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Patti Smith pens poignant ode to her 'buddy' Sam Shepard

 (Jesse Dittmar / For The Times)
(Jesse Dittmar / For The Times)

The singer, poet and author Patti Smith has written a farewell note to her longtime friend and collaborator Sam Shepard. Published on Tuesday in the New Yorker, the piece comes in the wake of the playwright and actor's death at 73 last week due to complications from ALS. 

Called "My Buddy," the short essay focuses on a friendship that endured nearly six decades and extended across continents as the two artists were making their mark on culture. 

"We knew each other for such a long time," Smith writes. "Our ways could not be defined or dismissed with a few words describing a careless youth. We were friends; good or bad, we were just ourselves. The passing of time did nothing but strengthen that." 

Smith met Shepard in New York when he was drumming for the experimental folk band the Holy Modal Rounders, she wrote in her memoir, "Just Kids." Despite Shepard being married, the pair developed a relationship that culminated in the theatrical work "Cowboy Mouth."

It was at Shepard's urging, in fact, that Smith first toyed with the idea of turning her poetry into musical performance pieces. Although their romantic relationship ended, the two remained close in the decades to follow, which is evident from Smith's words. 

In "My Buddy," Smith writes of Shepard's final moments: "The rain fell when he took his last breath, quietly, just as he would have wished. Sam was a private man. I know something of such men. You have to let them dictate how things go, even to the end. The rain fell, obscuring tears. His children, Jesse, Walker, and Hannah, said goodbye to their father. His sisters Roxanne and Sandy said goodbye to their brother."

Smith adds that when Shepard died, she was far away, "standing in the rain before the sleeping lion of Lucerne, a colossal, noble, stoic lion carved from the rock of a low cliff. The rain fell, obscuring tears."

In that moment, she says, she imagined herself with Shepard in Kentucky. "I pictured Sam’s books lining the shelves, his boots lined against the wall, beneath the window where he would watch the horses grazing by the wooden fence. I pictured myself sitting at the kitchen table, reaching for that tattooed hand."

Smith isn't alone in her respect for Shepard's legacy. In his appreciation, Times theater critic Charles McNulty praised Shepard's body of work. "An outlaw who has become part of the mainstream, Shepard is now ensconced in the theatrical canon, but it is still difficult to find a vocabulary that can precisely account for his theatrical brilliance."

You can read Smith's full reflection on Shepard here.

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