Alternative music reviews

October 7, 2008

The Nature Of Genius – Townes Van Zandt

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I have spent a lot of time listening to Townes Van Zandt and recently watched the film “Be Here To Love me”. He was an American Singer/Songwriter who played Folk/Country/Blues music from the late 60’s to his death on New Years Day 1997. He became famous through other people’s covers of his songs – Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard and Emmylou Harris had hits with his work. The reverence in which he is held is best expressed by the much repeated Steve Earle quote: “the best songwriter in the whole world and I’ll stand on Bob Dylan’s coffee table in my cowboy boots and say that”. If you delve in fans’ reactions then you will find many people who learned to understand their own torments through his work.

He led a troubled life with addiction to drink and drugs, and even electroshock treatment at one point. All of these experiences were expressed in his songs and you can feel the pain and the use of the pain to produce great art. The trouble with Townes’s music is that he seemed to care so little about recording that many tracks were spoilt by over-orchestration (of the slightly cheesy sort). But if you dig deep then I would reckon that he wrote/played 10 of the greatest songs ever written (Marie, Flying Shoes, Nothin’, Waiting Around to Die and others).

Despite all my obsession with the doomed Rock Star, the part of the film that most affected me was the recollections of his six year old son’s trip to see his father. His son JT rang home to his mother at two in the morning asking to come home – the much anticipated experience turned out to be too disturbing for this youngster. As a father myself, I just thought give up your genius and become a good Dad. As a postscript, JT has become an artist and does a mean version of his father’s songs.

Be Here To Love Me Trailer

February 29, 2008

Drowning In A Well Of Sadness Part Fourteen: Townes Van Zandt

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I’ve decided to resurrect this Drowning series even though it was meant to be just twelve posts (+ I elected Num’s album as the thirteenth).

Townes Van Zandt was an American singer-songwriter who wrote of a legendary, but not pretty, America with Cowboys and Hobos. He was blessed with a low voice that could carry pain and disappointment along with it. On the song Marie he tells the tale of an unemployed Railyard worker who meets a woman called Marie. They spend the summer sleeping under a Bridge after his unemployment payments end. As the weather begins to get colder, Marie thinks she is pregnant.

In my heart I know its a little boy, hope he don’t end up like me

He is too broke to even buy a harp to busk but there is the hope of a little casual work. That falls through and he returns to the bridge to tell Marie the bad news. Next day,

Marie she didnt wake up this morning
She didnt even try
She just rolled over and went to heaven
My little boy safe inside
I laid them in the sun where somebody’d find them
Caught a Chesapeake on the fly
Marie will know I’m headed south
So’s to meet me by and by