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  Be Here to Love Me The Story Behind The Songs
Year: 2004
Director: Margaret Brown
Stars: Townes van Zandt, Joe Ely, Guy Clark, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Kevin Eggers, Wrecks Bell, David Olney, Steve Earle, Kinky Friedman, Emmylou Harris, Steve Shelley, Lyle Lovett, Fran Lohr, J.T. Van Zandt, Cindy Van Zandt Lingram, Jeanene Van Zandt
Genre: Documentary, MusicBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Musician Joe Ely remembers when he met Townes van Zandt when he was travelling across the Southern States of America, and after giving him a lift to where he wanted to go, he was paid by Townes with an album of his own work, one of many he was carrying with him. Truth be told, there was a time when van Zandt's music was very hard to get hold of, as he admitted himself on a talk show appearance once, but now he has become a cult figure his songs are much sought after. This documentary is his story, told by those who knew him.

Even now Townes van Zandt is a figure in country music who would not be recognisable by those who were not part of that scene, and if you spoke to someone who didn't know his most celebrated songs such as Pancho and Lefty then they were unlikely to have heard of the man. Margaret Brown's plain but evocative documentary attempted to redress that by securing interviews with not only his family and friends, but with country stars who even those ignorant of the style would likely be able to identify: Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson and Emmylou Harris are among those famous faces - and famous voices - lining up to pay tribute here.

After a while the tale of van Zandt begins to sound much like the sorrow of many a popular singer, and even an unpopular singer, as his talent began to be obscured by his addiction to drink and drugs, perhaps appropriately considering his idol was Hank Williams who drank himself to death in a similar manner, though at a far younger age than Townes did (oddly, they both died on New Year's Day). Although the songs, played throughout in clips or on the soundtrack, remained distinctive in their melancholy fashion, what overwhelmed the mood were those anecdotes of his self-destructive ways, which not only took in his alcoholism but other reckless behaviour in relationships and more.

We get a good idea of what the subject was like, either from the clips of him being interviewed or performing or from what others say about him, both how charming he could be and what a nightmare he lapsed into when he found life too much to bear without a drink in his hand. We hear how at military school he began his career of addiction by sniffing glue through a sock, so much so that he had to have all his socks confiscated, then how he once toppled off a fourth floor balcony just to see what it felt like. This landed Townes in a mental hospital, admitted by his parents, which saw him given such drastic treatment that his whole childhood was wiped from his memory; you could argue he never truly recovered from that experience.

We hear from each of his three wives, along with his children, the youngest of whom hardly remembers him, painting a picture of a reckless but attractive man who was his own worst enemy. Along the way there are several hair-raising comments about his behaviour - such as shooting up not with heroin but a mixture of bourbon and Coca-Cola - but Brown ensured the music was offered the highest profile, so we never forget that is why his story is worth relating; he had such a talent with a mournful tune and an insightful lyric that we understand why he is still held in such high esteem by the best in his field. Nevertheless, once again you ponder the attraction musicians, especially talented ones, have for the demon drink and drugs, and hearing about Townes you cannot airily explain it away by saying it was because he was bored when not in the studio or performing, for he came from a privileged background and was surrounded by people who loved and respected him. That creative impulse is one double-edged sword.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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