Friday 29 January 2016

Sam Shepard says in Motel Chronicles that he'd live on a train if someone gave him one. He feels, he says, a heart-breaking hunger for the land out the window. On the train to Dublin I look at fields in the heartless heart of Ireland in January and long to know each one as closely as I know the one out the back where I live. The longing is the thing. For the sense of destination and for the absence of destination, for the slant of trees on open land and the multiple rise of birds on a windy day, for the semi-darkness through grubby windows, the untidiness of the rail-side world, for the rise and fall of hedges and the black outlines of ivy-weighted trees, for the whitened grass and the poached fields and the mysterious razor-fenced small buildings in obscure railway use, for the nothing you've left and the nothing you haven't yet arrived at. Sam Shepard's father liked to live in the desert because he didn't fit with people, he said.

It's hard to read Sam Shepard without seeing his Americanness in your mind's eye, the way he stands, the way his hair goes front to back in one go. Most of the photographs in Motel Chronicles show Sam and a car or a truck or a bus, unsmiling. There's one with his father in which he, the son, echoing the expression on his father's face, is almost smiling. A smile in the desert is worth at least double.

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