor? He claims to act simply to fund his playwriting career, but if you've ever seen one of his films, you know that he is a damn fine actor for someone who only really dabbles. He was nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of Chuck Yeager in The Right Stuff
. (Think about that — Chuck freakin' Yeager
. And he nailed
it.) You may also recognize him from Black Hawk Down
, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
, or any number of other bit character roles he's taken over the years. (His choices in this regard seem to defy categorization — e.g., he was Dolly Parton
's husband in Steel Magnolias
, like maybe tenth or eleventh in the cast of characters. But that's Sam for ya.)
And of course that's just his professional life; the company he keeps privately is no less awesome. When Shepard first moved to New York, he lived with Charles Mingus Jr. (yes, the son of that
Charles Mingus). He was briefly involved with Punk Rock
legend Patti Smith before shacking up with Jessica Lange (they're still together). The level of talent his productions currently attract is also very high, with a recent play starring Nick Nolte, Sean Penn, Woody Harrelson, and Cheech Marin.
To recap: cowboy, psychedelic rock drummer, playwright extraordinaire, actor (when he feels like it) and lives with one of the most beautiful actresses, ever.
To recap more succintly: Badass
Works by Sam Shepard include:
- Buried Child
- Cowboys #2
- Curse of the Starving Class
- Paris, Texas
- Tooth of Crime: As well as updated rewrite, Tooth of Crime: Second Dance
- True West
Films featuring Sam Shepard include:
Tropes invoked by Sam Shepard:
- Absurdism: Kind of, almost...
- To clarify, his earlier plays were more experimental and were heavily influenced by the Theatre of the Absurd. Later on, his plays took on a more serious, post-modern feel. Still influenced by absurdism, still punctuated by moments of gutbusting hilarity... but not quite Absurdist with a capital A anymore.
- American Dream: The complete decimation of which is par for the course in his plays.
- Badass Bookworm: Yes, he dropped out of college to join a traveling actor troupe, but since then he has taught playwriting and other aspects of theatre at the collegiate level fairly consistently since The Seventies.
- Black Comedy
- Cowboy: Of the "Philosopher Cowboy" type
- Crazy Awesome
- Danger Deadpan: Shepard's best known film role was playing the Trope Maker.
- Immune to Drugs: Shepard was drummer for the first band to ever use the word "psychedelic" in a song. Uh, yeah... he's done his fair share of drugs.
- To give you an idea of just how immune he is, he mentioned once in an interview that his drug of choice in the 60s was methedrine note . A few google searches later and you realize he was a casual user of methamphetamine.
- Incest Is Relative: What better way to illustrate the decay of the nuclear family ideal?
- Keith Richards: Crow from Tooth of Crime is described as looking like a young version.
- Money, Dear Boy: Say he only acts to help fund his plays.
- The Patriarch: As with the American Dream, the role of patriarch is often subverted or deconstructed.
- Dodge, from Buried Child, is a prime example. He's a deconstructed patriarch. He drinks plenty, wields zero power, has not tended to the family farm in years and is actively bullied by the rest of his family.
- The Power of Rock: Tooth of Crime takes place in some vague sci-fi future populated by Badass "markers," which are some combination of rock star, cowboy and gangster. The markers battle each other using this trope... more or less.
- Space Cowboy: Ok, he's not a cowboy in space. But he is a cowboy, and a lot of his plays have a distinct sci-fi feel.
- Tooth of Crime plays this a little more straight. Still not technically "in space," but definitely features rock and roll cowboys in a futuristic setting... kind of...