Collected Reviews - Be Here To Love Me - A Film About Townes Van Zandt

as posted to about-townes mail-list.

NOTE: The film was released in theaters on Dec. 4, 2005, and was released on DVD mid-March 2006.


  1. Review of the film from Toronto - Sep 14 2004
  2. Tale of a troubled troubadour - The Montreal Gazette - Sep 15 2004
  3. The artistry and tragedy of Townes Van Zandt - Special to The Globe and Mail - Sep 15 2004
  4. The songwriter's songwriter (from the Age, Melbourne Australia) - Jul 22 2005
  6. Film Journal - BHTLM - 12.2FILM JOURNAL INTERNATIONAL (Dec 3 2005)
  7. Documentary focuses on Townes Van Zandt's music (Houston Chronicle Mar 10 2006)
  8. Be Here to Love Me' pays tribute to Townes Van Zandt (Toledo Blade Mar 16 2006)
  9. Keep A-Goin' (Village Voice Apr 13 2006)
  10. Be Here to Love Me: A Film About Townes Van Zandt (Hollywood Reporter Jul 6, 2005)

See info also on IMDb

Date: Wed, 15 Sep 2004 07:16:48 EDT
Subject: Re: Be Here To Love Me

In a message dated 9/14/04 8:21:43 PM Pacific Daylight Time, writes:

 Did anyone out there make it to the Toronto Film Festival to see the 
 film?      --David

I second the question.

FWIW, here's a review of the film from Toronto:

Be Here To Love Me: A Film About Townes Van Zandt

Programme: Real to Reel
Director: Margaret Brown
Country: USA
Year: 2004
Language: English
Time: 99 minutes
Film Types: Colour/HDCAM

Monday, September 13      09:30 PM      CUMBERLAND 3 
Wednesday, September 15      09:15 AM      CUMBERLAND 3 

Production Company: Rake Films
Executive Producer: Chris Mattsson, Paul Stekler, Louis Black
Producer: Margaret Brown, Sam Brumbaugh
Cinematography: Lee Daniel
Editor: Michael Taylor, Karen Skloss, Don Howard
Sound: Bob Kellough, Tom Hammond
Music: Townes Van Zandt, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Lyle Lovett
Principal Cast: Townes Van Zandt, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Emmylou 
Harris, Steve Earle

"Aloneness is a state of being, whereas loneliness is a state of feeling. It's like being broke and being poor." - Townes Van Zandt

Steve Earle offered to "stand on Bob Dylan's coffee table in my cowboy boots" to declare him the world's greatest songwriter. In concert, Lucinda Williams often dedicates "2 Kool 2 Be 4-Gotten" to him. His songs have been recorded by artists as diverse as Emmylou Harris and The Meat Puppets. In other words, the late Townes Van Zandt was a songwriter's songwriter, the kind of artist who is always more famous dead than alive.

That Townes is so achingly present in this tender documentary portrait owes much to Austin-based filmmaker Margaret Brown's feel for his art and ½uvre, expressed with an elegant assembly of lively archival footage and heartfelt interviews. Fans of Van Zandt's music will be pleased to find that the songs are at home here, impressively haunting this evocative biography. For those of us slackers new to the music and to the man, they are a revelation: sad and beautiful and perfect.

Born into wealth, but oblivious to it, Townes was an outsider from the get-go. An itinerant youth - Texas, Colorado, Montana - prefaced life as a troubadour, the urge, he says, toward "blowing everything off," to "get a guitar and go." Clinical depression, for which as a teen he endured months of shock therapy, steered the ragged course, as did a long road of dissolution from drug and alcohol abuse.

Having set out with "some kind of vague notion of making it," Townes eventually had a hit, the Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard cover of "Pancho and Lefty." The royalty cheques were welcome, but this mainstream cameo seems to have been awkward for him and there's tangible discomfort and detachment from it all. Had Townes begun to question if we got it, if we ever would, if it even mattered?

- Sean Farnel

Margaret Brown was born in Mobile, Alabama and studied at Brown University and New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, where she won the Nestor Almendros Award for excellence in cinematography. She has directed several short films and has also worked as a camera assistant. Be Here to Love Me: A Film About Townes Van Zandt (04) is her first feature as director.>>


Date: Thu, 16 Sep 2004 00:30:22 +0100
Subject: Tale of a troubled troubadour - TVZ doc review from The Montreal Gazette ...

I don't think this review has been posted to the lists yet ...    If it has, apologies for posting it again!

Does anyone know when we might get to see it?    Will it be released on DVD at sometime soon?


Tale of a troubled troubadour

Amid the swirl of films at the Toronto International Film Festival, one movie stealing hearts is the documentary Be Here to Love Me: A Film About Townes Van Zandt


Wednesday, September 15, 2004

It has long been the divine right of native Montrealers to knock Toronto. It should probably stop.

Admittedly, the traffic is terrible, the bars close early and the smoking vigilantes have forced every place in town to open a terrace and think about heating it.

But it is also a city with a film festival that can and does accommodate the full spectrum of cultural diversity, and finds a public to support it.

If you were into it recently, you could have learned about terror-fighting puppets from the scatological duo behind South Park; watched a heartbreaking biography of the doomed Texan singer-songwriter Townes Van Zandt; or attended the book launch of a festival-supported profile of the great Quebec filmmaker and polymath Pierre Perrault.

Mind you, you would have had to do it at the same time. There is so much going in any given hour of any given day, no carbon-based being can cover it all. Focus is useful.

