Yes, we're here again with the first of two consecutive posts about two more committed iconoclasts. In fact I think today's hero's friends may have tried to have him committed on more than one occasion.
He's often mentioned in the conversation about most underrated American songwriter. Also one of the most self-sabotaging.
TVZ told the truth in his songs. Sadly, the overarching truth is that he could have been Johnny Cash if he could have laid off the Jesus Juice.
Featuring a gargantuan talent for Big Sky narratives and tall Texas tales, he also was an alcohol consumer so prolific he made Jim Morrison seem like a poster boy for the temperance movement, and a lifelong heroin addict so adept at maintaining he made Janis Joplin seem like The Church Lady.
It's all there in his songs: the desperate, romantic characters roaming Raton Pass on the run from a lover's committment, or the bandits splitting Mexico for Ohio with their tragically stolen loot.
His songs are at once completely elemental and simple, yet simultaneously cinematic and sometimes grandly obscure.
Many could be either picture postcards or feature films.
His career began in the 1960s, as Country sounds began to sidle up to the burgeoning Rock scene like Sweethearts of the Rodeo.
One of those singer-songwriters that sounded ancient and wisened at age 19, he spent the next three decades sharpening his pen and coming up with tunes that are still covered, every day, all over the world.
I know several people, whose opinions I respect, who claim him as the greatest individual songwriter in American history.
For someone engaged in slow-motion suicide with drugs and booze, he sure wrote a truckload of 'em, too.
If songwriting is, at its root motive, storytelling, then TVZ is as good as we'll ever get.
He'd have been 75 today, had he not gone the route of so many avatars whose brilliant artistry the Earth cannot seem to adequately support or preserve.
Townes Van Zandt
The Down Home
Johnson City, Tennessee
01 NPR intro
02 WETS-FM intro
03 Dollar Bill Blues
04 Pancho and Lefty
05 Buckskin Stallion Blues
06 No Place to Fall
07 Talking Thunderbird Blues
08 Mr. Mudd and Mr. Gold
09 If I Needed You
10 Snowin' On Raton
11 To Live Is to Fly
12 Don't You Take It Too Bad
13 Snake Mountain Blues
15 Fraternity Blues
16 Colorado Girl incl. Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues
17 WETS-FM outro
18 NPR outro
Total time: 58:52
Townes Van Zandt - guitar & vocals
Mickey White - guitar
Donny Silverman - saxophones & flute
master pre-FM reel from WETS-FM in Johnson City, TN
332 MB FLAC/March 2019 archive link
This set was taped in 1985 for National Public Radio and finds Townes in rare and top form, delivering some of his most epic and timeless tracks in the company of two co-conspirators.
I will return tomorrow with another blast of blessings, but today is the day to celebrate a visionary talent gone too soon from our world, but whose output and aesthetic influence still reigns over the Americana genre he helped establish like the highest mountains atop his beloved Colorado.--J.
3.7.1944 - 1.1.1997
To live is to fly
Low and high
So shake the dust off of your wings
And the sleep out of your eyes