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Townes Van Zandt - We'll Miss You

Townes Van Zandt passed away January 1, 1997 after having had hip surgery the day before. The doctors believe that a blood clot from the hip moved to his heart and caused a heart attack.

Townes had not been well for a long time. He had struggled with alcohol and other problems for quite awhile. His death is a major loss, though. Not so much for the lost creativity; his best years were definitely behind him, but more so because we lost a kind and gentle soul. Townes will be cremated and his ashes spread over Fort Worth and Van Zandt County (his ancestors were among the founding fathers of Texas).

Townes was undoubtedly one of the most beloved Singer Songwriters of our time. The shear number of people expressing their sorrow on Internet newsgroups is one testament to that. Another testament is the notoriety of many of those people. Nancy Griffith, Lyle Lovett, Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Steve Earl, Guy Clark and other well known songwriters have all expressed their sorrow and/or a deep appreciation for Townes Van Zandt, both the man and his music. Steve Earl once said he would "stand on Bob Dylan's coffeetable in my cowboy boots" to tell him that Townes is the best songwriter in the world. Billboard once referred to him as "the Van Gogh of Lyrics."

Townes’ music had been heavily influenced by Hank Williams. This is fairly apparent as you listen to his songs. Townes might be described as a sweeter gentler Hank. Although his songs have a heavier folk element and a bit less of a country element.

Townes was always known as a kind, gentle and humble man. I read a quote last week where Townes had downplayed his songwriting skills. I'll have to paraphrase,

Two words together make a poem, add a guitar chord and you have a song, it's not nearly as hard as everybody makes it out to be.

His songs also had a humble honest quality. This is nicely depicted by these lyrics from "To Live Is To Fly"

"It's goodbye to all my friends
It's time to go again
Think on the poetry and the pickin down the line
Well I'll miss the system here
The bottom's low and the treble's clear
But it don't pay to think too much on things you leave behind
Well I may be gone, but it won't be long
I'll be bringing back the melody and rhythm that I find"

I saw him once about a year ago at Schubas in Chicago. It was a strange evening filled with mixed emotions. I knew I was seeing a living legend and was grateful for that. But it was also sad because it was so apparent that I was seeing a shell. Despite that, I think everybody was deeply touched by his songs and his charm.

Townes touched a lot of people. He will be missed greatly.