Conversations With Himself: Sam Shepard’s Narrator Takes Stock of His Life

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Book Review NYT By MOLLY HASKELLFEB. 24, 2017 

THE ONE INSIDE
By Sam Shepard
172 pp. Alfred A. Knopf. $25.95.

“You can’t go home again.” Thomas Wolfe’s famous phrase has long served as a dictum for writers and analysands, but it needs an addendum: You can’t stop trying. Sam Shepard has acknowledged the compulsion — and also the futility — in interviews and dramatized it in plays where protagonists return to the place that’s supposed to take you in, but doesn’t. They come home not for comfort but to settle scores, demand respect, even elicit an acknowledgment of their existence. Family members in extremis shout and holler, hoping, like the father in “Buried Child,” that the sounds they make will signal an affirmative reply to the question, “Are we still in the land of the living?”

This question floats over Shepard’s novella of short-burst imaginings and conversations with himself, as the aging narrator ruefully takes stock. He’s in the land of the living, but only just, hanging on by his fingernails, his memory, his imagination, his never-ending obsession with his father, his blue thermal socks (nicked from a movie set) and his ongoing arguments with women, including a sometime-girlfriend 50 years his junior. She’s called the Blackmail Girl because she’s recording their conversations for a book that will launch her literary career. Maybe. There’s a wry poetic justice in the spectacle of a writer, that scavenger of others’ lives, helplessly furnishing material for another. The voyeur voyeured.

“The One Inside” is less a stand-alone performance than Shepard’s short story collections, but it takes its place as a satisfying chapter in the autobiographical stream of consciousness that flows through his plays. Masculinity and its perils, the primitive drama of sibling and father-son rivalry, are the wellsprings of Shepard’s work. Here the narrator realizes he’s a year older than his father was when he died, but the man still looms over the present. The bomber pilot of World War II figures in hallucinatory portraits, vignettes that are the son’s way of steer-wrestling him to earth. In a scene that reprises Shepard’s striking story “Tiny Man,” the father is not only dead but shrunken, a minuscule corpse in Saran Wrap. In the presence of the mourners, or mobsters, who’ve delivered him, the son reveals the old man’s wizened face.

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Credit Patricia Wall/The New York Times

At times the narrator’s own body seems to be disintegrating. There are thoughts of suicide even as Eros struggles to assert its sway over Thanatos. We are taken back to a primal scene, shocking and vivid, when the young boy walks in on his father making love with Felicity, a girl hardly older than he is. While the father lies silent, he hears her “scream like a trapped rabbit.” Far from retreating in fear, he is fascinated, even turned on. In the aftermath, Felicity still screaming her pleasure, the boardinghouse landlady wonders if there’s a murder being committed, calls the cops. Felicity winds up on the sidewalk, clutching a sheet over her voluptuous front, as his father is hauled off to jail. They’re kicked out of the boardinghouse, marking the boy’s expulsion from innocence if not paradise.

In the son’s acting out of the Oedipal triangle, he will continue to see Felicity, talk to her, have noisy sex with her, wonder about his father’s reaction. He will recapitulate the old man’s fondness for young flesh in his coupling with the Blackmail Girl, enjoy the disapproval of cast and crew when he takes her with him on a set.

Not many Pulitzer Prize-winning playwrights are also heartthrobs, but one of the things that have made Shepard so attractive on the screen is our sense of his reluctance to be there. He has a natural antipathy for the movie star life. Here the narrator wrestles with phony parts, dons costumes in an agony, as if they were medieval torture instruments. He seeks authenticity, even as he creates art and artifice as a métier. He’s a man of the West, of feedlots and ramshackle cabins, of a silence punctuated only by the sound of crickets, but a man of words as well. He’s conflicted, the intellectual versus the Marlboro man, or, as Patti Smith says in her introduction, “he’s a loner who doesn’t want to be alone, grappling with the incubus.”

By implication, the battle with the father comes down to words — or lack of them. Is that great wall of paternal silence the “real” man? Is the fancy-pants artist the wimp? In the end, it’s David slinging volleys of words at the mute Goliath, and we know who won that battle.

