Theatre Genesis playwright and director Anthony Barsha first met Patti Smith when she and Sam Shepard performed Cowboy Mouth on the same bill as Back Bog Beast Bait, which starred James Hall and Shepard’s estranged wife. “It was pretty crazy,” said Hall. “He cast his own wife in a play that was followed by a one-act about his affair with Patti.” Barsha, who directed Back Bog Beast Bait, confirmed that it was a complete debacle—though he acknowledged that Cowboy Mouth itself was quite stunning. “Their chemistry was like Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor,” he said. “It was an excellent performance, Patti and Sam. It was a treat to see. It’s too bad it had to end abruptly.” Cowboy Mouth opened and closed at the American Place Theatre on West Forty-Sixth Street at the end of April 1971. “Patti and Sam’s thinly disguised characters’ relationship was destined to end,” Hall recalled, “just like what really happened between them. Then we found out that Sam had disappeared, and even Patti didn’t know where he went.” Shepard found the emotional strain too much—“like being in an aquarium,” he later said—so he fled to a Holy Modal Rounders college gig in Vermont. Like his character in Cowboy Mouth, Shepard returned to his family and responsibilities; meanwhile, Smith set off on new adventures.
From Chapter 25 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore