I rewatched the Townes Van Zandt documentary Be Here To Love Me last night. I'd seen it before back when it came out, but I'd forgotten how brutal it was.
In a way, it's admirable, Van Zandt's dedication to his art--his willingness to throw family, material gains, simple human comfort, aside in pursuit of his music. "There was a point when I realized: man I could really do this," Van Zandt says at one point, "but it takes blowing everything off. It takes blowing your family off, money, security, happiness, friends: blow it off." But it's also infuriating to see someone so fundamentally selfish ("he could be really cruel to the people who loved him," his oldest son says, with no hint of romanticsm). He left behind three wives and just as many children. True, he seemed somewhat content with his last marriage and family, but given enough time I expect he would have severed those ties as well.
At times, though, it seems it was almost worth it. We were joking around somewhat while watching the movie, making smalltalk, but the three of us fell silent watching a performance of "Marie", a completely no bullshit moment. Van Zandt wrote any number of sad, dark songs, but he was also the author of songs like "Highway Kind", "Marie", and "Nothin'" that are pulsing black holes, portals into a despair that is utterly inescapable. Listening, you're surprised he lasted as long as he did. His old friend Guy Clark puts it best, performing at a memorial for Van Zandt--"I booked this gig thirty years ago."
The other thing that struck me, watching the documentary, particularly during the interview sections with a visibly drunk Guy Clark, is how much Van Zandt and the entire Texas singer/songwriter scene--Van Zandt and Guy Clark and Steve Earle and others--remind me of my father and his old cronies, many (most) of whom are a bunch of drunks and fuckups, even now, well into their fifties. But they all had a lot--some would say too much--fun in their youth. They drank and did drugs and got fucked up and crashed cars and fucked each other's husbands and wives. They embodied the same kind of free-spirited outlaw/hippie/country vibe of Clark and Van Zandt, only minus the talent and success.
Still, I often find myself envying them their youth and freedom, particularly when weighed against my own rather timid and unexciting adolescence, and which probably explains to some degree my fascination/attraction to people who are kind of fucked up and self-destructive. They can burn up before your eyes, provide illumination, poke and prod into dark corners while you remain your own safe and boring self, quietly watching the dark.
"Like most North Americans of his generation, he tends to know way less about why he feels certain ways about the objects and pursuits he's devoted to than he does about the objects and pursuits themselves. It's hard to say for sure whether this is even exceptionally bad, this tendency."