For our purposes, that meant taking a pass on a clip from the upcoming new irreverence Team America: World Police by South Park subversives Trey Parker and Matt Stone, and leaning into Be Here to Love Me: A Film About Townes Van Zandt, instead.

>From a first album in 1968 until his death in 1997 at the age of 52, Van Zandt was the songwriter other songwriters called a songwriter.

His devotion to his muse was pure, his output limited, his reputation a word-of-mouth kind of thing. In the pop marketplace, his commercial potential was compromised by an inability to live in any one place for any length of time, a gift for self-destruction and a profound disinterest in money or fame. But those who heard his haunted, high and lonely music were forever changed by it.

One of those disciples was Margaret Brown, and she's made a movie that does more than honour the man; it adds to his canon. Combining old footage, rare performance pieces, home movies, interviews with friends and family and lots and lots of songs, Brown has fashioned a piece that looks and sounds like a Townes Van Zandt song feels.

Brown is 33, the filmmaker daughter of a musical family from Alabama. But she first found Van Zandt's music in New York. "I heard Waitin' Around to Die and it just got me. Then I listened to everything. I went to Austin, Tex., which is like my second home and where Townes spent time, and I started to hear the most amazing stories about him.

"And it gradually dawned on me that maybe this could be more than just an obsession."

For the uninitiated, Van Zandt lived a hard, fast life that could be mistaken for romantic by those with a leaning towards that sort of thing. Among the wreckage of failed marriages and children scarred by his alcoholism and wanderlust, he left songs like Pancho & Lefty and If I Needed You, which became hits for Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson, and Emmylou Harris, respectively.

He also left many, many friends. "There was so much love directed at him. He was so cherished. I couldn't believe there had never been a film done about him."

Two barriers stood between the award-winning director of short films and something approximating a Life of Townes. Van Zandt's family, and the musicians Guy and Susanna Clark.

The former provided some wonderful filmed materials, and wrenching personal memories. The Clarks were gatekeepers to everyone else.

"No one would talk if they didn't. So I went to their home in Nashville. Guy greeted me at the door at 11 a.m. We talked and drank tequila until 4 the next morning. He said if I wanted to do this for Townes, we had to go where he lived."

Doors opened. A tale worthy of some kind of tragedy unfolded. Five years later, and only five days after she put the finishing touches on her first feature documentary, Brown's Be Here to Love Me had its world premiere before a stunned and deeply moved crowd Monday night.

"I wanted to make a film like his songs. Guy Clark said the reason Townes's songs work is because of the negative space. It's the holes you leave, he said."

With the completion of Be Here to Love Me: A Film About Townes Van Zandt, some of the holes left in hearts with his passing have been filled. Brown's film should be picked up for inclusion in a Montreal festival immediately.

The Toronto International Film Festival continues until Saturday. For more on the festival, go to online.

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Date: Thu, 16 Sep 2004 00:36:57 +0100
Subject: The artistry and tragedy of Townes Van Zandt - doc review from the Globe & Mail ...

This comes with the same disclaimer as the other one!


      The artistry and tragedy of Townes Van Zandt

      Special to The Globe and Mail.
      Wednesday, September 15, 2004  

'People who love Townes Van Zandt love Townes -- he doesn't have non-obsessive fans," says Margaret Brown, on the phone from Austin, Tex., one day after putting the final touches on Be Here to Love Me, her eloquent documentary about the legendary and influential Texas singer-songwriter. The film had its world premiere screening Monday night, as part of the Toronto International Film Festival's Real to Reel program, and screens again this morning.

While Brown counts herself among the obsessed when it comes to the music of Van Zandt, who died on New Year's Day, 1997, at age 52, her film is certainly not a work of hagiography nor is it a behind-the-music-style survey of triumphs and scandals. With a delicate, wistful artistry, Be Here to Love Me explores the universal theme of the artist who lives for his art, in the case of Van Zandt, one who eschews the expectations of his heritage (he was born into a wealthy Texas family), fellow musicians, family, critics and fans in the pursuit of lyrical and sonic perfection.

"I didn't want simply to recount the facts," says Brown, who weaves together a wide variety of archival material (TV appearances, home movies, photographs etc.), interviews with musicians, school friends and family (Van Zandt's sister, his widow Jeanene, two ex-wives and three of his children), with beautifully rendered visual "bridges" that impart a sense of movement and the passage of time.

"Townes was this itinerant traveller, and so the film has a lot of time travel, a lot of skipping around. Even though it does move chronologically from his childhood to death, I didn't want it to feel that way. So sometimes there's a performance or narration by Townes from a different period than the image on the screen."

In the editing suite, Brown's surprising inspiration was a Canadian film, Françs Girard's acclaimed feature 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould. "I made my editor watch that film," she says with a laugh. "Even though it's not a documentary, the idea of how that film was put together was very fresh to me, and what I took away from it was the feeling that you know everything you need to know about Glenn Gould by the end of the film."

When it comes to musical artistry, Leonard Cohen is perhaps the Canadian whose stature one could more closely compare with Van Zandt: a songwriter's songwriter.

Cover versions of his introspective ballads and gloriously rambling tales are more widely known than his original recordings -- one senses Brown could have made an entire film about Pancho and Lefty, Van Zandt's best-known song, first covered by Emmylou Harris and later, in duet form, by Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard (Harris and Nelson appear in the film). Toronto's Cowboy Junkies (Van Zandt wrote two songs for their 1992 album Black-Eyed Man), the Tindersticks and Norah Jones are just a few artists who have paid musical homage.

