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Music / Townes Van Zandt

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John Townes Van Zandt (March 7, 1944 – January 1, 1997), better known as Townes Van Zandt, was a critically acclaimed American singer-songwriter. Much of Van Zandt’s musical canon–-songs such as "Pancho and Lefty", "For the Sake of the Song", "Tecumseh Valley", "Rex’s Blues" and "To Live is to Fly"—are widely considered masterpieces of American folk music. His musical style is often described as melancholy in sound and delivery with rich and poetic lyrics. During his early years, Van Zandt was widely respected for his guitar playing and finger-picking ability.

His influence has been cited by countless artists across multiple genres, and his music has been recorded or performed by numerous artists to include Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Norah Jones, Emmylou Harris, Counting Crows, Steve Earle, Robert Earl Keen JR., Nanci Griffith, Guy Clark, Wade Bowen, Gillian Welch, Pat Green and Natalie Maines.

He is the subject of the 2004 documentary Be Here To Love Me.

Tropes related Townes Van Zandt and his music:

  • Addled Addict: Quite a few character in his songs, including "Waiting 'Round To Die" and "White Freight Liner Blues". Sadly, a case of Write What You Know.
  • Blatant Lies: Invoked in the refrain of "Pancho and Lefty". Especially in the context of the rest of the song, it's pretty clear that the singer emphatically does not believe what the Federales (Mexican police) have claimed.
    All the Federales say
    They could've had him any day
    They only let him slip away
    Out of kindness, I suppose.
  • Dead Man's Hand: In the song "Little Willie the Gambler":
    "Willie's cards fell on the floor they were aces backed with eights"
  • DIY Dentistry: On the album Together at the Bluebird Cafe, Van Zandt relates the story (on the track "The Interfaith Dental Clinic") of an attempt at D.I.Y Dentistry that goes hysterically wrong.
  • Driven to Suicide: "Kathleen"
    Stars hang high above, the oceans roar
    The moon is come to lead me to her door
    There's crystal across the sand
    And the waves, they take my hand
    Soon I'm gonna see my sweet Kathleen
  • Gambling Brawl: In "Little Willie the Gambler", Willie ends up being shot during a poker game by someone who was angry at losing all his money.
  • Goodbye, Cruel World!: "A Song For" is based on his own (failed) suicide note.
  • Hell of a Heaven: "You Are Not Needed Now":
    "Heaven ain't bad but you don't get nothing done."
  • I Did What I Had to Do: "Pancho and Lefty":
    Pancho needs your prayers it's true, but save a few for Lefty too
    He only did what he had to do, and now he's growing old
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Deconstructed to heartbreaking effect in "Tecumseh Valley."
  • One-Woman Song: "Kathleen" and "Loretta"
  • Retired Outlaw: "Pancho and Lefty" has Lefty, who retired to Ohio after his compadre Pancho was killed. The song implies Lefty sold Pancho out for the reward money as a nest egg.
  • The Runaway: "Waiting 'Round To Die".
  • Run for the Border: Deconstructed in "Pancho And Lefty"; Lefty sells Pancho to the federales so he can run for the border himself... and ends up dying alone and broken-hearted.
  • Something Blues: "Fraternity Blues", "White Freight Liner Blues", "Talking Thunderbird Blues", "Rex's Blues", "Chauffeur's Blues", and a cover of "Cocaine Blues" all appear on Live at the Old Quarter Houston, Texas.
  • The Tooth Hurts: The subject of "The Interfaith Dental Clinic" story on the album Together at the Bluebird Cafe.
  • Teenage Death Songs: "Sixteen Summers, Fifteen Falls"
  • Wacky Fratboy Hijinx: Spoofed in "Fraternity Blues".