As a musician, Townes Van Zandt was legendary perhaps one of the greatest who ever lived, inspiring artists from Bob Dylan to Norah Jones to Steve Earle. As a man, a husband, and a father his life was as tragic and as beautiful as the songs he wrote. Townes was an enigma to his family, pinned between a deep longing for home and the nomadic lifestyle that was necessary for his livelihood. Director Margaret Browns Be Here To Love Me is an artful, expertly directed portrait of both of these sides of Van Zandt and ultimately serves as an insightful look at the sacrifices, challenges, and consequences faced in pursuit of a dream. Haunting and lyrical, Be Here To Love Me combines emotional interviews with friends and family with never seen footage of Townes Van Zandt.
You might have never heard of Townes Van Zandt. You might not even know his songs. But this Texan's music was profoundly influential on his peers--so much so that some of the folks interviewed for Be Here to Love Me, a documentary about Van Zandt's work and difficult life, call him one of the best songwriters, maybe even the best, in American history. That's a stretch, but there's no doubting the man's talent; his two best-known tunes, "Pancho and Lefty" (popularized by Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard) and "If I Needed You" (a beautiful Emmylou Harris-Don Williams duet), by themselves guarantee him a spot in a few Halls of Fame. But the Van Zandt chronicled in director Margaret Brown's 100-minute film was his own worst enemy. Born in 1944, he was a troubled young man who played Russian roulette for kicks, deliberately fell off a fourth-floor balcony, and was placed in a mental home, where shock treatments robbed him of significant parts of his memory and personality. Married three times, he was also wedded to the bottle, which ultimately destroyed him (he died of a heart attack in 1997). Be Here to Love Me details these events through various interviews with Van Zandt himself, as well as Nelson, Harris, Steve Earle, Nanci Griffith, and other notables. But whereas a fellow tippler like singer Guy Clark fondly remembers the good times, Van Zandt's family tells a different story: "Bummer," replies one ex-wife when asked to describe living with him, while his eldest son, JT, betrays a good deal of bitterness about a dad who couldn't control his own life, wasn't much of a family man, and died young and unfulfilled. DVD extras include several Van Zandt performances (in addition to clips throughout the main program), which is a good thing; were it not for his soulful, affecting songs, there wouldn't be a lot to admire about this guy. --Sam Graham
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