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Greetings again from the darkness. The wait for this one to hit Dallas has been long and painful. Just mentioning the name Townes Van Zandt gets me all weepy and longing for those many nights in Austin between the mid 70's and early 80's. Although I only saw him perform live three times, his influence on the Austin music scene was unmatched.
Margaret Brown's directorial touch on this bio-documentary is filled with love, admiration, respect and a harsh dose of reality. Townes was not the typical inflated ego icon so familiar in the music business. Yes, he drank entirely too much and yes, he did way more drugs than any one body could possibly handle. But hearing fellow musicians, three wives and numerous children talk about him, affirmed one thought that I had always clung to: the man had soul.
There are some fascinating film clips of Townes both living life and on stage at various times throughout his "career". When we hear the spoken words "he is here for the music", it all makes sense. We see him unkempt, living in a lousy trailer and in his constant state of gauntness. This man was born to write songs and he did it better than anyone. Near the opening, Joe Ely tells the story of how listening to Townes' first record, forced he and Jimmie Gilmore to totally change their approach to songwriting. Folks, that is talent and power.
The reverence in the voice of Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson and Steve Earle (three fine songwriters in their own right) as they recollect how Townes touched their music is very base and raw. This is no Hollywood love fest of a dead character actor. This is pure respect from those who truly understand the gift.
The documentary is pretty well paced, but my one quibble is that we do not get to hear Townes perform a song all the way through until he sings "Marie" sometime past the midpoint. Also, I don't believe we had a single track from the "Carnegie Hall" show. That said, there are so many songs included, even if only for a verse, that it will provide a tremendous overview to anyone not already touched by the man's music.
We cannot help but be saddened as the talk of his shock therapy and subsequent change in personality are detailed. Also, hearing his kids speak of him is almost invasive, but what a remarkable gift to the film this is.
One of the producers is the great and under-appreciated Louis Black. He was involved in a film class I took at the University of Texas many years ago and has since gone on to edit an Austin paper and found the SXSW music and film festival. I feel certain his insight was invaluable to the film and sense that Townes Van Zandt music impacted his life the way it did many of us.
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