Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Sam Shepard 1943-2017

[I originally posted this in February of 2010, but I'm reposting it today for sad, if obvious, reasons. And yes, it was self-indulgent when it first ran, and it still is. So sue me. -- S.S.]

In June of 1970 I was getting some extra credits toward my B.A. in a summer theater program at what I usually refer to as An Unidentified College on Long Island. One of the pieces we were doing that month was a tragically avant-garde 1967 one-act called Melodrama Play by the then not-a-household-word Sam Shepard. The work itself, which I barely remember at this point (many drugs were being consumed that summer) concerned a Jaggeresque rock star, his twin brother, an unscrupulous manager and (I think) a murder of some sort. I got cast as the rock star, which is funny on any number of levels, especially considering that I looked like this; Jaggeresque really isn't the word that comes to mind.

Anyway, a song by the show's fictional rock star, entitled "Prisoners Get Out of Your Homemade Beds," figured prominently in the script; Shepard had provided shall we say idiosyncratic lyrics, but the music was apparently up to whoever decided to mount a production. The day we started rehearsals, the director (one of my profs) took me aside and said "Come up with a tune for for this. I've got two hours booked in the college radio station on Thursday, and you'll record it then." Considering I had never written a song in my life (nor have I since) this was rather a daunting challenge, as you can well imagine.

Fortunately, The Who's Live at Leeds album had come out a few weeks earlier, and I had been listening to it obsessively; using that as a template, it turned out to be surprisingly easy to come up with a stupid riff and a moronic three chord instrumental track that sort of fit Shepard's somewhat wayward words. Two of my musician friends from my garage band at home -- including my old pal Allan Weissman, with whom I still toil in The Weasels -- happened to be available, and so, with me doing a woefully inadequate imitation of Pete Townshend on guitar, we eventually found ourselves at the recording facilities of WCWP-FM, bashing out the tune in about as much time as it took to rehearse it once. As I recall, the engineer simply hung a single microphone in the vicinity of the band; there was no overdubbing, obviously. The finished product, however, met with the director's approval, and I wound up yowling to it on stage when we did the show a week or two later.

Cut to: sometime last January. I was reminiscing about all this with another old pal, and he let it drop that years back I had entrusted the original reel-to-reel tape of the song (the only one that ever existed) to him, and that against all the odds he still had it. And still playable, apparently.

So -- at great personal expense (actually, fifty bucks to a good engineer I know), here it is these four decades later, in mp3 form for all to hear. I also found Shepard's lyrics, which I have appended; feel free to sing them in the privacy of your own home, preferably while playing air guitar. You'll notice three strategically placed screams throughout the clip -- those are your cues for the beginning of each verse.

I should add that a version of this track with a vocal by yours truly has survived as well, but it will be available for public audition at approximately the same time that frozen yogurt goes on sale in Hell.

"Prisoners, Get Out of Your Homemade Beds"

Well early one day you got out of bed
And then you decided to go to sleep instead
So early one day you got back in the sack
And you fell fast asleep in your homemade rack
You don't know how you decided this
And all that you know is there's something you missed
But you don't know what and you don't know where
So you just stay put and go nowhere

Oh prisoners get out of your homemade beds
Oh prisoners get out of your homemade beds

Well early one night you got so very uptight
And you said this sleeping it just ain't right
But you couldn't at all decide what to do
But your eyes stayed shut with their homemade glue
But you couldn't hear your own voice speak
And you couldn't walk 'cause your legs were too weak
So you lay in bed crying to yourself
And your life's just out there hanging on the shelf

Oh prisoners get out of your homemade beds
Oh prisoners get out of your homemade beds

And now the night and the day are just the same
And now the light and the dark have no name
And you just lay in bed without no game
You just lay there sleeping without no fame
But when you awaken from your deep deep sleep
That bed will disappear and you won't even weep
You'll walk right outside without no name
You'll walk right outside from where you came

Oh prisoners get of your homemade beds
Oh prisoners get out of your homemade...heads

I must confess, cheesy as the track is, I still kind of dig the blatant steal from The Kinks at the end.


Dave said...

Actually, this is cool stuff.

Dave F.

Anonymous said...

If Simels doesn't anti-up with the proper bribe I'll play on next week's "Lost at Sea" Steve's vocal version of "Prisoners". I witnessed Steve's performance in "Melodrama Play" and it was a lot of fun.

Sam Shepard was also a hell of a great actor.

Captain Al

The Kenosha Kid said...


Possible clue to the name of the unidentified college?

steve simels said...

Ya think?

Jai Guru Dave said...

What I remember from that summer is that Steve was trying to get a tan, because he was playing a Mexican in some (other?) play that he was in. Or was this the same play?

steve simels said...

SUMMER AND SMOKE by Tennessee Williams.

Jai Guru Dave said...

And you were presumably, Smoke??

Anonymous said...

That was the longest 2:34 second song ever. Halfway through the rudimentary, no huevos Who pose, I started drifting off thinking, wait a minute, this song anticipated There Goes Another Love Song by The Outlaws:-)

As far as Sam Shepard goes, when you die, it's the end of your life.

Get well, baby.