My Years with Townes Van Zandt
by Harold F. Eggers, Jr with L.E. McCullough
“Cheer up, H. It’s only gonna get worse…“
Harold Eggers became Townes Van Zandt’s road manager in 1977, on the recommendation of his brother Kevin, who ran Tomato Records, Van Zandt’s label at the time. It began a lifetime of friendship between the two men, both haunted by their past. Eggers was troubled by his time in Vietnam, returning home with “shell shock”, which is what they called PTSD in those days. Townes underwent electric shock therapy as a youth, and for the rest of his life he struggled with memory loss and deep depression as a result. His ghosts were literal, at least to him. He could see black ghosts of doom when things went south, and white ghosts of guidance at other times, but they were always there, hovering. The men sensed each other’s pain and loss and bonded because of it. Eggers quickly learned to keep Van Zandt’s worse habits from overtaking him while on the road, from emptying out vodka bottles to running interference between Townes and the world. It was a full-time, often thankless job.
Townes Van Zandt was a songwriter, poet and guitarist whose talents stood out early on. His songs, from “If I Needed You” to the devastating “Tecumseh Valley” or the cinematic “Pancho and Lefty” are unequaled works of art, never a wasted word or phrase. They were the truth laid bare, and Townes had some deep truths. More than once Eggers would find him sobbing after a show, depleted from the emotion that comes from baring your soul in front of strangers…and yourself.
Van Zandt seemed to have a death wish, was a chronic alcoholic, and rarely ate. He was content to live on the road, trying to outrace his demons from stage to hotel room, and reading the Bible out loud while Egger’s drove. It was not a life that welcomed family or friends, and while Townes had both, it was his songs that he considered closest to him. He didn’t want fame, and went out of his way to sabotage any event that might have advanced his career. He was, as he said, a genius at shooting himself in the foot. Listening to his 1977 release, Live At the Old Quarter, Houston, Texas, with just him and his guitar, is Van Zandt at his purest and most enthralling. You can live in the music, find solace in the words. It was all Townes Van Zandt was put on this earth to do. The fact that he scratched out a living from it (with Harold Eggers help), well that was just gravy.
Egger’s memoir of his life with Van Zandt is more than just road stories and drunken parties. It’s the account of two men with dark and hidden truths, who thankfully found each other, probably saving both of their lives. The book is a wonderful and moving tale of friendship that only increases your respect and awe of Van Zandt’s gifts, and you are thankful that Eggers kept him going as long as he did. Kudos.