"The poignant profile of a troubled troubadour… a dignified and wistful look at the unusual life, difficult career and lasting influence of singer-songwriter Townes Van Zandt." — Variety
Screened as part of NZIFF 2005
Steve Earle famously announced Townes van Zandt was the best songwriter in the world and he’d stand up in his cowboy boots on Bab Dylan’s coffee table to say it. Townes’ response was he’d seen Dylan’s minders, and ‘If Steve thinks he can get right up there on Bob’s coffee table he’s got another thing coming.’
Van Zandt was one hell of a songwriter – never a particularly prolific one, but of the 100 odd songs he recorded, 80 or 90 of them a really good, and about 40 are classics. He wrote unflinchingly tough and beautiful songs about the sadness and difficulty of life, some positive but some utterly without hope.
But those who only hear the songs may be surprised by how much time Townes spent getting wasted, telling bad jokes and playing the fool. This rich, warm portrait makes a decent fist of doing justice to the gap between deep seriousness and silliness – as well as providing vivid testimony as to where all the darkness came from.
Like The Devil and Daniel Johnston, the film about Daniel Johnston, the other troubled Texas songwriter in this year’s festival, Be Here to Love Me finds its crucial revelations in family life. Born into a very rich Texas family, Townes’ young adult skylarking (he famously fell off a balcony on purpose at one party) sufficiently alarmed his parents that they institutionalised him, with dramatic results.
Soon after van Zandt gives up everything – inheritance, wife and child included – to live the life of the travelling troubadour. For the next several years, he’s either battling along the roads of America, or battling depression and alcoholism holed up in a cabin in backwoods Tennessee.
While not skimping on the often huge difficulties of having anything to do with him, the film features a rich array of fellow (mostly) country musicians, friends and wives telling tales both tall and sad, about how much they miss him. The most moving memories of Townes come from his kids – eldest son JT talking about the disappointment of travelling across country to see a father who wasn’t remotely interested in seeing him, second son Will talking about how he can’t get to sleep at night without playing his dead father’s records, and daughter Katie Belle singing along with the recorded voice of a father she only just remembers. — Campbell Walker