A New Documentary Explores The Troubled, Brilliant Life Of Pianist Bill Evans

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Bill Evans was a genius: The jazz world, which can be roiled by factions and jealousies, usually agrees on that. He was a composer and pianist with a light, lyrical touch that was once described as what you might hear at the gates of heaven. But like many geniuses, Evans died too young — in 1980, at the age of just 51, after years of heavy drinking, cocaine, and heroin addiction.

A new documentary by filmmaker Bruce Spiegel helps capture that genius with interviews of musicians, family members, and archival footage of Bill Evans himself.

“When you listen to some of the songs that he plays, some of the intros that he plays, some of the long compositions, they’re emotionally wrought. They just take you to a different place than most normal piano players would go,” Spiegel says. “I got a couple kids; they aren’t really into jazz. But in the course of making the movie I played [Evans] for them, and they say, ‘Jesus, that’s pretty good.’ So I think it’s interesting that people are rediscovering Bill, and part of the reason I’m doing this is because I want people to rediscover Bill. I think he’s a great American artist, and I think more people should listen to him and respect the beauty that he was able to create.”

Spiegel spoke with NPR’s Scott Simon about the eight-year process behind Bill Evans: Time Remembered. Hear more of their conversation at the audio link.

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Jeff Bridges, the Dude, Really Is Laid-Back ~ NYT

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Jeff Bridges is famously laid-back, but the Bagger found him chill to the point of being incommunicative when she met up with him in Manhattan this month — at least at first. Mr. Bridges, whose performance as a Texas Ranger in the modern western “Hell or High Water” landed him an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor this week, had just 15 minutes to spare. After the publicists and assorted handlers (all of them women) left the room, the Bagger made repeated, futile attempts to get Mr. Bridges — who was making coffee with one of those pod machines — talking. But he just sipped from his cup and mumbled a few answers before she decided to launch in outright.

Well, should we start the interview?

You’re the interviewer?

Yeah, it’s me. I’m with The New York Times.

What’s your name again? I’m sorry.

Cara Buckley, hi.

Cara, all right.

I thought, “Wow, he’s really laconic. Just like the Dude” (his fabled character from “The Big Lebowski”). Are you talked-out yet about “Hell or High Water”?

The promotion of movies these days is a lot more than it used to be. “Hell or High Water,” you want to really get people to go see it and support what you’ve done, and all of the hard work that has gone into it. So yeah, there’s kind of a plus and minus thing to it.

In The Times, the reviewer described “Hell or High Water” as an “easygoing thriller.” And I think part of the easygoing-ness is you. It just seems like you’re really relaxed about things. How can that be in this world?

It’s because I’m an actor. It’s all an act. [Laughs]

Are you really tense and wound-up?

I can be. I do have a lot of tension, a lot of fear, and things like that. I would imagine most people do. It seems to me I’m always kind of challenged about being in the moment.

I read that you’ve said you related most to the Dude out of all your characters. Is that still holding true 20 years later?

I don’t know if that’s really accurate. I don’t know if that was a quote from me or not. But, you know, the different parts I play, start with yourself and see what kind of lines up with the character. You might magnify those aspects of yourself that work with the character, or keep those parts of you that don’t match to the curve. With [“Hell or High Water”] a couple of things come to mind. One, my grandfather, Fred Simpson, on my mom’s side, was from Liverpool. He was a terrible teaser. I think my brother [the actor Beau Bridges] inherited that gene, too, because Beau was a great teaser, still is. And that was part of my character. I remember when my brother would tease me and get me crying, and my mother would say, “It’s just because he loves you so much,” you know? That helped me with the stuff I had with Gil Birmingham [his co-star in the film, who plays] my partner who I enjoy working with so much. And then, as in most characters, you think about role models. All of us were so lucky to have Joaquin Jackson be a part of our show [as a consultant]. He died just recently, but he was one of the bad asses, a famous Texas Ranger.

What was it about the Texas Rangers, some of the characteristics you were able to latch onto or discern?