Van Zandt's influence on other artists stretches back to his troubadour days in the sixties, playing Texas folk clubs and juke joints. The film opens with an early story of his legend as told by Joe Ely, who met this "scarecrow" of a man with a backpack filled with copies of his recently recorded album. Ely played it for fellow Lubbock, Tex., musician Jimmie Dale Gilmore, and the two young men listened to it over and over for weeks. "It made us rethink what a song was all about," Ely recalls.

While Van Zandt's music is the constant soundtrack of Be Here to Love Me, the film is filled end to end with riveting stories, including some harrowing ones related to Van Zandt's heavy drinking and substance abuse as well as plenty of humorous yarns, many told by the artist himself in archival material.

Brown brings a "front porch" sensibility to the film's storytelling ebb and flow. Born in Mobile, Ala., she studied film in New York and has made a few short films. Her father is country songwriter Milton Brown, who wrote Every Which Way But Loose (and who attended the Monday premiere).

"In Alabama, what people do for fun in the summer is sit on the porch and tell stories, family stories or ghost stories," she says. "I think there is something of that in the film, it's definitely a southern film about a group of people who love telling stories."

Brown, who made the documentary over a four-year period, used her front-porch skills to convince Austin cinematographer Lee Daniel, known for his work with director Richard Linklater, to come on board. "I was working with another shooter for a while, but he lives in San Francisco," recalls Brown. "My production co-ordinator said, 'We could call Lee but he's real expensive.' So I visited Lee and hung out on his front porch. He was building a house and sawing the lumber and I told him how I wanted to make the film. He knew Townes and connected with what I was saying. I would say the visual style of the film is really Lee's."

Through all the musical and storytelling eloquence on display in Be Here to Love Me, one of the most emotional moments comes when the legendary Nashville-based singer-songwriter and colourful raconteur Guy Clark describes the joy his friend Townes Van Zandt imparted with his music circa 1965, before life got too messy.

"He was just perfect," says Clark, whom you suspect is never at a loss for words. His voice waivers and suddenly you feel like he just might cry. "He had songs that took your breath away."

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Date: Thu, 21 Jul 2005 23:25:47 +0200
Subject: The songwriter's songwriter (from The Age - Melbourne Australia)

The songwriter's songwriter
July 22, 2005

A fragile music genius is explored in a documentary screening at the Melbourne International Film Festival, writes Jo Roberts.

Townes Van Zandt was known as the songwriter's songwriter; a lanky Texan who abandoned a wife and privileged background to find fame, to live the artist's life. Yet he never achieved great fame or fortune in his own lifetime - which ended prematurely in 1997, aged 52 - despite being an artist many of his better-known contemporaries deferred to.

Van Zandt's melodic folk-country songs contained a truth and beauty admired, even envied, by many other artists of his generation; Steve Earle famously said he would stand on Bob Dylan's coffee table and pronounce Van Zandt "the best songwriter in the whole world". Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard covered what would become Van Zandt's most famous song, Pancho and Lefty, their version topping the American country charts in 1983. Others to cover his songs include Emmylou Harris, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, the Tindersticks and the Cowboy Junkies.

But like so many artists touched with genius, Van Zandt also had his demons. As a youth he was diagnosed with manic depression and schizophrenic tendencies, the subsequent electro-shock therapy he underwent erasing most of his childhood memories. In his self-destructive adulthood, alcohol and heroin made their presence felt. He married three times. Yet he left behind a canon of music that has lived on to haunt music lovers around the world.

It took until Margaret Brown was an adult to hear of Townes Van Zandt, despite growing up, as she says, surrounded by "singer-songwriter-type stuff" at home in Mobile, Alabama. Her songwriter father, Milton Brown (he composed the theme song for the film Every Which Way But Loose), ran a recording studio but like most teenagers, Margaret loved what dad didn't, in this case, punk rock.

It wasn't until she was living in New York in the mid-1990s that she first heard Van Zandt's music when her roommate played him. "I couldn't believe I'd never heard it because it was so good," says Brown.

Previously a filmmaker and producer working in short narrative and experimental film, Van Zandt inspired Brown to make her first documentary, Be Here to Love Me: a film about Townes Van Zandt, which has its first of two screenings tomorrow for the Melbourne International Film Festival.

A labour of love shot over four years, the film features interviews with those from Van Zandt's inner sanctum; his three wives, his three children, his close friend (and fellow Texan singer-songwriter) Guy Clark, and musicians/fans including Steve Earle, Willie Nelson and Sonic Youth's Steve Shelley (who was to produce Townes' final album). There is also plenty of never-before seen archival footage and home video. Brown had to hunt and harangue for some, while other footage came to her. "People would show up at my editing room with tapes sometimes," she says.

Other people had attempted documentaries on Van Zandt before, but this is the first, as far as Brown knows, to seen the light of day. She says it's all due to Clark and his wife Susanna - and them thankfully liking her.

"To get the film made, the hardest part was convincing Guy and Susanna to be involved, because everyone else fell in after they said yes," says Brown. "I knew they were gonna have to like me; there's one guy writing a book about Townes (John Kruth), Guy threw knives at him . . . I think Guy thought he was too much of a Yankee.

"Guy was tough on me sometimes, too, but I'm from Alabama, so I got off easy. And I'm a girl, that helps."

Brown's at-times hilarious interview with the Clarks - conducted from 11am one day until 5am the next, with some pass-the-guitar in between - is one of the documentary's highlights. The interview with Nelson went so well that he invited Brown and her crew to go camping with him and his family for a week.

But the most moving interviews are those with Van Zandt's children, JT, Will and Katie Belle who, you sense, had a sense of loss for their father even before his death. "He was never at home; before he died he was always of the road, it's sort of what kept him going," says Brown. "Like a shark, if you stop swimming you die."

