- Article by Sean Farnel
Steve Earle offered to "stand on Bob Dylan's coffee table in my cowboy boots" to declare him the world's greatest songwriter. In concert, Lucinda Williams often dedicates "2 Kool 2 Be 4-Gotten" to him. His songs have been recorded by artists as diverse as Emmylou Harris and The Meat Puppets. In other words, the late Townes Van Zandt was a songwriter's songwriter, the kind of artist who is always more famous dead than alive.
That Townes is so achingly present in this tender documentary portrait owes much to Austin-based filmmaker Margaret Brown's feel for his art and œuvre, expressed with an elegant assembly of lively archival footage and heartfelt interviews. Fans of Van Zandt's music will be pleased to find that the songs are at home here, impressively haunting this evocative biography. For those of us slackers new to the music and to the man, they are a revelation: sad and beautiful and perfect.
Born into wealth, but oblivious to it, Townes was an outsider from the get-go. An itinerant youth - Texas, Colorado, Montana - prefaced life as a troubadour, the urge, he says, toward "blowing everything off," to "get a guitar and go." Clinical depression, for which as a teen he endured months of shock therapy, steered the ragged course, as did a long road of dissolution from drug and alcohol abuse.
Having set out with "some kind of vague notion of making it," Townes eventually had a hit, the Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard cover of "Pancho and Lefty." The royalty cheques were welcome, but this mainstream cameo seems to have been awkward for him and there's tangible discomfort and detachment from it all. Had Townes begun to question if we got it, if we ever would, if it even mattered?
Margaret Brown was born in Mobile, Alabama and studied at Brown University and New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, where she won the Nestor Almendros Award for excellence in cinematography. She has directed several short films and has also worked as a camera assistant. Be Here to Love Me: A Film About Townes Van Zandt (04) is her first feature as director.