Despite Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and Emmylou Harris achieving #1 hit success with his songwriting, Townes Van Zandt never ascended to the upper eschelon of celebrity bestowed upon so many of his peers, no matter how lauded he was. The reason was clear: Van Zandt never settled into the familiar promotional avenues that so many others who did achieve success traveled, and instead chose an endless loop of travelling, playing his songs, and racking up more experiences to put into them. Plus, he wasn't easy to categorize: folk, blues, country were all factors in what he did, but he'd be a marketing man's nightmare, even despite a growing reputation. Hence, he relied on a good friend to put out his records and do what he could to spread the word, while Townes did what he only knew best.
Margaret Brown's documentary, Be Here To Love Me (premiered at Angelika here in NYC December 2nd) is a long overdue look at his music and life, which was ceaslessly tempestuous. In his 20's he was administered shock treatment after being committed for falling from a four story window willingly ("to see what it felt like"), and the result erased much of his childhood memories. This inability to cement connections in his life led to a continual wandering, and the film takes a very intimate look at the people, friends, and family who all were affected by this. In Townes' own words, his own sanity and life itself depended on the ability to "blow off everything and go." Despite this, Brown's interviews with Townes' children and ex-wives reveal a true reverence towards him despite the darkness of their relationships; his little daughter sings his songs, his sons even reckon that their personal relationships may have not been able to happen any other way and not lessen the impact of what he did musically. Sadly, hard living drained him by the 1990's, though his fervor to create never lessoned. Sonic Youth's Steve Shelley, who was set to record Van Zandt at Easley Studios in Memphis after a label deal was struck with DGC, recounts the tragedy of the aborted 1997 session which happened right before the man's demise, despite his insistency to crank out one more record.
The film is a well-done telling of his story, there's some great live clips and TV interviews, and riveting testimony from the likes of Willie Nelson, Steve Earle, Kris Kristofferson, Guy Clark and others. Our own Hatch interviewed director Brown on his show last night, and you can check it out here. (real audio). You can also check out a trailer of the film here.