Another reason no documentary has previously been done on Van Zandt is because of the continuing litigation over the ownership of his songs between his third wife, Jeanene, and brothers Kevin and Harold Eggers, who own the rights to several studio and live recordings.

It's a topic Brown refused to broach in her film. "I thought the whole litigation thing was the most depressing thing I've ever seen; people fighting over the bones," she says.

Be Here to Love Me: a film about Townes Van Zandt screens at ACMI tomorrow at 2.45pm and Sunday at the Greater Union at 2.30pm, followed by a Q&A with Brown and cinematographer Lee Daniel.


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Date: Fri, 2 Dec 2005 17:27:11 -0500

Movie Review | 'Be Here to Love Me'


"I'd like to write songs that are so good nobody understands them, including me," the Texan singer-songwriter Townes Van Zandt remarks half-seriously in Margaret Brown's tender, impressionistic film biography, "Be Here to Love Me." The words evoke the shadowy images in many of the songs written by Van Zandt, a country-folk troubadour who died of a heart attack on Jan. 1, 1997, while recovering from a broken hip; he was 52.

Van Zandt's most famous song, "Pancho and Lefty," which Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard made into a No. 1 country hit in 1983, is typical: a visionary story of a drifter and an outlaw roaming through a mythic Old West landscape. Its stark language includes the indelible lines heard more than once in the movie: "Now you wear your skin like iron/Your breath's as hard as kerosene."

Stylistically, Van Zandt's songs dwell in the limbo between folk and country. Because he was Texan and played the same circuit as other, more hard-boiled Texan troubadours, he is sometimes categorized as a country "outlaw." But because his pure, sweet baritone lacked a husky, lived-in twang, and his writing partook as much of heaven as of the earth, his ethereality set him apart. The singer and songwriter he most closely resembled is Lyle Lovett, who appears briefly late in the film.

Brown has gathered an impressive array of clips from television interviews and live performances and arranged them into a rough chronology. Van Zandt's close friend Guy Clark, Kris Kristofferson (musing about the sacrificial life of the artist), Jerry Jeff Walker, Steve Earle and Nelson are among those who pay him tribute. His three former wives and three children also reminisce and speculate.

Van Zandt comes across as an appealing but incorrigible problem child. A lanky beanpole of a man with a pronounced physical resemblance to Anthony Perkins, he had an endearing, boyish smile that mirrors the sensitivity quivering in his voice.

His story, told in bits and pieces, is a mostly sad one of an unstable, unlucky man, the son of a wealthy Fort Worth oil executive, fending off demons. His wanderlust began in the 1960s when he left the first of his three marriages to "blow everything off." He was periodically addicted to alcohol and drugs. His wives appear to be have been tolerant caretakers. To his children, for whom he was more absent than present, he remains a tantalizing mystery.

As a young man, his sister recalls, Van Zandt deliberately fell backward out of a fourth-story window "just to see what it felt like." That incident caused him to be put in a mental hospital, where he was given electric shock therapy that erased his childhood memories. He developed an obsession with the blues guitarist Lightnin' Hopkins, who became a major influence on his playing.

For all his charm and talent, Van Zandt lacked the wherewithal to build a solid career (in three decades of recording erratically, he never had a hit of his own) or personal life. Near the end of his life, one of his admirers, Steve Shelley of Sonic Youth, collaborated with him on a recording that was never completed.

Here, as in so many other documentaries about troubled musicians, the word genius is casually tossed around. But does every unstable, self-destructive artist defiantly living on the edge qualify for that description? In Van Zandt's case, maybe yes.

- - - - - BE HERE TO LOVE ME Opens today in Manhattan. Directed by Margaret Brown; director of photography, Lee Daniel; edited by Karen Skloss, Don Howard and Michael Taylor; produced by Brown and Sam Brumbaugh; released by Palm Pictures. At the Angelika Film Center, Mercer and Houston Streets, Greenwich Village. Running time: 99 minutes. This film is not rated.

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Date: Sat, 3 Dec 2005 00:41:53 -0600




Country music is littered with hard-luck cases, but few approach the abject pathos of Townes Van Zandt, a singer and songwriter from Texas. Over a 30-year career, Van Zandt wrote two bona-fide country hits, "If I Needed You" and "Pancho and Lefty," recorded a dozen or so albums that quickly went out of print, and lived as hard as the outlaws he often wrote about. When he died in 1997 of complications arising from an untreated broken hip, he left behind three marriages, devastated children, and a reputation that grows more legendary every year.

Be Here to Love Me is an excellent introduction to Van Zandt's life and music. Built around interviews with a formidable array of country singer-songwriters, the film paints a portrait of a genuine talent who was unable or unwilling to cope with life. Van Zandt had a wealthy childhood, but turned to substance abuse early on. Glue-sniffing and cough syrup were replaced by alcohol, marijuana and harder drugs. Judged suicidal after a stunt at a party, he underwent shock therapy that essentially erased his childhood memories.

Dropping out of college, Van Zandt taught himself to play guitar. His first song, the chilling "Waitin' Round to Die," showed an uncanny knack for characterization and detail. Taking to the road, he eventually won a recording contract and released his first album when he was 24. Despite admiring reviews, his records failed to chart, and after ten years of touring he was living in a trailer.

