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A Thread for Townes..........


peiplayer

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We’ve recently been mentioning Townes a lot and I’ve been trying to read up on him as much as I can. I did see a documentary once…don’t know the name..could have been “Heartworn Highways’…I don’t remember. Obviously a tortured soul who I can relate to somewhat. I’d like to know more about him so if any of you folks have anecdotes, suggested further reading, and favourite tunes, I’d love to hear ‘em. I don’t think you can compare him to Dylan, completely different thing going on. My impression is that he was almost always a spontaneous personality, nothing calculated about him and DGAF about anything. Love to know more…………….

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The documentary "Be Here To Love Me" is, I think, especially good. Also very sad - my wife will NOT watch it. Good footage, though, and the director does a great job letting Townes and friends tell the tale.

 

Different bag from Dylan entirely. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think Townes had any interest in politics ever, and the Austin music scene that transferred to Nashville always seemed to me to be pretty apolitical, while Dylan from the beginning of being Dylan was linked to the whole Woody Guthrie/The Weavers/Pete Seeger school of left-leaning social activism. When he broke ranks later on, the recriminations from his former buddies bring to mind someone deviating from the party line ... but I digress.

 

Look around for a copy of the Musician magazine interview with TVZ and Steve Earle, too. Some great stories, a good interview, and solid journalism from a journal I wish was still around.

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I read an article about Guy Clark last year and it said that he an Townes were very close friends. So you might get some info on him in a roundabout way looking in that direction. It said that Guy always puts a Townes song on any album he does. I haven't checked that out but that's what it said. In the article, it said that Townes died of "alcohol-fueled heart failure." He was a great writer without much of a voice but he made it work. That's about all he had in common with Dylan. He had his demons for sure. Wish he was still here.

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Well friends, I agree with everyone here so far regarding Townes.

 

I own "Be here to love me" plus 2 insightful recordings, "Holland Radio Sessions 12-28-90" and "Earle, Vandt-Clark...Together at the Bluebird Cafe"

I also really enjoy the 2 disk recording, "Live at The Old Quarter, Houston, Texas".

 

For me Townes Van Zandt was a perfect song writer!

 

john

 

PS....Steve Earle has a new CD coming out in May i think, "TOWNES" I can't wait!!!!!!!!!

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My favourite songwriter of all time.

 

There is a lot of conjecture about his cause of death, but the official line is that after his last gig, at The Borderline in London in December 1996, he flew back home for some time off. Shortly after arriving home, he slipped and fell whilst getting into the bath at his home, breaking his hip. Not wanting to cause trouble, Townes refused to seek help until his friends intervened and forced him to go to hospital, where his broken hip was diagnosed and pinned.

 

A long-term, late-stage alcoholic, Townes was discharged from hospital and sent home with ex-wife Jeanene, who knew she had to give him Vodka as, in his parlous physical condition, DTs and withdrawal was likely to kill him. Townes was sat up that evening, eating crackers, drinking and calling friends, telling them he was okay, when Jeanene received a phonecall (from Guy's wife, Suzanna Clark, I believe), which she went into the other room to take.

 

When she came back, Townes had passed away. Emergency services were called, and he was taken to hospital where resuscitation was unsuccessfully attempted. An autopsy found that he had died from a blood clot, caused by his broken hip and arguably exacerbated by the delay in treatment, which had travelled up his body and entered his heart.

 

New year's day is always a blue day for me. A combination of hangover and remembering Townes' death.

 

I agree that Townes was, pretty much, the perfect songwriter. His way with words, simple chord structures and slyly dazzling melody and prosody are beyond compare.

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Thanks for your replies.....Jinder you obviously connect with Townes and have posted some interesting stories. I remember 2 things from the documentary I saw....maybe a little hazy in my recollection though since it was some time ago. He was at a party and wondered how a person would feel to fall off the balcony 3 or 4 stories up whereby he promptly threw himself off to check it out and survived. The other I remember is that he went somewhere and was refused entry to some function because he didn't have a shirt on to pin his nametag on....he just pinned it to his chest. Quite a cat.

 

Although by the time of his death he was making money, he still chose to live in a ramshackle trailer with junk all around. Maybe myth, but these are the things I know about him. Waiting round to die was the first Townes song I learned.

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Yeah Townes was a guy who cared about people but not material posessions...around the time that Willie & Merle's version of Pancho & Lefty was a hit, and the royalty cheques started coming in, he threw his entire tour revenue in cash out of the window of the car he and Jeanene were riding in, which caused a riot amongst the street kids as they scrambled to pick up what was thousands and thousands of dollars.

 

The two books on him, by Robert Earl Hardy and John Kruth, are both excellent, well worth picking up.

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I saw Townes many, many times when I lived in Texas. Caught him solo, playing with Guy Clark a number of times, and another time when TVZ, GC and Robert Earl Keen all toured together.

 

Once when I was living in Dallas, I made the trip over to Ft. Worth to check out one of Townes' solo gigs. He was in a great mood that night and played what was for him quite an upbeat show. He told a story about hanging out with Lightning Hopkins once and asking him why he sat down when he performed. According to Townes, LH's reply was "Son, if someone is going to call themselves a real blues man, they shouldn't even be able to stand and play at the same time." He went on to play this hilarious little song about shrimp. I don't remember the details of the song, but it cracked everybody up, including Townes.

