Monday, December 05, 2005

For the Sake of the Song

I saw the new Townes Van Zandt documentary called "Be Here to Love Me" this weekend at the Angelika. While I'd seen some of the footage before in Heartworn Highways, a 1977 film shot partially in Nashville about the rebirth of the outlaw country movement (available from Netflix, it contains some excellent footage that includes a supremely baby-faced Stevie Earle!!), much of the footage was new to me. While the film doesn't follow a traditional narrative path, it does a nice job of turning what is a real bummer of a story into something bittersweet, and ultimately recognizes the talent that was Townes. Make no mistake -- Townes was a self-destructive drunk who wrote some of the most brillant songs in the world, and his death at 52 was simply a sad waste that everyone saw coming for years. The film doesn't gloss over his past, but I can only guess at the tales left out given the bits and pieces that were included about his ruinous behavior. The documentary gets a little music video-ey (fading out stills as a song plays over them), making me think there isn't much good footage of Townes available.

Because he was notoriously falling apart at the seams for years, he only recorded about ten studio albums along with a slew of live releases that includes the much-lauded "Live at the Old Quarter." I never did get to see him play. One of my biggest regrets is blowing off the last show he played in NYC during the fall of 1996 at the Bottom Line. I had just moved here and remember thinking "oh, it's New York - of course he'll play again." Regretfully, I was wrong on that count, as he died on January 1st, 1997.

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