Bad luck and shady deals haunted Van Zandt, but there's no question that he helped sabotage his career. Those who knew him still seem stunned by the experience, although few express any real bitterness towards him. And one after another, songwriters cite his influence, especially for what Guy Clark refers to as the "negative space" in his lyrics. Tall and frighteningly skinny, he resembles at times the hell-bent Hank Williams. Like Williams, he regarded life warily. Asked in one clip why his songs are so sad, Van Zandt sits tongue-tied, unable to look at the camera or his questioner. Finally he answers, "You don't think life is sad?"

As the stories of Russian roulette or dealing heroin or cancelled recording sessions mount, it's hard to shake the feeling that the musician is being exploited once again simply for morbid curiosity. But director Margaret Brown wisely includes as much music as possible, giving new life to worthy songs like "To Live's to Fly." With so little footage of Van Zandt available, Brown draws extensively from a 1975 interview from James Szalapshi's Heartworn Highways and a 1995 interview shot for European television. She's also found taped telephone calls, song demos, home movies, and even a music-video starring Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, all of which help flesh out the life of a memorable, if flawed, songwriter. Townes Van Zandt deserves attention, even if it can't all be flattering.

Critic: Daniel Eagan

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March 10, 2006, 5:30PM
Documentary focuses on Townes Van Zandt's music

Houston Chronicle

Townes Van Zandt's name conjures tales of drug and alcohol abuse, gambling,
rambling and mental illness. That mythic life sometimes overshadows his
music, which was often as perfect as his life was troubled.
Van Zandt died of a heart attack in 1997, at age 52. In Be Here to Love Me,
now playing at the Angelika, filmmaker Margaret Brown attends mainly to his
work, using a half-century of video footage -- home movies, performances and
interviews -- to create a documentary portrait of the singer-songwriter. By
focusing on the music, she in effect tries to de-mythologize him. But in
doing so, she reveals a drive so singular as to rebuild the myth all over

"Just the idea of someone who lives their art was interesting to me," Brown
says. "The music was so strong that I had to make it the focus. But you keep
hearing about the life. Being a young artist myself, I wondered, do you have
to live it? Or can you just make it up? He was definitely of the school that
you had to live it."

In one interview clip, Van Zandt is asked about his goals. He seems

"I'd like to write some songs that are so good that nobody understands
them," he answers. "Not even myself."

He succeeded at that.

Take Pancho and Lefty, perhaps his best-known composition, and a huge hit
for Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard in 1983. The song only seems like a
simple narrative.

"You weren't your mama's only boy, but her favorite one it seemed," Van
Zandt wrote of Pancho, the song's bandit. 'she began to cry when you said
good-bye, and sank into your dreams."

The lines are as poetic as country music gets. Why does Van Zandt make the
curious choice to address the dead outlaw in the second person? And why does
Pancho 'sink" into his dreams? Popular song has taught us that dreams are
something we fly or float or race toward.

Pancho's "horse was fast as polished steel/(and) he wore his gun outside his
pants/ for all the honest world to feel." The lines are simple, with a
beautiful simile out front. For me, they also conjure up at least two very
different images: One is of a curious child pawing at the weapon. The other
is more menacing, the "feel" a deliberate intimidation tactic put across by
the outlaw.

In Brown's film, Nelson, Kris Kristofferson and Guy Clark take turns
discussing the song in three separate interviews. That's what people do with
Townes Van Zandt's work. The song's opening lines "Living on the road, my
friend/ is gonna keep you free and clean/ And now you wear your skin like
iron, and your breath's as hard as kerosene" inspired both Nelson and
Kristofferson to think of themselves as Pancho.

Nelson and Haggard dressed the song nicely, but there was a desperation in
Van Zandt's voice that always served it well. "Nobody could beat Townes'
version," Delbert McClinton told me in 2001, after he'd cut his own take on
Pancho for a tribute album. "When I got asked to record it, my first thought
was, 'What the (expletive) am I gonna do with this song?' "

But Van Zandt's songs, blues songs at their core, remain great cover
material for performers including Lyle Lovett, Norah Jones, and the Cowboy
Junkies. With Van Zandt, genre doesn't seem to matter. "The songs are so
strong lyrically," the Junkies' Michael Timmons says, "that even if you
screw with the music side, it doesn't matter."

To anyone familiar with Van Zandt's music, the few childhood clips and
yearbook photos that Brown secured are almost disarming: Van Zandt as a
child in a baseball uniform, smiling. Van Zandt in ROTC duds. Van Zandt on
the high school football team. "Pretty good wideout," a classmate remembers.
"Good hands, good speed."

He didn't grow up destitute, as so many blues singers do, but rather in a
fairly well-to-do Fort Worth family. Perhaps it's because his family wasn't
poor that it reacted aggressively when the teenage Van Zandt began drinking
and sniffing glue. Fast-lane behavior got him shipped off to a Galveston
mental institution for electroshock therapy. Most close to Van Zandt feel he
never recovered from it.

Three main types of Van Zandt video appear in Be Here.

When he was on, he sang as though in a trance, eyes closed, head tilted up,
voice clear and bluesy. Clips in the film from the '70s, '80s and '90s
confirm this compelling delivery, with Lightnin' Hopkins-like guitar chops
married to the vocal conviction of Southern soul great James Carr.

When he was off, Van Zandt sang as though he'd been abducted and forced to
perform on command. In one clip he stumbles and mumbles through To Live Is
to Fly as though the lyrics weren't his. His chin is down, and his eyes dart
frantically, looking for escape.

Then there's the mugging. For all the serious songs, Van Zandt was also a
cornball jester.

Some of the film's funniest moments find a befuddled Ralph Emery, host of
Nashville Now, trying to make sense of his joking, loopy guest " a
rough-edged, unpredictable contrast to Emery's typically strait-laced
Nashville visitors.

