Townes van Zandt
January 18, 2006 1:18 PM   Subscribe

Townes van Zandt. In some theaters now is a new documentary about his life called Be Here to Love Me--a life that followed the all-too-typical path of a star that burns too bright: the promise of talent, addiction, and untimely death. (see the trailer here or here). Townes van Zandt was a singer/songwriter, often included in the folk or country genres, whose biggest accomplishment was when Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard took his song Poncho and Lefty to the top of the charts. But even though he never was famous, he has achieved legendary status. Steve Earle once said "Townes Van Zandt is the best songwriter in the whole world and I'll stand on Bob Dylan's coffee table in my cowboy boots and say that."
posted by dios (40 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
posted by 31d1 at 1:29 PM on January 18, 2006

Cool post, thanks.

I don't know much about him, but I do have his rendition of the Stone's "Dead Flowers" - magnificent.
posted by selfnoise at 1:33 PM on January 18, 2006

I saw the film in Marfa and New York. It should be required viewing for every musician. The man was a poet -- I have a feeling he won't be "unknown" for long.
posted by gingembre at 1:35 PM on January 18, 2006

wtf, 31d1?

Townes was great. The documentary, which i saw last year, pulls no punches in laying the blame for his demise on Townes' own habits. It's got lots of footage I didn;t know existed, too.
posted by notsnot at 1:36 PM on January 18, 2006

I got introduced to van Zandt through the serendipitous acquisition of this disk -- highly recommended and, I think, the best overview of his work.

Great post, dios.
posted by docgonzo at 1:40 PM on January 18, 2006

I <3 Townes. Many thanks to musicians like Gillian Welch and Jay Farrar for carrying the torch and introducing him to me.
posted by keswick at 1:41 PM on January 18, 2006

Townes was indeed a great one. Good lookin' out, dios.
posted by jonmc at 1:42 PM on January 18, 2006

Damn, damn, damn. It looks like there's no screening in the Northeast scheduled for anytime soon.

Who is/was the best songwriter is a sterile conversation, but when Townes was at his best, he was quite excellent indeed.
posted by mojohand at 1:42 PM on January 18, 2006

Er, is this van Zandt in any way related to the Van Zandt with the recent album, Get right with the Man that was the subject of all the recent music industry root-kit-on-a-cd brouhaha?
posted by Richard Daly at 1:44 PM on January 18, 2006

We all got holes to fill
And them holes are all that's real
Some fall on you like a storm
Sometimes you dig your own
posted by footnote at 1:45 PM on January 18, 2006

I'm gonna need an unbiased source on that Steve Earle quote
posted by Stynxno at 1:45 PM on January 18, 2006

but I do have his rendition of the Stone's "Dead Flowers" - magnificent.
posted by selfnoise at 3:33 PM CST on January 18

While he is one of the most amazing songwriters, I often love his covers of other writers songs. I have his Dead Flowers as well, and I agree it is magnificient. His cover of Cocaine Blues is great, as well. And Who Do You Love. And all of the Lightnin' Hopkins songs he sang.
posted by dios at 1:47 PM on January 18, 2006

Unbiased but considerably less than authoritative source: I recall reading the Earle quote on the promotional material for one of Townes Van Zandt's CDs; A Far Cry from Dead, if memory serves.
posted by mojohand at 1:52 PM on January 18, 2006

I highly recommend Heartworn Highways, a documentary consisting of footage that some young British film-makers shot of Townes, Guy Clark, a very young Steve Earle and other outlawish country musicians in their homes and studios in 1975.
posted by liam at 1:57 PM on January 18, 2006

thanks for the heads up!
posted by dan g. at 2:27 PM on January 18, 2006

posted by dios at 2:29 PM on January 18, 2006

Thanks MeFi.
posted by basicchannel at 2:34 PM on January 18, 2006

posted by WhiskeyTangoFoxtrot at 2:37 PM on January 18, 2006

Interesting interview with Earle and Townes. (Sorry for not having a better link)
posted by dios at 2:45 PM on January 18, 2006

All of our agreement on Townes is starting to scare me. But yeah, me too. Gone way too young.
posted by BrandonAbell at 2:46 PM on January 18, 2006

Thanks for posting about what I wanted to post, but was too fearful of metafilter users reactions to post (you know the drill). But seriously, I missed the movie, but started listening/playing his stuff after I heard about it, highly reccommended and needed on the blue...
posted by iamck at 2:52 PM on January 18, 2006

I was introduced to Townes when Nanci Griffith went on and on about him.

Thanks dios. Great post.
posted by terrapin at 2:57 PM on January 18, 2006

saw him at mccabes years ago--all cleaned up and ready for primetime--kinda contained, a bit diffident and (unbelievably) sober.

saw him at the cactus in '97. what a beautiful, poetic, operatic, tragic, bathetic, aburd, painful show. he was at the bar between songs, drinking and talking with everyone until he kept falling off of his stool while playing.

when he started telling the same story about life in the asylum again, the opening act had to, literally, drag him off the stage.

footnote pretty much sums it up-- im having serious chills right now just thinking about townes and how moved ive been to hear and sing his songs-- with those words from "to live is to fly"

sorry to rave but i felt comfortable doing that since yall clearly loved him too.
posted by oigocosas at 3:00 PM on January 18, 2006

This is one of my favorite live albums, and also a great introduction to his work. His cover of Who Do You Love is awesome indeed. Heartworn Highways is great, provided you can find it.
posted by mrcircles at 3:23 PM on January 18, 2006

The Austin City Limits tribute to Townes a few years back was one of the best episodes ever, and my introduction to his music. Nice post.
posted by rocket88 at 3:36 PM on January 18, 2006

Live at the Old Quarter is one of my favorite all-time albums, as well, mrcircles. And I get chills listening to it. For one, you get to know the man. You get to hear his humor when he tells jokes. You get to see the light side of him in songs like Fraternity Blues. And then, he starts in on one of his "serious" songs. And the house is quiet. And its just him and his guitar. The simple orchestration and the tenor rasp of his voice. The poeticism. Then he switches it up and sings a fun song, covers someone else, tells another joke, then goes into a touching song like Tecumseh Valley or Tower Song or Waiting Around to Die or She Came and She Touched Me.