Well, you would think somebody who’s lived a life like Joaquin’s, that he’d be tough. But he was very kind of a sweet; there was a gentle side to him.

People have asked you about Donald Trump and your hopes for his presidency. Do you have any?

What a wild time, huh? Oh my gosh. But one of his best features as far as I’m concerned is that he’s … I guess a less gracious word would be — he’s a hypocrite. You don’t know where he’s going, he changes his mind. Maybe he’ll surprise us. It’s all over the place. So, you know, you’ve got to have high hopes. But it’s kind of a call to action, that’s where I’m looking at it.

Republicans take freedom away — in the name of freedom

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“I love the First Amendment; nobody loves it better than me,” Trump said at CPAC, minutes after again calling the media the enemy of the people. 

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Maybe America has had enough of freedom. By which I actually mean “freedom.”

After all, “freedom” has become an ill-fitting fig leaf for every conceivable Republican policy, even those that are quite transparently freedom-limiting.

Just ask House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), for whom “freedom” is now chiefly about repealing Obamacare.

“Freedom is the ability to buy what you want to fit what you need,” he tweeted this week. “Obamacare is Washington telling you what to buy regardless of your needs.”

At the Conservative Political Action Conference, Vice President Pence echoed this language, promising that the Affordable Care Act would be replaced with something that is instead “built on freedom and individual responsibility.”

Let’s examine such statements for a moment. What would repealing Obamacare mean in practice?

It would mean allowing insurers to deny coverage for preexisting conditions; taking away the tax credits and Medicaid expansions that enabled more than 20 million Americans to newly obtain insurance over the past six years; and, thanks to the elimination of the individual mandate, ultimately causing the exchanges to death-spiral and collapse.

So, in championing the “freedom” that would be unleashed by an Obamacare repeal, Ryan and Pence are really championing the “freedom” for Americans to lose access to any health-care plan.

You know what they say: Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to choose.

At least one politician has explicitly rooted for a decline in the insured rate — because, duh, freedom.

“If the numbers drop, I would say that’s a good thing, because we’ve restored personal liberty in this country, and I’m always for that,” Rep. Michael C. Burgess (R-Tex.) said at CPAC.

Enshrining discrimination against gay and transgender people has likewise been sold as a way of promoting “religious freedom,” at least for anyone who believes Jesus would be unhappy about compliance with public accommodation laws or, say, the Constitution.

Sometimes the freedoms nominally being safeguarded are not individual ones but those of the states. Or so White House press secretary Sean Spicer claimed when explaining why the Trump administration was rescinding Obama-era guidance for schools to allow transgender students to use the bathrooms of their choosing.

Financial deregulation and the repeal of consumer protections have also been puzzlingly marketed as pro-“freedom.”

“Just like Obamacare, Dodd-Frank has left us with fewer choices, higher costs and less freedom,” quoth Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Tex.), chairman of the House Financial Services Committee. “It’s evident that Dodd-Frank has made us less prosperous and less free.”

Franklin Roosevelt once declared that the “four essential human freedoms” were freedom of speech and expression, freedom to worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear. The “freedom to get scammed by debt collectors” must have slipped his mind.

Given the quantity of American heartstrings pulled by the words “free” and “freedom,” declaring one’s commitment to “free markets” has also provided cover for all sorts of non-free-market nonsense. A sitting president ordering private companies where to locate, for instance.

“I’m a big free-trader,” President Trump has declared, while promoting all manner of protectionist measures. “I love the First Amendment; nobody loves it better than me,” he said at CPAC, minutes after again calling the media the enemy of the people.

It is as if Americans are so easily dazzled by invocations of the f-word that merely dropping an f-bomb is supposed to shield any big-government action from criticism.

Republican state legislators have figured this out, too.

In 2011, Florida passed a law muzzling doctors. Physicians could lose their medical licenses for routinely asking their patients about gun ownership, or counseling them on common-sense firearm storage measures, on the dubious grounds that such conversations somehow limited patients’ Second Amendment freedoms.

