Below is the first of a series of archival podcasts which I am calling Digitalized Dialogues. The sound quality is not the best because back in 1988 I was using an old cassette recorder to capture these conversations. But even with the ambient noise in this restaurant where Sam and I were having lunch that day down in Charlottesville, Virginia, I think you’ll enjoy the easy sway of our conversation. There is a kind of relaxed gait to it. We talk about his love of horses during this initial part of this conversation and as I was listening to it for the first time in almost 30 years that is what came to mind: the way a horse’s unhurried haunches lumber along and get you where you want to go. There is a comfort to the lovely to-and-fro of it. We got where we were going.
I had just seen a screening of Far North, a film for which Sam wrote the script and made his cinematic directorial debut. He would make only one other film as a writer/director, Silent Tongue in 1993, which was a western starring River Phoenix, Alan Bates, and Richard Harris. This conversation was part of the interview I was doing with him for a cover story in Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine where I was then Executive Editor. The story later ran in conjunction with Far North‘s opening in September of 1988.
I had a month earlier found out that Shepard was staying at the Chateau Marmont when I was out in LA doing another story for Interview and dropped a note by the Chateau’s front desk telling him I was a friend of Bill Hart who was then the dramaturge at The Public Theatre and a writing mentor of mine. Letting him know I was a friend of Bill was a way of lassoing him into doing this story. Bill had been one of Sam’s first roommates in New York. I knew the deep regard they had for each other. By the time I got back to my hotel across Sunset Boulevard where I was staying, the phone in my room was ringing. It was Sam. “Any friend of Bill is a friend of mine,” he told me. “I just called him. He vouched for you. I never do shit like this – these magazine stories – but I’ll do this one if you’re the one who does it.” And that’s the way it began right out of the gate: abruptly, with no bullshit.
Photographer Herb Ritts and I soon traveled down to Virginia to do the story among Shepard and his horses. Far North is, in fact, a film about a horse and the havoc it causes in an unhappy family. A woman, played by Jessica Lange, goes home to her Minnesota farm when her father, played by Charles Durning, is in an accident caused by a horse even ornerier than he and expects her to punish the horse who caused his hospital stay by shooting him. The horse’s name is Mel.
Sam and I talked more about horses as this lunch began. We talked about his own ornery father. We talked about Jacques Tati. We started out talking about Santa Fe. And then he ordered a shrimp cocktail. No one can order a shrimp cocktail like Sam Shepard.