It's just a great album, and a perfect paced show.

As an example of a joke in that live set, Townes tells a joke about a cop who sees a drunk stumbling down the street. He says, "Hey, Buddy, you look a little drunk, you ok?." The drunk says, "Man, I sure am glad to see you officer. See, somebody just stole my car." The cop says, "Stole your car? Where was the car when you last saw it?" The guy says, "Right on the end of this key." The cop looks at the key and looks at the drunk and says, "Well, go two blocks down to the Station and report it to the desk sergeant." The drunk says, "Thanks, officer. You been a big help." As the drunk start stumbling towards the station, the cop looks down at the guys pants and says, "Hey buddy, before you go, you better zip up your fly." The guy looks down at his pants and says, "Aw man, they got my girl too."

Now, its ok joke. But to hear it coming from him and then to hear him switch into a song about his sobering experiences in an insane asylum, it just makes the joke all the more unexpected.
posted by dios at 3:50 PM on January 18, 2006

AYE, to "live at the old quarter."

i'd say steer clear of the more "produced" stuff.
posted by oigocosas at 3:54 PM on January 18, 2006

I saw the film a few years ago and it is excellent. Highly recommended.

In fact, there have been a few good documentaries on musicians as of late. I saw a Daniel Johnston one this year that was among the best documentaries I've ever seen.

And yes, dios, Live at the Old Quarter is a terrific album and does have some fine jokes on it as well. ("Bastard stole my girl, too!")

I used to run around in Quake 3 named after one of Townes' songs: My Mother the Mountain. Unfortunately, my clan was called Hoax and Q3 truncated my name to My Mother the Mountain Ho. Heh.
posted by Manhasset at 4:24 PM on January 18, 2006

I discovered Townes a few years ago when I bought a best-of double CD. Colorado Girl is a great song, besting some of the best of J. Cash. Although we all know who's the more popular of the two (see Golden Globes).

Ah, fame is a strange thing.
posted by crazymonk at 4:46 PM on January 18, 2006

[this is good]
posted by Dreamghost at 4:51 PM on January 18, 2006


Right f'in' on.
posted by Mental Wimp at 4:59 PM on January 18, 2006

Terrific post, thanks.
posted by languagehat at 5:06 PM on January 18, 2006

[this is good]

Also, from now on I plan to add the words "and I'll stand on Bob Dylan's coffee table in my cowboy boots and say that," to the end of every opinion I state.
posted by amarynth at 5:24 PM on January 18, 2006

"Poncho and Lefty" is reason enough for worship.

Excellent, Dios.
posted by hackly_fracture at 6:09 PM on January 18, 2006

love the townes.

i tried to see this with a friend at the belcourt in nashville last week. but since they don't up date their web site, and since the nashville papers had ads running for it, i didn't find out that the belcourt theater had only run it for a week , before pulling it (to show a film about gay cowboys eating pudding or something) :(
oh well , i'll see it on dvd then.
posted by nola at 6:22 PM on January 18, 2006


I can totally see your hesitation—I'm usually a snarky one, admittedly—but "Dead Flowers" is a beautiful piece of music, and anyone who shits on Townes gets a finger in the eye.

And I'll stand on Bob Dylan's coffee table in my cowboy boots and say that.
posted by secret about box at 8:28 PM on January 18, 2006

I saw him many a year ago with the Cowboy Junkies. Then another time at some podunk bar in Austin (don't remeber the name) Damn but he was good. And yea that lyric from to live is to fly also sends the chills down my spine. I'll have to check the flick. Thanks for the post.
posted by filchyboy at 9:39 PM on January 18, 2006

The section in Heartworn Highways where he reduces the travelling blacksmith to tears by playing is worth the price of the disc alone.
posted by johnny novak at 12:17 AM on January 19, 2006

Townes was a couple different kinds of genius, but sadly, he turned self-destruction into an art form, as well. (Calling him "self-destructive" is an understatement sort of on the same level as observing that Mussolini had authoritarian tendencies.)

I'll just pile on and agree that "Live at the Old Quarter" is a fantastic album, but if anyone who hasn't listened to Townes is still on the fence after reading this string of raves in the comments, let me just observe that you can buy Townes tracks for cheap over at eMusic. In fact, if they're still running their "50 free downloads" promotion, you can get yourself a couple of Townes albums, for free. You could do a hell of a lot worse.
posted by enrevanche at 7:10 AM on January 19, 2006

Margaret Brown - the Director of Be Here to Love Me - was interviewed on Air America Radio recently - man did she have some access to a lot of great names in researching this. Surprised you missed it, Dios ;-)
posted by Sk4n at 7:54 AM on January 19, 2006

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