The late Townes Van Zandt always lived in the misty fringes of consciousness, where fate and legend probably figured he would be most comfortable. Even those who couldn’t quote a lyric of the fabled Texas songwriter might recall the name. Townes Van Zandt was famous for being someone you were supposed to know. That he never fully got his due may be a sad thing, but sad things are pretty much what fueled his genius.
Margaret Brown has taken up the cause with her new film “Be Here To Love Me” and no prior appreciation of Van Zandt is necessary. This is the story of a man born to write songs, a gift that sometimes comes with a very high price. Townes Van Zandt was actually born to an affluent and supportive family in Houston, but soon established himself as a problem child. At one point in young adulthood he hurled himself off a fourth story balcony just to see how it felt. That would lead to some ill-advised shock therapy that erased large pieces of Van Zandt’s memory. What came easy for Townes was songwriting, followed by the thrill of performing those songs. It was the late-60s and there was no need for life to be conventional. Van Zandt slung a guitar across his back and started wandering, spending the rest of his life slowly running away from marriages and children, likely sabotaging the fame that was supposedly eluding him, and leaving beautiful songs in his wake.
When she needs a talking head, Brown brings in some pretty good ones: Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson and especially fellow hard-drinking Texas singer songwriter Guy Clark. Their endorsements are variously amusing, heartbreaking and heartfelt. But Brown also has the luxury of letting us forge our own opinion. There is a wealth of footage of Van Zandt over the years in performance and in home movies, singing songs, writing songs, talking about writing songs, playing with guns, trying on hats and seeking to reconnect with scattered family members.
Van Zandt died in 1997, perhaps happier than he had been, perhaps not. But still yearning for a legacy. Weakened by a hip surgery he forced himself to attend a recording session, left depressed by his performance, and died the next day. Imagine watching a version of “Walk The Line” where Johnny Cash never finds fame or June Carter. That’s the tragic power of “Be Here To Love Me.” That people still want to tell the tale, and gifted songwriters still marvel at Van Zandt’s talent, will have to be his legacy.
© 2006 - Casey McCabe - Air Date: 02/01/06
Be Here To Love Me: A Film About Townes Van Zandt
U.S. - 2004