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Townes Van Zandt's legacy

"Be Here To Love Me:
A Film about Townes Van Zandt"

Movie review
3 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: March 28, 2006

Directed by Margaret Brown

Featuring Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, Steve Earle,
Emmylou Harris, Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson

Not Rated
99 Minutes

Movie review by David Malsch

"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

"Be Here To Love Me" is a film about the life of Townes Van Zandt. It's an unsparing and unapologetic portrait of a musical genius that lived on the brink of insanity. Van Zandt was one of the originators of the Alt-Country movement that inspired the likes of Gram Parsons, Jeff Tweedy and Ryan Adams. He could have been the biggest country star in the world but chose to live his life more like Hank Williams, Sr. than Hank Williams, Jr.

Townes was born into an upper middle class family in Ft. Worth, Texas. Had a normal childhood filled with brothers and sisters, went to a military academy in Minnesota and married his sweetheart at a young age. Van Zandt But there was always an interest in alcohol, drugs and sniffing glue that would start to detach himself from his comfortable life. He even fell off a 4-story balcony once just to know how it felt. His parents took his anarchist ways to a therapist who administered shock treatment to him that began his eventual stumble through the rest of his life.

At a young age, he picked up the guitar and became fascinated with the likes of early Dylan and his biggest musical hero Lightnin' Hopkins. Songwriting seemed to come easy to Van Zandt, writing songs was easy compared to living. So midway through his first marriage he decided to give everything up he owned for the sake of the song. With the clothes on his back and his guitar over his shoulder, he hit the road to never return to the life of his youth. Living on the road and playing in bars was what began the legend of Townes Van Zandt, he never got the fame and fortune he deserved but he became a cult hero to musicians and fans everywhere.

Director Margaret Brown paints more of a portrait of the man than a straightforward biography. She interviews the people and places he affected from the likes of best friend Guy Clark to Steve Earle and Willie Nelson. Kris Kristofferson and Emmylou Harris praise this quiet man who was anything but musically. Brown takes us to the trailer park he lived in and to the city of Austin, Texas that worshipped him. She includes Super-8 footage from his youth and haunts the film throughout with rambling phone conversations that help tell the inner story of this tortured man. She interviews his many wives and children and shows him performing on television shows like Austin City Limits and Nashville Now. But it's his music that is the heart of this documentary. His life plays second fiddle to the words and music he created and what made him a legend.

"Be Here To Love Me" is a terrific introduction to this man and his music. After seeing this film at the SXSW Festival in Austin last March, I loaded many of his songs into my ipod like "Dead Flowers," "If I Needed You" and "Poncho and Lefty". It was the disciples of Van Zandt, the aforementioned Adams, Parsons and Tweedy that turned me on to this complicated troubadour. But it was the film that made me appreciate him more as a person and helped me understand the life he led better. Townes died of a heart attack on New Years Day in 1997 at the age of 52. He was a simple man with an enormous talent for songwriting. He guided careers, inspired many and will forever be an icon. To give up a comfortable life like he had to become a real legitimate artist seems like folklore nowadays. Dylan may have been a little rock and roll but it was Van Zandt who was a little bit country. That 4-story fall may have broken the mold on the likes of another Townes Van Zandt.

"Be Here To Love Me: A Film about Townes Van Zandt" is now available on DVD.

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