Sam Shepard
By: Jason Grote | Categories: HiLo Heroes

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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.

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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.com 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.

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Jason Grote is a playwright, television writer, and librettist. His best-known play is 1001, a deconstruction of the tales of the Arabian Nights. He wrote for season one of Smash, and is currently a writer for Mad Men.