“I don’t think I’ve written about anyone more American than Sam,” says Robert Greenfield, the author of a new biography, True West: Sam Shepard’s Life, Work, and Times, about the Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright. “In so many ways, he’s the iconic figure — the loner, the stranger, the outsider.”

Greenfield has previously written books about everyone from Jerry Garcia and Timothy Leary to Bill Graham and Electronic Frontier Foundation cofounder John Perry Barlow. Even the late Burt Bacharach. Moving on to the theater world might seem like a challenge, but when Greenfield’s agent called to suggest the Sam Shepard project, the veteran rock journalist realized that their worlds had overlapped. Sitting back in his Carmel office, he reflects: “I lived in New York when he was in New York. I lived in London when he was there. And I lived in Los Angeles when he was trying to sell screenplays there.” They also share a music connection: Shepard briefly played drums for underground folkie group The Holy Modal Rounders and worked on a far-out and eventually scrapped screenplay for The Rolling Stones, whose adventures Greenfield chronicled in a pair of books about the British rockers.