Hi everyone. Hope you are all well and continue to stay that way during this global health crisis we are facing. But in addition to protecting your physical wellness, what are you doing to stay mentally healthy today?
(Image found online. Original source unknown.)
I know we are still facing a serious situation but a new year gives us hope for the new days, seasons, opportunities & moments ahead. Still, music is something that will never change for me. It is my refuge, the most comforting part of my life & the one thing I consistently count on. So until a more normal semblance of life returns, I am going to share a song I listen to that helps me escape the current state of things, if only for a few minutes each day. And if this helps anyone else, even better.
In July 1983 Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard had a #1 hit with their version of today’s song. Emmylou Harris released her own version in 1976. I did not hear either of them until after I discovered the original 1972 version by the songwriter himself, Townes Van Zandt. He is another one of those obscure but legendary cult heroes who wrote several notable songs made famous by many artists in & out of the country genre. But he never achieved a successful performing career of his own due to his lifelong battle with mental illness and addiction.
He was born 77 years ago on March 7, 1944 in Texas. He started playing guitar by age 12 after he was inspired by an Elvis Presley TV performance. When Van Zandt was in college the first signs of alcoholism & depression emerged, leading to his bipolar diagnosis which prevented him from being accepted into the Air Force. A course of insulin therapy treatments impaired his long term memory. By 1965 he gave up a stint in law school for a career in music.
Van Zandt was writing songs steadily between 1968 and 1973 and was considered a rising country star., but that path was marred by addiction. Even so by the end of the decade he had achieved cult figure status for his poetic songs of sad tales featuring various characters and the worlds they lived in. In addition to Harris’ cover of today’s song, she also recorded his tune, “If I Needed You” as a duet with Don Williams in 1981 which became a top ten hit.
In 1990 Van Zandt toured with The Cowboy Junkies & supposedly turned down several invitations to write with Bob Dylan, who was also a fan. But despite those successes, Van Zandt’s career never moved past the dive bar circuit because of his substance abuse struggles & his ongoing mental health issues. He died in 1997 at the age of 52 from health problems related to his addictions. .
I chose a live version of today’s song because unlike the studio track, this one features a hauntingly beautiful violin accompaniment that comes in during the second verse and stays until the end of the track. It underscore the pensive mood of the music, the lyrics & the singer’s poignant tone. Happy birthday, Townes Van Zandt.
“Living on the road my friend
Was gonna keep you free and clean
Now you wear your skin like iron
Your breath’s as hard as kerosene“.
Townes Van Zandt circa 1977. (Image found online. Original source unknown.)
Townes Van Zandt: “Pancho & Lefty” (Recorded in Oklahoma in 1978, from the 1993 album, Rear View Mirror. Originally released in 1972, written by Townes Van Zandt).
I do not own the rights to anything. I am just sharing what I love and how I am coping with you.