"One time, Townes bet me, I think this was around '74 or '75, that he'd come
out (at a show) and sing Up Against the Wall Redneck Mother in pig Latin,"
Ray Wylie Hubbard told me two years ago. "And he did."

That performance was part of a trio Van Zandt called the Hemorrhage Mountain
Boys, a goofy interlude during some of his concerts.

In the film, Steve Earle speaks of the Boys with scorn, claiming that the
clowning broke the spell. He says the audience had no idea they were seeing
the best songwriter in the world.

Others thought the goofball was as much a part of Van Zandt's persona as his
songs of death and desperation.

"Throughout all this, he had a great sense of humor," his son John T. Van
Zandt says in a phone interview. "He was very lighthearted about his own
predicament. That was like collateral to him. It was a lot more tragic to us
than to him. Everyone else calculates the damage and falls a little shy of
where he did, that ability to express human emotion."

In another Be Here to Love Me clip, an interviewer asks Van Zandt why he
wrote sad songs.

Van Zandt looks surprised.

"I don't think they're all that sad," he says. "I have a few that aren't
sad, they're just hopeless. The rest aren't sad, they're just the way it

"The way it goes" -- it's a fatalistic echo from Pancho and Lefty: "Nobody
heard his dying words/ ah, but that's the way it goes."

In the film, Van Zandt makes other comments that suggest his life, as he
lived it, was inevitable and doomed.

"I don't envision a very long life for myself," he says in an audio snippet.
"I think my life will run out before my work will. I designed it that way."

Later he explains his decision to become a songwriter. "There was a point
where I said, "I can do this. But it'll take blowing everything off. Family,
money, security, friends. Blow it off. Get a guitar and go." "

Family is the toughest one for viewers to accept. Van Zandt's three wives
are interviewed in the film. There are also interviews with his two sons and
his daughter.

"You can let go of the romance of (Van Zandt's life) when you see what it
does to people who loved him most," Brown says.

First wife Fran Lohr remarked that the first song she remembered his writing
was Waitin' Round to Die. "I was 20 years old and newly wed," she says in
the film. "I was expecting a ballad."

Still, Jeanene Van Zandt, who was with him from 1980 until he left her a
widow, is pleased with the film's portrayal.

"There's some stuff missing," she says. "There's no boats. Townes loved
boats. But it caught his essence. The living we all had to do to pay for
that music. But we had so much fun together, too."

Today, John Van Zandt owns a successful woodworking business in Austin. He
also plays guitar, writes songs and bears an eerie physical resemblance to
his father. He speaks about Townes' life with a matter-of-factness that the
gallery of friends and admirers can't.

In the film, Earle recounts Van Zandt putting a bullet in a revolver,
spinning the cylinder, putting it to his head and pulling the trigger three
times. Earle says the incident caused strain between them for years.

But John's recollection of some awful nights, followed by tender, apologetic
mornings, is even more poignant.

In conversation, John refers to his father as Townes, not Dad a reflection,
maybe, of Townes' inability to function as an authority figure.

"I've lost track of some of the parts that were fairly gruesome," John says.

"From my end, though, there are no regrets. I felt like Townes did his deal.
He got most of his work done early in life, which left him a lot of time to
play. We all wish he could've been kinder to himself. But that was part of
the deal. I wouldn't change it if I thought it would've forced him to
sacrifice what he did.

"I wish he had more peace than he did. But his sacrifice was a good one. The
world doesn't have him, but it has his music."

Townes Van Zandt didn't seem to care whether he was being screwed out of
money. As John told me, "He felt more liberated with a $20 bill and a gig
the next night than looking at a bank account full of money. It would have
just weighed him down."

Now, though, his music is part of a custody battle.

Kevin Eggers is the head of Tomato, the label that issued the albums from
Van Zandt's hot period, 1969-1977, and still controls the rights to them. To
his credit, Eggers signed Van Zandt and released his albums when nobody else
was interested. But for years the albums have flitted in and out of print.
Right now, record stores have dwindling supplies, and Amazon lists limited
copies in stock.

Van Zandt's family won't discuss the legal tangle with Eggers, but Be Here
to Love Me, which has a DVD release on Tuesday, portrays him negatively.

Eggers deflects the blame for Van Zandt's obscurity back toward the
songwriter himself. He brings up a big tour he booked for Van Zandt with
John Lee Hooker that he says was canceled after Van Zandt got drunk and had
a car accident. He claims a recording session with famed producer Chips
Moman went bust when Van Zandt broke his arm.

"Keeping those albums in print was a labor of love," Eggers says. "We didn't
even get our mastering costs back. A lot of hateful things get said about
me, but Townes Van Zandt was an artist who was very self-destructive " very
gifted too " but he had no successes other than publishing in his lifetime.
Not one record that I put out was a commercial success. But over and over I
did things that kept him alive and well in his creative life."

Still, Van Zandt's family worries that his recorded legacy is being grossly
mishandled by others. To the spottiness of the albums" availability, add the
problem of the live recordings that have sprung up like clover since Van
Zandt's death " a particularly miserable market development for an artist
prone to train-wreck performances. As John points out, if the film piques a
kid's curiosity, he's more likely to encounter a shoddy live album in a
record store than one of Van Zandt's best studio recordings.

But Jeanene hopes the market will be corrected by year's end. She's
convinced that the family will gain control of the Tomato albums (Eggers
adamantly disagrees), and she's getting some of the worst live stuff pulled
from shelves. With John and her two children, she's starting TVZ Records,
which she plans as the only label to reissue Van Zandt's recordings.

"We're going to try to get down to his real legacy," she says. 'the core
thing he left behind."

