thoughts on townes – “to live is to fly”

“As I stumble and reel to my bed
All that I done, All that I said
Means nothin to me I’d soon as be dead
And all of this world be forgotton…”
– Townes Van Zandt

townes van zandt

I can’t even remember when or how I first became aware of Townes Van Zandt (TVZ). His apparition to me in my music world was perhaps not unlike the way he lived his own life, seemingly appearing then disappearing then showing up again in your most private and personal reflections on the way the world appears and then disappears in front of you. Townes was something of a bright shadow to me since he first appeared…and disappeared.

I even met him once, in what turned out to be the last year of his life. He performed at the old Palms Playhouse in Davis, CA, an old broken-down-enough-to-be-authentic theater out at the edges of Davis. I went alone to see him perform solo on acoustic. He stood in front of the audience and stumbled and reeled through a life’s history of songs and sorrow and gladness and stories of lives he’d led, sometimes stopping in the middle of his singing just to talk to everyone. A storyteller. A reluctant saint in dungarees. A long long lost compadre.

When I watched him from a wooden seat in that theater I had the distinct feeling that his wiring was misfiring (to quote JT). It didn’t matter in the artistic realm he was creating for everyone. None of it mattered but it was all sacred and beautiful nonetheless.

After the show I wandered out to the back of the theater. It was a country setting with fields and a small house and other buildings standing in the dark. Townes was outside there with his cigarette. I went up to him to say thank you however I came out with those words. He asked me if I wanted to come in the house there and gave me a chance to stand face to face with him in the yellow light inside and talked about music and travelling and the tree he saw way back when in Okemah, Oklahoma with Woody Guthrie’s name carved in it. But the house was gone. A story within a story. It was 1996. Townes died on New Year’s Day 1997.

I created my first CD “Lost in the Green” as a homemade DIY product in 1995. It was a barebones acoustic coffeehouse type of record, not all that popular of a style in the mid-90’s but I wanted to restart my acoustic roots in the brand new digital recording and Internet Age.

On it I included two songs by TVZ, “Dollar Bill Blues” and “Nothin'”. I put those songs on there as my recognition of *all* of the music I had been blessed with by everyone I had listened to live and on recordings my whole life. The list of names and influences is very long — endless really.

But I put those two Townes songs on my first CD as my way of summing up my thank you’s to all the songwriters and travelling musicians I’d listened to or met and talked with over the years.

Townes was that living symbol to me of what it was to write for yourself and then share it with others.

Thank you Townes…


  1. TVZ has been in my life since I was a teenager, maybe 45-50 yrs. Listen to his songs at least every week. Never met him but thanks for the Love!

    1. Mark I was lucky enough to meet Townes once when he played in Davis at the Palms Playhouse (since moved from that old classic ramshackle theater country setting to Winters). That was in 1997 I think within less than a year of his passing. I wandered around the back of the theater outside and found him standing in the dark out there after the show. He invited me into the little cottage where he was staying the night.

      He told me about how he had once found a tree in Okemah, OK with Woody Guthrie’s name carved into it where that old house might have once stood. Townes influenced me strongly about what was honest about a song, more than anyone perhaps.

      In respect I had already put 2 of his covers on my very first 1995 CD called “Lost in the Green”. (TVZ’s Nothin’, and Dollar Bill Blues). I also have a couple more of his on my “Independent Acoustic Roots” which I just released last year containing some of my very first acoustic digital recordings from the early 90’s.

      His music doesn’t fade that’s for sure. If anything it gets more powerful for me as the years go by.

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