>Date: Fri, 3 Jan 1997 14:18:35 -0600 (CST) >From: "James M. Kohel"
>To: CBGBs@gnn.com (Dave Jenkins) >Subject: Townes > >Dave, > >You most likely have heard the news by now but I thought you might be >interested this article from www.austin360.com > >... jim > >************************************************************************* > > Townes Van Zandt > > a songwriter's songwriter, is dead at age 52 > > By Michael Corcoran American-Statesman Music Writer > > Austin's music community was overcome with sadness, if not surprise, > at the news that Townes Van Zandt, whose rich narrative style > influenced a generation of Texas songwriters, died of a heart attack > Wednesday night at his home near Nashville. > > His young daughter, Katie Belle, "came running in and said, 'Daddy's > having a fight with his heart,' "Beverly Paul of Van Zandt's Sugar > Hill label said. "They rushed into the room and Townes was already > gone." > > The writer of such country hits as "Pancho and Lefty" (Merle Haggard > and Willie Nelson) and "If I Needed You" (Emmylou Harris and Don > Williams) was 52. > > It wasn't the hits, however, but a stark and penetrating body of work > that gave Van Zandt the reputation as a songwriter's songwriter. Such > early Van Zandt albums as 1968's "For the Sake of the Song" and 1969's > "Our Mother the Mountain" inspired such Texas songsmiths as Steve > Earle, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Nanci Griffith, Robert Earl Keen, Lyle > Lovett and Lucinda Williams. > > Earle took his worship of Van Zandt public, allowing his assessment > that "Townes Van Zandt is the best songwriter in the whole world, and > I'll stand on Bob Dylan's coffee table in my cowboy boots and say that" > to be stickered on the cover of Van Zandt's 1987 LP "At My Window." > > Many of Van Zandt's friends and admirers, from constant touring > companion Guy Clark to protege Will Sexton, declined to comment on the > sad occasion. Gilmore spoke for many, however, when he said, "I think > that Townes Van Zandt will one day be recognized as one of the great > American poets of the 20th century. It's a shame that he died too > young to see that." > > But Van Zandt knew that his lot was to be a cult hero. > > "I remember him saying to me that he was afraid he was going to be like > Hank Williams, and people were only going to know who he was after he > was dead," Gilmore said. Ironically, Van Zandt died on New Year's Day, > the same date Williams was pronounced dead 44 years earlier. > > Battle with alcohol > > New York Times writer Robert Palmer drew out the parallels between Van > Zandt and his hero Williams in a June 7, 1987, article. > > "Both men live in their music, as if singing and writing and being > human were the same thing and as natural as breathing," Palmer wrote. > He described the music of both Williams and Van Zandt as "the direct, > untrammeled expression of a man's soul." > > A common trait between the two songwriting beacons of different eras > was an affinity for alcohol and drugs. Van Zandt's battle with the > bottle was ongoing, as he slipped in and out of sobriety -- sometimes > during the break between sets. But even as he slurred the cornball > jokes that he used as comic relief, Van Zandt was capable of compelling > musical performances, with such down-and-out songs as "Marie," "Tower > Song" and "Still Lookin' For You" appropriately darkened by Van Zandt's > state. > > "The songs were always there," said Griff Luneberg, manager of the > Cactus, which hosted countless Van Zandt concerts. "No matter what > shape Townes was in, he had the songs, and that's what people came to > hear." Luneberg recalls Van Zandt's final Austin show, at the Cactus > on Oct. 12, as "pure magic." > > "It was a classic Townes show," Luneberg said, almost too choked up to > talk. "The audience hung on every word, and they sent back this huge > outpouring of appreciation after every song. They even laughed at his > jokes, which are the same jokes he'd been telling for 20 years." On a > good night, Van Zandt packed the charm of a brilliant rascal. > > Although his career was on an upswing, especially in Europe, Van > Zandt's health had been unstable in recent years. At the time of his > death, he was at home in the Nashville suburb of Smyrna recuperating > from hip surgery. But his drinking was the cause for most concern. > > "I had expected a call about Townes for a few years," Jerry Jeff > Walker said. "Today I got that call. It's still very sad when it > comes." > > Drifters' stories > > He was born John Townes Van Zandt in Fort Worth on March 7, 1944. > While he was raised in a prominent Texas oil family, Van Zandt began > his rebel ways as a teen-ager, picking up the guitar after seeing Elvis > Presley on TV, then later expanding his influences to include Woody > Guthrie and Lightnin' Hopkins. > > Soon after high school, the gaunt songwriter ran from the mansion on > the hill to the railroad tracks, from comfort to danger, and started > writing songs about the desperate drifters and life's losers he met in > his travels. > > "He was a completely ornery guy," said longtime friend and fan Joe > Ely. "He didn't seem to do anything for any reason except for the > purpose of writing another song. ... He came on this earth to play > music, and it didn't matter what shape he was in, he always damn well > fulfilled his goal. And he affected a lot of people by doing it." > > The brilliant yet approachable Van Zandt was a magnet for other musical > storytellers, and he helped establish the "couch circuit" for drifting > musicians. He shared a lot of himself onstage, and when he stepped > off, the songwriting community was there to share what they could with > him. > > "I really, honestly believe Townes was one of the main reasons Austin > received a reputation for quality," Gilmore said. > > Van Zandt provided not only the link between Hank Williams and Bruce > Springsteen, but between people who shared appreciation for him. > Gilmore and Ely might seem to have been tight since junior high in > Lubbock, but it was Van Zandt who helped solidify the musical > partnership. > > Gilmore said he and Ely had been only casual acquaintances until the > day Ely called him up and told him about a hitchhiker he pickedup who > had a backpack full of his own records. > > "Joe called me up and said, 'You gotta hear this.' And of course, it > was Townes Van Zandt's record, 'Our Mother the Mountain,'" Gilmore > said. "I think what affected us most was the intelligence of it. And > I guess you could say that was the catalyst for a lifelong friendship > and appreciation for (Van Zandt's music)." > > Van Zandt's influence on Nashville, where his songs have been recorded > by Emmylou Harris, Doc Watson, Steve Earle and others, was almost as > strong as in Texas. > > "The people he had an influence on in Nashville were the ones who broke > the rules, and they're the people who truly matter here," said veteran > singer Jonell Mosser, who recorded "Around Townes," a soulful tribute > to the singer early last year. > > One of Ely's favorite recent memories of Van Zandt comes from an > Italian folk festival that they both played two years ago. Headliner > Ely called Van Zandt on stage to play one last song, and he couldn't > get him to leave. > > "I was like, 'Thank you, good night,' but Townes had already gotten his > feet planted," Ely said. "He wasn't going anywhere, and we just kept > playing and playing, whether we both knew the song or not. I think we > played 10 last songs that night, and it was great. He just wouldn't > stop." > > The songs are always there, providing some comfort in the grief, and > one in particular found Van Zandt looking back with some satisfaction > on a life like none other. On "A Song For," the lead-off track of > his most recent CD, 1994's "No Deeper Blue," Van Zandt sang: > > "London to Dublin/ Australia to Perth/ I gazed at your sky/ I tasted > your earth/ Sung out my heart/ For what it was worth/ Never again shall > I ramble." > > Funeral arrangements are pending, but Mosser said she's been told that > there will be a memorial service Sunday at 3 p.m. in Nashville. > > Van Zandt is survived by wife Jeanene, sons J.T. and Will and daughter > Katie Belle. > > > > Interviews of Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Joe Ely and Jonell Mosser > by Chris Riemenschneider. > > Copyright 1997, Cox Interactive Media, Inc. > All rights reserved.