So, nearly 10 years after his death, what's to be made of Van Zandt? it's
impossible to ignore the myth when it's so clearly part of his craft.

Sitting next to Guy Clark for an interview, Van Zandt suggests that there's
heaven and then there's purgatory. Then there's hell. Then the blues. He
said he was stuck in the blues, trying to climb up to purgatory.

He aimed no higher than purgatory, but he at least had a vision that life
could be better. As he wrote, "there Ain't no dark 'til something shines."
Part of his torture seemed to be the inability to snuff the last flicker of
his life that wasn't committed to the art: his family. That vision of
something better " some life not consumed by the blues " might have been
what made him rage at night. And then tearfully apologize in the morning.

________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________

Date: Thu, 16 Mar 2006

'Be Here to Love Me' pays tribute to Townes Van Zandt


Do you rock?

Are you doomed?

Then take action now.

Townes Van Zandt did. "My life will run out before my work does," he said.
"I designed it that way." One of the first songs he ever wrote was called
"Waiting Around to Die." He was barely out of his teens. He died of heart
failure in 1997 at 52, after years of drug and alcohol abuse, the requisite
renegade musician's acts of self-destructive insanity, and sessions of shock

He once glued his mouth shut and had his teeth knocked out with a hammer. As
a college student, the Texas singer-songwriter sat on a balcony four stories
above the ground.

He leaned over the edge.

He wondered what it would feel like if he fell, and so he did.

He landed on his back.

Certain musicians know they will be celebrated in death. Their knowledge of
the business goes too deep for its own good. For some - Kurt Cobain comes to
mind - the notion looks more like a perverse career path than a certainty.
For others it's a weary acknowledgement of odds.

That resigned sigh is at the heart of Margaret Brown's Be Here to Love Me: A
Film About Townes Van Zandt (Palm Pictures, $24.98) - the latest remarkable
movie about a musician in a season that brims with smart movies about music.
It received a limited theatrical run last year and arrives on video this

Be Here to Love Me is the loneliest of the bunch. Dave Chappelle's Block
Party is the best, a celebration and portrait of a movement; Awesome! I ...
Shot That, from the Beastie Boys, is the usual concert film clichés with a
few clever tweaks; Neil Young: Heart of Gold is an assessment of a life, and
The Devil and Daniel Johnson (opening this spring) parallels the obscurity
and madness of Van Zandt.

But only Brown's picture feels haunted, and only Brown calls a mystery a
mystery. It never explains his behavior or attempt to fit the pieces of his
life into an order that sheds light on why he lived so carelessly and died
so slowly. Instead, like Van Zandt's songs, it goes for a mood that captures
the spirit of those songs - melancholy and spare.

You don't know those songs?

Of course, you don't.

Now that the man is dead, he is celebrated all out of proportion to his life
- which was sad, modest, and brief, like his songs.

And by "all out of proportion," I mean it's a shock he's celebrated at all.
Van Zandt had that deadliest of career labels: a singer-songwriter's
singer-songwriter. Like an artist's artist or director's director, he was
known more as a great secret than a great success.

There's a heartbreaking clip in Brown's film of Van Zandt on an old TNN talk
show hosted by Ralph Emery. He's asked where his records can be found; the
producers of the show are big fans but they haven't found a single one. Van
Zandt struggles to answer then admits, well, his life's work is not in

Later, we visit the world headquarters of his label, Tomato Records. It's a
man's apartment.

During a career that stretched from the late 1960s until his death, Van
Zandt's biggest hits (presumably, along with most of his income) came when
others recorded his work.

Adding a layer of delicacy to a song so fragile it already seemed in danger
of crumbling, Emmylou Harris pulled a classic out of "If I Needed You"; and
you'd be hard-pressed to find many Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard fans who
think of the duo's chart-topper "Pancho and Lefty" as a rerecorded Van Zandt

Asked why all his songs are so sad, he replied: "Oh, I don't know. I have a
few that aren't."

Maybe that's why he stayed a record-lover's secret, but Brown isn't
interested in nailing down reasons for that, either. And she doesn't rely on
talking heads. Guy Clark, Joe Ely, Kris Kristofferson, and Steve Earle,
among others, don't praise him in bite-sized quips. They reminisce, they
hang out in bars and let whoever happens to be in the room listen in. His
ex-wife makes it plain: He was unknowable. He makes appearances in home
movies, and his disembodied voice (recorded during interviews) wafts behind
images of deserted hotel rooms and trees rushing past windows.

Be Here to Love Me does, in the end, what great obituaries should: It
presents a life that was just passing through, that made a mark, however
small. Its images never decide on the man's importance, only that he was
loved by a few. Brown's film, like its subject, seems content to be
overlooked. It's a beautiful loser.

________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________,hurt,72866,22.html
Keep A-Goin'

by Edd Hurt
April 13th, 2006 6:30 PM

Goofy, charming, courtly and oblique, Townes Van Zandt was the least
populist of the songwriters who orbited Nashville during the fertile period
bounded by Bob Dylan's 1966 Blonde on Blonde sessions and Robert Altman's
1975 Nashville. Van Zandt's songs never provided Tom T. Hall's journalistic
gratifications or Kris Kristofferson's virile romanticism, and as a
record-maker he was often sterile, paying lip service to the arty
folkie-isms and arid exactitude of producers like Jack Clement and Chips
Moman without ever fully entering into the spirit of the enterprise.
Be Here to Love Me, the soundtrack to Margaret Brown's 2005 documentary,
portrays Van Zandt as a royal fuckup aristocratically disinclined to ever
let on how seriously he took himself, and too bemused by his own violent
tendencies to be truly frightening. He's never more engaging than when he
tells an interviewer, "I don't envision a very long life for myself. I think
my life will run out before my work does," or when he describes how he
deliberately took a tumble out of a fourth-story window so he could remember
"just exactly what it felt like."

