I finally got to read about Sam Shepard. And it ended in disappointment.
I’m sure I’m not alone in collecting tabs and windows on my phone of things I’d like to read and will get to. If the windows get to be a bit much, I email myself the link and keep it in my inbox until I get to it.
Sometimes I get to them right away, especially if they are work related, and sometimes I don’t. The article in The Atlantic entitled, “Sam Shepard saw it all coming,” is what piqued my interest. I’ve long been a fan of Shepard and his work and believe “True West” to be one of the top 20 plays in modern American history. Since the first few paragraphs get into the play, and its impact and possible insight into the tearing apart of the American landscape and how Shepard foreshadowed the current “national crisis,” I thought this just might be worth reading about soon. I left the window open on my phone, and went about the business of either being a newspaper editor or preparing for and/or recovering from being a newspaper editor.
And there it stayed for a while. I’m not sure how long, but it was definitely more than days, and maybe even weeks. Then it was vacation time and that meant freedom to read. As other things filled my time, there the window with half of Shepard’s head on it taunted me and made me question my admiration of his work and need to know this particular writer’s take. As other windows were closed, including the profile of AOC’s chief of staff that had led with the provocative teaser that the Green New Deal was not about the environment, there remained Shepard. I clicked on the links I emailed to myself on topics like the recycling collapse in California, 17 ways to screw up a backdoor IRA, a UC Berkeley report on pension costs for U.S. cities, how Bay Area “refugees” are shaking up Sacramento and a profile on Mitski. Done.
And there remained Shepard. Finally, I clicked and started reading.
The thing about Atlantic writers is that they are very good. They could probably write about grocery baskets and make it a compelling read. “While the new compact cart has its dainty allure, there is a such a pleasure in holding a simple plastic basket in the crook of your arm while perusing the ingredients of that olive and eggplant tapenade. It holds the shape of the old country gently cradling your curated purchases limited by how much weight your arm can hold.” Or something like that.
After reading the piece, it made me realize this particular writer was no longtime fan, but had rather just discovered Shepard because there was a new incarnation of “True West” starring Paul Dano and Ethan Hawke this spring. I’m saying this as an assumption, as the writer could be a longtime fan, but certainly did not appear so — though he did do his research. The piece itself took an Atlantic approach in outlining Shepard’s Janus-faced nature as both a well-known Hollywood actor with big roles and a playwright who took aim at the core of human nature’s dysfunction using the American landscape as a setting. This was used as a precursor to reveal the split of our nation’s conscience that is in full effect today. Well whoopideedoo. As if there is a relatively new split between outcast and insider, country and city. You could make that argument for David Mamet too while you’re at it. Or any other American playwright writing about human nature, discontent, or the closing of the frontier. The writer closed by alluding to the idea that we are now living in a sequel to Shepard’s plays. Please. I would love a new Shepard play with the setting of today, however, I imagine it would have nothing to do with his prior plays and would likely be something completely different. He could make sense of things. But we will never know. What I do know is that it is pretty weak to make that balderdash connection to today’s events for some sort of political commentary.
While keeping that iPhone window open but unread felt disloyal, and the contrived Atlantic article was a complete disappointment bordering on the absurd, ultimately I’m glad I got to it. It made me think that I miss Sam Shepard and the role he played in shaping the American character and how his time and place is in the past, not here and not now. Besides, I received the ultimate satisfaction of closing out the window and fulfilling my self-assigned goal of getting through my reading list. And most know that delightful feeling.
Jon Mays is the editor in chief of the Daily Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Jon on Twitter @jonmays.