I've always felt it a nonsense to rate artists of any sort competetively.That said: Townes Van Zandt is THE GREATEST POETIC SONGWRITER OF ALL TIME!
And given my local pub now has Townes on its juke box, it is confirmation that his music is now not just the cult listening of the few.
I first discovered Towns Van Zandt whilst living in Ciudad Real, at the beginning of the Century.A rather momentous sounding date, I know, but one entirely in keeping with my memories as a fan of a man I and countless other devotees, regard as the greatest songwriter ever to have lived.
He was what Bob Dylan had once promised to be: the enternally wandering balladeer, with a disregard for the commercial bordering on the negligent; a man who would give away his finest snake-skin jacket if a friend happened to like it, a man who threw his money away in the street to children and those less fortunate (as he did to the consternation of his bandmates, after one well documented tour); and Townes Van Zandt only ever turned electric after his death, that on a production steered by the careful keeper of his estate, his widow, the very thorough, Jeanene. That album A Far Cry From The Dead is often frowned upon by purists, but it's one that I personally really like.It
Townes has been called a shamen, a poet, a prophet, a social commentator, a saviour, and deservedly, a songwriting genius.He was also an often troubled, weary, and a sometimes suicidal man, who, being only human and not in fact an angel, could be selfish and irresponsible in persuence of his own myth, occassionally callous, or even cruel.His overriding trait, I believe, however, was one of material and, more importantly, spiritual genrosity.
Townes could be quite psychotic on occassion, as he himself admitted in the brilliant documentary of his life, Be Here To Love Me, leading him to behaviours that could see him playing Russian Roulette with a trusty pistol (just to get rid of a too mouthy young acolyte called Steve Earl). Depression and booze could drive Townes Van Zandt to horrid levels of self-
degredation, see him incoherent and howling like a dog a gig, or locked up by exasperated cops not unused to finding him asleep in a dumpster after another bender. Worse was the time he spent confined in a mental institution, at the behest of his parents, where the ECG treatment he was subjected to did less to cure him than it did to tear away vital memories that were essential to his already fractured sense of identity.
After I had discovered Townes, he pretty much obsessed me for the next, decade and a half. I'm still listening now.I was gutted back in 2000 to discover Townes was already dead from alcohol that both plagued him and comforted him.Worse was that he had played one of his legendary intimate gigs (see: Live at The Old Quarter for a towering example of that!) in Koblenz, Germany, during the time I had lived there.If you had asked me in the 90's about Townes Van Zandt, I'd have given you a blank stare and said: "Townes Van...what? Is that a place in Holland?"
I spent years obsessively digging up and pawing over anything and everything I could find or afford to buy that was remotely Townes related, and, like any anthropologist worth their salt, I've been alert ever since to any new 'artifacts' that may be unearthered.
I was lucky enough, for a time, to be in contact with members of his family, Jeanene, and her mother Mary.That due to the wonders of the internet.They were very kind, and even gifted me a number of CD's and a poster or two, when I was too down on my luck to afford to pay for them.The sort of gesture Townes himself would undoubtedly have approved of! The fact that they also asked if they could put a recording of song I had written about Townes in the official TVZ library totally blew my mind, as it still does.Though I still worry that they may, indeed, have simply been humouring me!
I came across Townes's music, entirely by a change purchase and you could say to a large extent, his spirit helped carry me through almost two decades.Townes delivered exactly what I was looking for then: something to rescue me from a spiritual malais (God never really did cut it for me as an adult) and a musical impasse I had found myself mired in after some years hooked on Brit Pop.
To find a new release of original recording of TVZ is something; when it includes songs not previously heard or available, it's a minor miracle.He often delivered his best on the live recordings.Over zealous producers, sometimes led to Townes being smothered unnaturally in the technological "bells and whistles" of maintream recording, but his light shone brightest when mostly left alone, just a man and his guitar, performing for his devoted fans.
Favorite track: All I Need.