“A moon tattooed on the left hand”, by Rodolphe Barry: in search of Sam Shepard, the real one

A moon tattoo on the left hand

by Rodolphe Barry

Finitude, 322 p., €22

A mythical image halos the memory of Sam Shepard. It’s from the movie The stuff of heroes where the actor plays Chuck Yeager, daredevil test pilot and future astronaut, who has just crashed after breaking the sound barrier. Though he is believed to be dead, he suddenly emerges from a cloud of heat that makes the image vibrate, burnt overalls, helmet in hand. A character exclaims: “That’s a man!” »

A project matured over the past twenty years, Rodolphe Barry’s book strips the legend fixed by the cinema which was an accident in the life of Sam Shepard. He didn’t want to do it and only consented to it so often to bail himself out when he started out, then to feed his horses, his companions in life and back on his farm in Kentucky.

wild mustang

Since adolescence when he read Motel Chronicles, hooked by his style and his universe, Rodolphe Barry is haunted by this intriguing character, annoyed to see him reduced to the magnetism of his tall silhouette, knife-edge face, weathered and tanned, with the steely gaze, that the big screen froze. Sam Shepard, the real one, throughout his vibrant investigation which is as much an intimate journey as a spiritual search, is a bronco. A wild, rebellious and indomitable mustang. “Sam is a magnet, anyone who gets close to him is loaded with shavings of metal. »

Rodolphe Barry restores to him his authentic dimension of celestial poet, prince of darkness, obsessed with the black work of writing. Sam Shepard (1943-2017) was first and foremost an immense writer, hailed by Samuel Beckett, whose laconicism and economy of means were constant sources of inspiration, the greatest American playwright of the XXe century, the most played in the world, author of some fifty plays, some of which have been on the bill without interruption since their creation. All the great actors jostle to interpret it. Sam Shepard was also a screenwriter for Antonioni (Zabriskie Point), Wim Wenders (Paris, Texas), director of two unknown feature films, rock musician, lyricist for Bob Dylan whom he filmed during a memorable tour.

From this feeling of closeness and his penetrating knowledge, nurtured for so long, Rodolphe Barry, a meticulous explorer of his shadowy side, draws a magnificent book, a novel with accents of truth that even suggests an imaginary encounter. It also follows the years of drift with Patti Smith, the mad passion and the happiness that fled with the actress Jessica Lange. In the footsteps of this irreducible, close to nature, who flees the mirages of celebrity, he composes a feverish and poetic work that feeds on his fascination for this solitary who knows so well “fix the dizziness”say the essentials in simple words.

“He is one of those writers who speaks not only to the heart or the mind, but to the spinal cord”feels Rodolphe Barry, himself anxious to recover, by withdrawing, “to discipline at the service of emotion”. Sam Shepard seals his romantic, adventurous, amorous, tumultuous life with mystery. “He assumes the loneliness of one who creates his own rules. » When a journalist ventures to ask him where his originality comes from, the answer fuses: “Drawn from the depths of my confusion. »

“A moon tattooed on the left hand”, by Rodolphe Barry: in search of Sam Shepard, the real one