After years of expensive litigation, last week a court struck down the so-called Docs vs. Glocks law for violating doctors’ rights to free speech.

Meanwhile, across the country, other state legislators have proposed laws that criminalize peaceful protest, a freedom guaranteed by the Constitution, allegedly to protect the rights and freedoms of bystanders.

Alice Neel’s Love of Harlem and the Neighbors She Painted There

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“I love you Harlem,” the American painter Alice Neel wrote in her diary around the end of World War II, and really, she loved everything in it. Neel celebrated Harlem — specifically its ethnically mixed section known as Spanish Harlem or El Barrio — for “your poverty and your loves.” And what Neel eulogized in her diary, she immortalized in oils: street scenes, interiors and, above all, portraits of the men, women and children in a neighborhood far from the suburban Philadelphia of her youth, which the artist adopted as her own.

Little heralded in her lifetime, Neel (1900-1984) has won posthumous acclaim as one of America’s most inventive and peculiar portraitists. Her later paintings, especially, made her sitters strange through thick outlining and unelaborated backgrounds. But behind Neel’s experiments with form were New York lives — of writers and revolutionaries, lovers and petty criminals.

Two dozen of her portraits are on view in “Alice Neel, Uptown,” an affectionate, rooted, and at times achingly nostalgic exhibition at David Zwirner gallery that concentrates on her relationships with fellow Harlemites, most of them black, Latin American or Asian. The show was organized by the writer Hilton Als, who also has written a series of wistful essays for the catalog.

The Zwirner show is one of two important exhibitions of Neel’s work this year. Last month I traveled to the Netherlands to see a major touring exhibition of her paintings, which recently closed at the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague. (It reopens on March 4 at the Fondation Vincent van Gogh in Arles, France.) With more than 70 works, the European retrospective takes in Neel’s entire career, beginning with her earliest portraits, done in Havana, and her paintings from the 1930s, when she lived in Greenwich Village and was employed by the Works Progress Administration. The Village was then the epicenter of bohemian life, and would give rise to Abstract Expressionism, beat poetry and gay liberation. A 1933 painting of the eccentric Joe Gould, in the European retrospective, depicts him as a freak with multiple sex organs; in 1935, she painted the poet Kenneth Fearing, framed by the el train and ghoulish commuters.

But the young Neel hated Greenwich Village. As Mr. Als points out, she considered the neighborhood “honky-tonk” — and so with her lover, the musician José Santiago Negrón, she moved into the first of several railroad apartments in Spanish Harlem, just off Central Park. The Zwirner show begins here, in the 1940s, when her portraits grow tighter and more acute, and her subjects grow more ethnically diverse. Horace R. Cayton, co-author of the groundbreaking sociological study “Black Metropolis,” sits pensively in a portrait from 1949, his skin lit into fulvous brown by sunlight from a single window. The next year Alice Childress, a playwright, sits by the same window, serene and satisfied, in a blue dress whose ruches Neel renders with fat black lines.

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SHERB TALK: IMPOSSIBLE DREAMS – EVEREST AND ERADICATING BLINDNES ~ TONIGHT

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Friday, February 24th. Doors at 7:00pm. Talk at 7:30pm. $10 at the door.

February’s Sherb Talk presenter is ophthalmologist Dr. Geoffery Tabin
Dr. Geoffery Tabin has been preforming thousands of free cataract surgeries in both the Himalayas and Africa. Dr. Tabin will share stories and discuss his project of curing blindness in Nepal and Ethiopia. As an added highlight, he will regale the audience with stories of the origins of bungee jumping and climbing Mount Everest.

About Geoffrey Tabin:

Geoffrey Tabin, M.D. is Professor of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, John E. and Marva M.Warnock Presidential Endowed Chair, and Co-Director of the Division of International Ophthalmology at the University of Utah’s John A. Moran Eye Center. He specializes in cornea, cataract and refractive surgery. Dr. Tabin graduated from Yale College and earned an M.A. in philosophy at Oxford as a Marshall Scholar, followed by an M.D. from Harvard Medical School. Dr. Tabin is committed to providing quality ophthalmic care and education to all the patients he serves. He has traveled the world extensively conducting sight restoring surgeries and training local doctors. In 2009, Dr. Tabin was named an “unsung hero,” by the Dalai Lama for his dedication to eradicating unnecessary world blindness and implementing a model for sustainable ophthalmic care in the developing world. An avid mountaineer, Dr. Tabin was the fourth person in the world to climb the the highest point of all seven continents.

