West In East: Sam Shepard In Nova Scotia
From the late 1960s to 1984, the playwright and actor Sam Shepard lived in Nova Scotia, in a place called Hilltop Farms between Advocate and Parrsboro.
It’s not a widely known fact. A few “connect-the-dots” references float around the internet; there’s a couple of pictures of Shepard with a rifle, hunting; there’s a thin thread of mentions by other writers. And some years ago in the musical biography book Girls Like Us, the author figured out that Shepard was the “Coyote” of Joni Mitchell’s 1976 song, pursuing her even though he was, in Mitchell’s words, “Too far from the Bay of Fundy.”
Poet / musician Patti Smith stated in her National Book-Award-Winning memoir Just Kids that she and Shepard performed their play Cowboy Mouth in New York City in 1971. She goes on to say that Shepard then left the production abruptly to go to Nova Scotia.
Of course, Sam Shepard didn’t spend all of those fifteen years or so in the Bluenose province. According to a recent feature documentary, Shepard and Dark, the playwright and actor kept a busy schedule writing and filming while mostly living in San Francisco and New York City. In 1984 he left his wife and son to live with the actress Jessica Lange, which may have precipitated his departure from Nova Scotia. He sold Hilltop Farm to the Canadian actor Megan Follows, best known for her starring roles in the 1980s versions of Anne of Green Gables.
Sam Shepard was hardly an anomaly in landing in Nova Scotia. A raft of world class American artists started showing up in the province in the late 1960s. The East Coast of Canada beckoned to the likes of composer Philip Glass, filmmaker / photographer Robert Frank, screenwriter / novelist Rudy Wurlitzer, and artist / sculptor Richard Serra.
Many of these artists interacted with Nova Scotia’s culture. Glass, for example, was the featured composer and performer for the Scotia Festival of Music, and he also lectured on writing music for motion pictures for the Dalhousie Art Gallery, where I had the pleasure of meeting and introducing him to the audience. Frank taught at NSCAD in 1972 and presented his work at Dalhousie in 1997. Frank hosted an exhibition of his work at the Art College as recently as 2014. Serra accepted an honourary doctorate from the Art College and delivered a fascinating commencement speech which revealed some of his work habits. Wurlitzer has given extensive interviews about his affection for Nova Scotia, detailing some of his connections to Cape Breton’s Buddhist community. He even named one of his characters in his novels ‘Halifax’.
Sam Shepard, on the other hand, seems to have come to the province to get away from everywhere and everything else.Read more