Townes Van Zandt
A Far Cry From Dead
When a poet dies, only the body stops. A poet’s soul, if they were any good, would have been shared into the world by the time the movement of the blood ceases. Townes Van Zandt was a very, very good poet. His soul — hopeful, sad, twisted force that it was, spread far into the songs and sounds of artists from Steve Earle to Sonic Youth. You never just listen to a Van Zandt song — either you live it, or you turn it off. The most well known of his works — “Pancho and Lefty” (covered by Willie and Merle, Emmylou and others) or “If I Needed You” are more than mere words and tunes on a radio. They are wistful, angry, resigned, and sometimes sad looks at lives that end up ringing true with our own.
When Townes died on January 1st, 1997 (same day as Hank Williams), he fulfilled his prophecy of not living past the age of his father, 52. The songs on this record were recorded solo by Van Zandt in a friend’s home studio, saved to DAT tape, and given to his wife, Jeanene. After his death, she gathered musicians familiar with Townes and created this album. While some of the arrangements added to the material might sound strange to long time fans — “To Live’s To Fly” is particularly rocked up, for example — this record still echoes with love and respect, and Townes’ vital, at times scary imagery and emotion ring true. The selections are mostly older material — “Rex’s Blues,” “Tower Song,” and others, but two new songs are included. “Squash” is a view from a bus window of roadkill, and is pretty damned funny. The other, “Sanitarium Blues,” is a haunting, desperate cry penned by a man who drank himself into the ground and truly, deeply hated hospitals and confinement. “You’re just tryin’ to stay above the ground” — who doesn’t immediately understand and connect with such a perfectly expressed explanation of life?
Well, Townes Van Zandt is confined no more. And as long as his music is heard, he won’t be dead, either.