Townes Van Zandt

I have an affinity to music. I play it all the time. It is an obsession. I apologize to all my visitors and the fellow travelers in my life who have to put up with it. It did not start out that way, but for the past thirty years, there’s always been something on. Sometimes I don’t even hear it. Sometimes I notice it, or if it’s not there I want to turn the music on, to add that extra layer. When I am feeling bad or bored I can listen to it but it doesn’t it move me. I don’t like those times. Then they pass, and the connection hits between and song and a moment, or the poetry in a set of lyrics and a person or event in my life. I never get tired of that feeling.

I don’t know much about music. The names of composers and the chord progressions escape me. I just know what I like, what sounds good to me. In my wilder fantasies, I would be the guy who travels from bar to bar searching out talent for record labels. On the other hand, In my night profession I have heard many bar bands, and the idea that I would have to spend the rest of my life sorting through that crap is detestable.

There is art in there. I first came across Townes Van Zandt (along with lots of others) because of the song Pancho and Lefty. It sounds like it was a surprise to Willy and Merle, too. Townes Van Zandt worked hard at his art for his whole life, and it shows. He sat and wrote, working with the words, trying to put the perfect ones in the right place, not complicated, just immediate. He played countless live shows in Nashville, in front of intimate (read, small) audiences, honing his craft. He didn’t do it for money. His albums didn’t make money. I read that by the time he died his royalties from songwriting were considerable, but it doesn’t seem like he knew about that or cared. He did it because of something inside himself.

It is not happy music. It is just real. The thoughts in my head aren’t always happy. They are full of worry, and planning, and wondering about the unseen future. I want to hear another human being who felt the same way, who cared enough to examine those feelings and put them down just right. It is healing to me.

I love words. I think they are the most important thing ever invented. Words allow us to communicate with one another across generations and lifetimes. I give a shout out to a fairly obscure artist who lived a hard life. His depression and substance abuse problems are documented. He had no idea that he’d make an impression. Townes Van Zandt still managed to sit down and do what he needed to do with words, in a way that ensures he’ll be remembered. There’s really no excuse for me.


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