Thursday, June 19, 2008

Why Do Great Songwriters Live Such Tortured Lives? Part 1

What is it with really great songwriters? Do they have to live a life of booze and drugs, madness and misery to fire up that creative furnace? Why can't song writing be a normal 9 to 5 job? Judging from the subjects of my next few posts, I guess it's not possible.

"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."----Steve Earle

As many music fans know, Townes Van Zandt wrote some of the most beautiful and haunting songs of the last 30 years. His signature song, Pancho and Lefty, is well known because of the cover by Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard (See below for the Dylan/Nelson version). To me, it is a perfect country song. It can always bring a tear to me eye, I love it that much. 

 His songbook contains others that are the equal of that great song. To Live is to Fly, No Place to Fall, Tower Song, Flyin' Shoes, For the Sake of a Song are only a few of the great songs he wrote. There is a sweet sense of desperation and longing in his best work that draws you into his songs. He was very good with descriptive imagery as well. Note these lines from To Live is to Fly:

Days up and down they come
Like rain on a conga drum
Forget most, remember some
Oh, but don't turn none away

 Townes was born into a wealthy Texas oil family. In the 60's, he dropped out of college to pursue music and song writing. He was diagnosed as manic-depressive in his twenties and was treated with shock therapy. Later, he used heroin and had a serious drinking problem. All this is well documented in the very depressing film, Be Here to Love Me. Is there a connection between all these problems and his amazing talent? I'm not sure, but it is a shame that he didn't live a little longer.

There are quite a few of his albums available on Amazon. I like Live at the Old Quarter and Rear View Mirror. Go to iTunes and buy this playlist. It includes his best work.
  1. Pancho and Lefty
  2. To Live is to Fly
  3. No Place to Fall
  4. Tower Song
  5. Flyin' Shoes
  6. For the Sake of a Song
  7. Tecumseh Valley
  8. Snow Don't Fall
  9. Loretta
  10. Rex's Blues
  11. If I Needed You

Next Post: Gene Clark.

Poncho and Lefty
Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson version:

To Live Is To Fly:


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