Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Townes van Zandt

I've been on a bit of Townes van Zandt bender the last 3 or 4 months. After hearing of TVZ for years, I finally got around to listening to some of his music. Stunned is about the best word that comes to mind. Stunned in what I was hearing. Stunned with the realization of what I've been missing all these years.

From late December through the middle of January, I stocked up on TVZ stuff and nearly O.D.'d under the weight of taking it all in. Some really fine members at uploaded a butt-load of TVZ bootleg recordings - and I downloaded them all.

I bought a Robert Earl Hardy's biography of Townes titled A Deeper Blue: The Life and Music of Townes Van Zandt. Hardy did a very nice job of objectively writing about Townes' troubled life - with his job being doubly difficult considering the minimal amount of previous research on his life, fragmented memories by those who knew and traveled with him, and an apparent lack of cooperation by Jeanene Van Zandt - his final ex-wife who was with him when he died. Based on info at other sites, Jeanene really seems to doggedly - yet lovingly - pursue keeping Townes' music and memories alive as well as strengthening a cash flow stream of royalties to support the two children they had together (and rightfully so). I'm not sure why she didn't cooperate with Hardy, but the biography is very well done. A couple of trivia nuggets I learned from reading the book were:
  • For a while, Townes and his wife lived in a modest house in Nashville near the Nashville Airport. Just last Friday, as I left in my truck from the parking service I use after arriving from Florida, I noticed the street sign for the street where they lived. I've driven by that street a million times - and even cut yards on the street when I was in high school - and had no clue as to its connection with TVZ.
  • When Townes and an earlier wife (I think it was Cindy) moved to middle Tennessee, they lived in a little house on a old Civil War battlefield in Franklin. Even though I don't know exactly where it is, I do know that its only about 10 minutes from I where live today.
  • Townes died on New Years Day 1997 after having hip surgery on December 31, 1996, at Summit Medical Center in Hermitage, TN. The hospital's corporate owner is my employer. By all accounts, the great health professionals at Summit today were preceded by great caregivers over the past many years - including when Townes was admitted for surgery. Unfortunately, he and Jeanene did not want him to stay in the hospital and she discharged him against medical advice - less than 24 hours after his surgery. Sure enough, all his troubles caught up to him at home and *poof* just like that he was gone.
I also picked up the Heartworn Highways DVD - pretty much as a flyer and because I read the Amazon review that said Townes was in it. The movie was recorded in the mid 70s, released in the early 80s, and then released on DVD just a few years ago. Townes' performances of "Waitin' Around to Die" and "Pancho and Lefty" as a 30ish year old man are equally superb and eerie.

Side note: If you are a fan of alt-country / Americana music, this is a must have because of all the other artists on this DVD - Guy Clark, Rodney Crowell, John Hiatt, and Steve Earle just to name a few. And bear in mind, this was filmed in the mid 70s when all of these singers were 30 years younger and were barely known by anyone beyond a cult following.

The most recent DVD I bought and hit my mail box just this week is Townes van Zandt: Be Here To Love Me. While I haven't watched the full documentary from beginning to end yet, I have watched enough segments to yet again and shake my head at the wonderment of his talent and yet the torture of his soul brought on my his addictions and failed relationships.



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