These remarkable admissions of self-destruction bookend Be Here to Love Me.
In between, "Brand New Companion" reveals Van Zandt as a pretty fair Texas
bluesman with a just-sloppy-enough fingerpicking guitar style he picked up
from listening to Lightnin' Hopkins. Yet the performance is static, pure
dead space, and despite couplets like "She fits just like my guitar/Man,
she's near as tall as me," Van Zandt seems sunk in on himself, insular.
"Marie" is a superbly understated talking blues; Van Zandt's dazed, phlegmy
croak turns this tale of total destitution ("Maybe me and Marie could find a
burned-out van/Do a little settling down") into a truly heartbreaking
performance that is about as far from hobo sentimentality as you'd care to

You come away from Be Here with the sense of a scattered, slapdash
virtuosity, untamed by any overriding aesthetic. "Waitin' Round to Die" is
as overdramatized as a scene out of Sergio Leone, complete with
clippity-clop percussion effects and what sounds like a savagely raked
autoharp. And at the other extreme, the live version of "To Live's to Fly"
is Van Zandt at his sweetest and most casual. It nicely mythologizes, and
undercuts, the singer-songwriter ethos ("I'll miss the system here/The
bottom's low and the treble's clear") and one of his most emblematic

If Be Here suggests that Van Zandt was a strange mixture of openhearted
sentimentalist and mannered manipulator, two live recordings give us a
somewhat warmer portrait of a canny, devious, and guileless performer. Live
at Union Chapel, London, England, a solo show from 1994 (not quite three
years before his death), finds Van Zandt talking his way through "Pancho and
Lefty" and making explicit his roots in folkiedom by using the guitar lick
from "John Hardy" in a song about Thunderbird wine. He's endlessly charming;
the audience energizes him. A Private Concert, taped at a Houston Holiday
Inn in 1988, is Van Zandt without an audience, yet he gives out details
about how he came up with "Snowin' on Raton," goes through the repertoire,
and sounds infinitely old and very far away. The performances aren't bad,
but this is a man who cannot envision any sort of future.

It's hard to imagine Van Zandt making a record like Kris Kristofferson's
This Old Road. It's exactly the kind of thing Altman might use in a remake
of Nashville, since it's full of good-liberal codgerisms like, "The truth is
a highway/Leading to freedom." Don Was's production is so minimalist it
isn't even there, and Kristofferson sings almost as good as Henry Gibson.
Still, "Chase the Feeling" works as a modified Sun Records two-step, and if
Townes Van Zandt is listening from songwriters' heaven, he might do worse
than to crib these lines: "With a pretty piece of hunger/Was younger than
her eyes/On a scale of cosmic thunder/It's a wonder you're alive."

Be Here to Love Me: A Film About Townes Van Zandt
Sheri Linden

July 6, 2005
"Be Here to Love Me," the first feature documentary devoted to lamented singer-songwriter Townes Van Zandt, is a heartfelt and impressionistic portrait rather than an exhaustive bio – an approach that feels right in tune with his intense, rambling-man sensibility. Fans will savor this chronicle of the lanky troubadour, whose honeyed Texan baritone etched landscapes of ache and longing. For those unacquainted with a true songwriter's songwriter – as the likes of Steve Earle, Joe Ely and Emmylou Harris attest – Margaret Brown's artful film is a compelling introduction. After traveling the fest circuit, including a recent stop at the Los Angeles Film Festival, the docu is set for fall release.

Born into a leading Fort Worth family (super-8 home movies from the '40s offer glimpses of upper-class comfort), Van Zandt grew into a resolutely itinerant country boy, preferring hardscrabble trailers and backwoods cabins even after Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard scored a No. 1 hit with his "Pancho and Lefty." His own sales remained on a cult level until his death at 52 in 1997, his health ravaged by a lifelong taste for inebriants. Glue-sniffing sessions at Shattuck Military Academy in Minnesota progressed to more purposeful weeklong binges on Bali Hai wine, listening to Lightnin' Hopkins and early Dylan. His parents' misguided intervention subjected the budding artist to the best shock treatments money could buy – a move they regretted and that cost Van Zandt most of his childhood memories.

Brown doesn't elicit many memorable anecdotes from her well-known talking heads, with the notable exception of musician/raconteur Guy Clark -- who begins his interview by toasting his departed friend with a shot of tequila – and Kris Kristofferson, who relates an affecting appraisal of the costs and rewards of choosing the artist's path. Van Zandt's sister, three wives and especially his three children offer keen insights, with eldest son J.T. evincing clear-eyed judgment of his father's addictive personality and its effect on those around him.

For a non-mainstream figure, Van Zandt left an abundant film/video record, and "Be Here's" rich array of archival material ranges from TV appearances on "Nashville Now" to outtakes from "Heartworn Highways," a 1981 docu on the outlaw-country scene in Austin and Nashville. Van Zandt's mordant wit and philosophical acuity reverberate in phone conversations with journalist William Hedgepeth, which play over road-trip imagery that cinematographer Lee Daniel (a frequent Richard Linklater collaborator) has given a lovely vintage feel by manipulating old film stock. Rather than connecting all the chronological dots, Brown has fashioned Van Zandt's balm-to-the-brokenhearted legacy into potent cinematic poetry.
________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________________

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