November 5, 2009
Writing in 1949, Philip Rahv divided American literature into volatile, rebellious “redskins” and puritan, effete “palefaces.” Although Rahv was dividing the lowbrow from the high, I would assert that, today, our “redskins” are intellectually restless hilobrows, while our “palefaces” are middlebrow: safe, palatable, and familiar. No dramatist personifies the hilobrow redskin like SAM SHEPARD (born 1943). Stage and film actor, screenwriter of Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point, friend of Patti Smith [above, with Shepard in their 1971 play, Cowboy Mouth] and drummer for The Holy Modal Rounders, the Shepard of the late ’60s was the archetypal Western cowboy in downtown New York (though, in a Shepardian twist, he was in fact Midwestern). In the ’70s, Shepard — now living in San Francisco — dreamed up the rural demons of Buried Child (1978), the simulacra-made-real of True West (1980), and the romantic brutality of A Lie of the Mind (1985). These great plays forever stamped our collective unconscious with haunting images of weird Americas old and new.
READ MORE about those born on the cusp between two generations. Sam Shepard was born between the Anti-Anti-Utopians and the Blank Generation.
Each day, HILOBROW pays tribute to one of our favorite high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes on that person’s birthday. Click here for more HiLo Hero shout-outs.