Sam Shepard and Patti Smith Write Cowboy Mouth in the Chelsea Hotel

Sam Shepard and Patti Smith Write Cowboy Mouth in the Chelsea Hotel

By this point, Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe had moved out of the Chelsea and were living across the street on Twenty-Third Street in an apartment that gave them more space to pursue their art (he was focusing more on photography, and Smith continued to create visual art and write poetry). She was happy to return to the Chelsea after Sam Shepard began living at the hotel, where they spent hours in his room reading, talking, or just sitting in silence. During this time, Smith wrote two sets of lyrics for songs that Shepard used in his play Mad Dog Blues, and they also began to collaborate on a one-act, Cowboy Mouth. One evening Shepard brought his typewriter to the bed and said, “Let’s write a play.” He proceeded to type, beginning with a description of Smith’s room across the street: “Seedy wallpaper with pictures of cowboys peeling off the wall,” described the stage notes. “Photographs of Hank Williams and Jimmie Rodgers. Stuffed dolls, crucifixes. License plates from Southern states nailed to the wall. Travel poster of Panama. A funky set of drums to one side of the stage. An electric guitar and amplifier on the other side. Rum, beer, white lightning, Sears catalogue.” Shepard introduced his own character, Slim Shadow—“a cat who looks like a coyote, dressed in scruffy red”—and he then gave her the typewriter and said, “You’re on, Patti Lee.” Smith called her character Cavale. “The characters were ourselves,” she recalled, “and we encoded our love, imagination, and indiscretions in Cowboy Mouth.”

From Chapter 25 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore


Chelsea Hotel
222 W 23rd St, New York, NY 10011