To Live's To Fly: A Biography of Townes Van Zandt Is Published At Last

Posted by Miss Ess, August 22, 2007 02:16pm | Post a Comment
coffee cupI feel like I am turning into a PG version of Elvis....

Coffee in the morning to wake up, Tylenol PM in the evening to fall's the cycle of life at the moment.  And since it's rated PG, I don't think I will end up dying on the toilet or anything anytime soon at least.

But I digress.....

Speaking of R-Rated drug/alcohol habits, after about 6 months of picking it up and putting it down again, I finally finished the biography of Townes Van Zandt I've been reading.  It's called To Live's To Fly, and it just came out this March after almost a year's delay.

to live's to fly john kruth townes van zandt book

As far as interesting lives go, Townes is right up there with Roland Kirk and Brian Wilson.  He went through it all.

townes van zandt Born into a family so well off in the oil business it had an entire county in Texas named after it, Townes shunned his family's wealth and took to a life of alcoholism, rambling and flawless song writing.  I love that in the summers he would take off for Colorado with just a horse and a pack.  I've written about him on this blog before, so I won't go through his whole life history and bore all y'all, but if you have ever heard one of his records, like really listened to it, chances are it stuck with you.  So you probably don't need an explanation from me.

I've been waiting for years for someone out there to research and write a great bio of Townes cause his life was so crazy and lived to the fullest.  Last year's well made documentary Be Here To Love Me  contains beautiful shots and interviews but ultimately scratches the surface of Townes' life and leaves rabid fans like myself with even more unanswered questions than before. 

To Live's To Fly is well written, but sufferes from one of most typical and irritating biographytownes van zandt pitfalls:  The author felt compelled to give us readers his own life's biographical details to an unnecessary degree-- like, wow, John Kruth is a songwriter too?  Whoopee.  What does that have to do with TVZ now?  It also, like the film, repeats many stories about Townes that are indeed seminal, but that we've by now heard many times in liner notes and the documentary.  There are some great new stories in the book, but I often felt I had to wade through the author's own life tales to reach them.  Overall though, I did enjoy reading more about Townes.

The book holds back on the controversial topic of Van Zandt's third wife Janeane Van Zandt until about the last 20 pages.  It was interesting!  I kept wondering if the author was just gonna kiss her ass through the whole 300 or so pages.  She cooperated with the book, as she does with pretty much anything regarding Townes it seems, and the author seems to have played along with her as well throughout the book until the final chapter when he clumps a bunch of quotes from Townes' friends about how Janeane was just after Townes' money at the very end!  Scandalous.  I tend to agree with the scandle based on my own observations, but who knows really. Janeane is loved by some of Townes' friends and known by others as a mooch, among other things.   The book reveals that Townes and Janeane had already been divorced for a year and a half before his death New Year's Day 1997.  Janeane is now the person who carries the torch of his legacy and Tupac Shakur-like continual product output.

townes van zandt
This is where ages of alcohol abuse and general livin' on the edge'll get you.

Another controversial figure in Townes' life who gets reamed in the book is Kevin Eggers, who ran the Poppy/Tomato labels, and who either continually screwed Townes over and kept him from potential fame and fortune or allowed a difficult and unpredictable artist to continue putting out music, depending on who you talk to.  This book adds more fuel to the fires that Kevin held Townes back, but there were also a few friends who spoke of Kevin favorably.

This pair of figures, Janeane and Kevin, criss crossing through Townes' life, make two of the more compelling aspects of the book.  Although any book is biased, I enjoyed that the author presented the reader with even more information about their roles and the controversy.  The author seemed to be somewhat balanced in what he presented.

Truly the most compelling aspect of the book is of course Townes himself and his steady, earnest decline.  The songs that he wrote along that downward spiral are among my favorites ever and the life that he lived is pretty incredible.  Many of the friends and family in the book mention that Townes truly lived for his songs and music and it shows.  It's actually amazing he lived to be in his 50s!

Townes van zandt Mickey White Larry Monroe
TVZ with good pals Mickey White and Larry Monroe

Anyway, if you are a fan of Townes Van Zandt, you already well know there isn't so much information out there about him in general.  In fact, it's crazy that suddenly he is getting so much attention that there is now a book about him and even a movie too!  This is why if you love TVZ, you will of course have to seek out the film and the book, if you haven't already.

Relevant Tags

Townes Van Zandt (6), To Live's To Fly (1), Be Here To Love Me (1)