Undivided Attention

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New York mainstay Miya Shoji continues to hone the art of Japanese screen-making.
Shojis, employed as room dividers, window coverings, and doors, have long been popular for the way they filter light while still providing privacy. Their use in Japan dates back to the 12th century, but they weren’t widely introduced in the Western world until the mid-1850s. The quintessential shoji—it means “screen” in Japanese—is made of translucent paper and a single wood frame, bonded together with a rice-based glue.

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Founded in 1951, Miya Shoji uses traditional Japanese furniture-building techniques to craft its signature shoji screens. Carpenters at its 3,000-square-foot facility in Queens fashion lap joints and tenons by hand to fit the pieces together.

Photo: Brian W. Ferry

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Kiitella Project: 2017 Karbon Telemark National Championships Awards

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Vintage – and almost vintage – skis merge with classic Kiitella style (polished steel, stamped pewter, rivets) to form the 2017 Karbon Telemark National Championships awards. “March 2-5, 2017 will prove to be the center of the telemark universe. Both the Freeheel Life Cup and Karbon Telemark National Championships epitomize the peak of telemark competition in telemark freeski and race, and World Telemark Day represents the ultimate celebration of all things telemark.” – US Telemark Ski Association

Patagonia Launches Campaign to Defend Bears Ears from Utah Politicians

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Cedar Mesa Citadel ruins in Bears Ears National Monument. Photo: Bureau of Land Management/Flickr

The company is urging thousands of Utah voters to call the state’s governor in support of the new monument

By: Frederick Reimers ~ OUTSIDE

Patagonia isn’t done in its fight with Utah politicians. The company led the charge to leverage the economic impact of the Outdoor Retailer trade show, which has long been held in Salt Lake City, to try to change the stance of Utah politicians towards public lands in general, and the newly-designated Bears Ears National Monument in particular. That effort failed, and the organizers of the trade show are pulling up stakes in Utah after this summer.

But OR’s departure doesn’t mean that Patagonia is ready to leave Utah politicians alone. This morning they are launching a campaign to flood Utah Governor Gary Herbert’s office with comments in favor of Bears Ears National Monument. The company is using Phone2Action, a site that allows organizations to connect supporters with elected officials. The company will use Facebook and Twitter to share a Phone2Action link which will supply followers with a brief set of talking points and then patch their phone call directly into the governor’s office. Patagonia hopes to generate thousands of calls from Utah citizens with the effort. (Though it also hopes non-Utahns will voice their support as well.)

It’s not just Bears Ears that’s in jeopardy from Utah politicians, notes Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario. On Friday, February 17, just days after speaking with representatives from the Outdoor Industry Association in an attempt to keep OR in Utah, Governor Herbert signed a resolution that urges President Trump to shrink the boundaries of 20-year old Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. “It’s not surprising that he would double down by trying to lift longstanding protections on Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument,” says Marcario. “It sure is disappointing, and not just for the outdoor companies driving an enormous economy in Utah based on protected public lands, but for the 122,000 Utahns whose jobs largely depend on the very places Herbert denigrates.”

Patagonia has been involved with the effort to establish Bears Ears National Monument for four years—in no small part because it includes the popular Indian Creek climbing area. They have donated more than $750,000 to groups working for monument designation, says Patagonia spokesperson Corley Kenna, including the Bears Ears Intertribal Coalition and Friends of Cedar Mesa. It even produced a 2015 film, “Defined by the Line,” as part of the effort.

“We’ve seen that the best way to get the attention of politicians is to show up to their meetings in person, or to call them directly,” says Kenna. “That’s why this platform drives phone calls rather than emails.”