 

Later on, when I was living in Austin, I headed down to Gruene where Townes and Guy were appearing at Gruene Hall. I headed to the bathroom during intermission. In the small hallway leading to the bathroom I ran into Townes. He said hello and struck up a conversation. He was rather down that night and I mentioned the shrimp song, thinking that it might get a chuckle out of him. Instead he grabbed me by the arm and started going off on how life isn't always fun, and things are hard sometimes and that you can't always laugh things away. I was truly freaked out. Now I don't think Townes intended me any harm, he was just possessed by some bad demons, be it depression or alcohol abuse, etc., that he could never shake. I really felt for him. Later on I saw him at shows where he was so down that my wife and I couldn't stand to stick around and watch him suffer up there on stage in front of everyone. He would stop in the middle of some songs and start rambling on about his problems at home, etc., etc..

 

Contrast that with the time that we saw TVZ and GC together and they both drew some art with a Sharpie on some scratch paper for our refrigerator art collection. Night and Day.

 

Through his ups and downs, Townes was performer who truly bared his sole for all to see. He put it all out there every time. You just never knew which side of him you were going to get. He is missed.

 

All the best,

Guth

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Guy Clark delivered a eulogy at Townes' funeral services. He began by saying "Well, I booked this gig about 30 years ago." I guess he meant he expected someday to be saying a premature goodbye to his friend, based on how Townes lived.

 

I think "Tecumseh Valley" is one of his best. Townes could tell a good story, that's for sure.

 

He was an interesting guy, and a walking contradiction. As I understand it, he came from a wealthy Texas family and when he was young, there was talk of grooming him to be Governor of Texas.

 

One of my favorite stories about him was that he once accidentally dove his car through the front wall of a bar he was supposed to perform in. He ended up with the car completely in the structure. Thankfully, nobody was injured, including Townes. He opened the car door, got out, went up to the bar and took a seat and ordered a drink as if nothing had happened.

 

(Nothing funny about diving under the influence, but I still like the story)

 

 

I like to sit and play his songs. There's a depth to them.

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I used to live in Austin and I soaked up as much of the good Texas music as I could... there is a wealth of great songwriting and playing.

But I have to say- I never "got" the TVZ thing. I saw him live twice and he was such a mess he couldn't even hold it together. I think he was a good songwriter but I personally wouldn't put him in the category of "great" songwriters. I guess I could never get past my view of him as a mean old drunk. He seems to be one of those characters whose notoriety has turned into fame after death.

There are many other great songwriters who idolize him though- so what do I know?

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I think that at the end of his life, certainly in the last year of it, Townes was being swallowed alive by his alcoholism and was struggling to hold things together in all aspects of his life.

 

His prime period, '69-'93 or so, saw him write some of the best songs I could name. I think he could definitely be considered a songwriter's songwriter, and maybe that accounts for his lack of commercial/crossover success as an artist in his own right. Certainly his writing and his approach to his life as a working, travelling musician has had a huge influence on me as an artist.

 

I will always love Townes' music. I defy anyone to listen to 'St. John The Gambler' and remain unmoved.

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  • 1 month later...

There is a fairly new book out on Townes. Not sure of the author and it may be one mentioned above. Came close to buying it last week and now wish I had. Rake is a quite harrowing song in context of his path. And it cuts very close for me as it vividly conjures up one of my best friends who passed last year also a victim of alcoholism at far too young an age. He fought it hard but the demons won out.

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I have to thank my buddy Steve Earle for turning me on to TVZ. I had never heard of him until '98. To this day, so many people I talk to have stilll not heard of him. I do my best to spread his music (and Steve's) to as many people as possible. This music deserves to be heard, especially in times like these when popular music is so empty of real emotion and insight!!

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But Egon we have American Idol for real emotion and insight. OH and hey - seeing Steve in less than two weeks in Atlanta!! How damn! This will be my third show- Saw him on the Jerusalem and Washington tours.

 

Alright!! I'll be seein him (for the fifth time) in Cincinnati on the 27th! American Idol makes me cry, and not in a good way. They turned the machine inside out and fed it to the masses. What happened to honing your craft while you...oh, blah blah blah...I'm bein a bore again. Enjoy the show. Joe Pug opening there?

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Interesting I been listening to Townes a lot lately. Particularly diggin the tune 'Snake Mountain Blues"...I used to be a huge Earle fan but that was when he was telling stories about Ben Mcullogh & Tom Ames - I liked the Mountain alot also

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I always have to laugh when people question musical artists as to what that song of theirs really means or what was the driving force behind this or that song. As human beings it is hard to know why we do what we do.

 

When Willie Nelson asked Townes what Poncho and Lefty was really about, Townes said he didn't really know. Hooray for the truth.

 

I believe when Townes was a young, buck rebel he was sent to a hospital to have shock therapy. I believe his mother said it was the wrong thing to do as Townes was never the same after that. I think many great artists are so concentrated and obsessed in their art that they give little consideration to the other aspects of their life, which at times does them in and/or creates pain and suffering to them and those around them. But Townes' songs wouldn't have been what they were without Townes being who he was.

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Nice to see this thread popping up again!

 

My new album is named after a Townes quote from Heartworn Highways:the scene when he gets his royalty cheque through the mail on his front porch, kinda sighs and says 'Nine cents from Benelux'.

 

I thought 'Nine Cents From Benelux' was a lovely phrase with great connotations (I've had a few cheques for around that mark!) and I loved the Townes connection, so it became the title of my new album!

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Nice to see this thread popping up again!

 

My new album is named after a Townes quote from Heartworn Highways:the scene when he gets his royalty cheque through the mail on his front porch' date=' kinda sighs and says 'Nine cents from Benelux'.

 

I thought 'Nine Cents From Benelux' was a lovely phrase with great connotations (I've had a few cheques for around that mark!) and I loved the Townes connection, so it became the title of my new album![/quote']

That's really cool Jinder. I know Gillian Welch has all sorts of references in her songs to the artists she has admired over the years. They're very subtle and a person wouldn't necessarily pick them up unless they really knew the music well. I think that is such a lovely idea, to pay homage to someone we admired and meant so much to us.

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