True Grit

Christopher Tayler

  • Great Dream of Heaven by Sam Shepard
    Secker, 142 pp, £10.00, November 2002, ISBN 0 436 20594 7

Sam Shepard found his stride in the mid-1970s, and for the next few years there seemed to be few places it couldn’t take him. He had already made a name for himself as an Off-Off-Broadway playwright, and the movie business had been sniffing around him, too. But his earliest plays were deeply rooted in the 1960s – they were feverish, one-draft performance pieces, mostly – and for a long time Shepard had also been hampered by his dreams of becoming a rock star. He played in a band, the Holy Modal Rounders, and his early plays often required their casts to ‘do the frug onstage’. Character, his actors were instructed, should be treated ‘in terms of collage construction or jazz improvisation’; and there was a similar touch of self-conscious experimentalism in Shepard’s space cowboy persona. Bob Dylan, he admiringly observed, ‘has invented himself. He’s made himself up from scratch. That is, from the things he had around him and inside him. Dylan is an invention of his own mind. The point isn’t to figure him out but to take him in.’

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[*] Edited by Matthew Rondane (Cambridge, 352pp., £14.95, May 2002, 0 521 77766 6).