Friday, March 7, 2014

Dude, Check This Out: Townes Van Zandt

John Townes Van Zandt was born on this date in 1944. He was a tortured super-addict. You name it, he was addicted to it. His ravaged body gave out January 1, 1997.

In his short time on this earth, though, he wrote some beautiful songs. He never made it big himself as a performing artist, but, starting with the likes of Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings, and including Emmylou Harris and Bob Dylan, his songs were covered by everybody who was anybody.

These songs are from his 1972 album, The Late, Great Townes Van Zandt.

Maybe his best-known song, and most covered--and my favorite--is this one, Pancho and Lefty. I discovered it on one of Emmylou's albums, and I still like her cover version best. But I really like Van Zandt's original.

Having lived with addicts, and having loved and lost addicts, I have sympathy for their pain. But I have no patience anymore for the romanticizing of the "outlaw" or "troubled genius" lifestyle. So I reject the view of Van Zandt and his ilk that downplays the addiction by saying, "But look at what he was able to accomplish."

No. Rather think of the cost to friends and family and children. And think of what he might have accomplished.

That said, these next songs are beautiful and poignant--and deeply sad. The title of the last one, To Live Is to Fly, is engraved on his tombstone.

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