Field Reportings from Issue #60
TOWNES WITHOUT PITY: It has probably been said before that the life of TOWNES VAN ZANDT could make a heck of a feature film, but who would believe it was nonfiction? So perhaps filmmaker Margaret Brown’s decision to tell Townes’ tale in documentary form makes sense; in this case, truth really is stranger than fiction.
Be Here To Love Me: A Film About Townes Van Zandt is rolling out to theaters in December and will make its way to DVD early in the new year. There’s a richness and depth to Brown’s representation of Townes’ life that goes beyond the mere assembly of facts. “I don’t believe in truth or balance,” says the rookie feature director. “The film is just a take on my feeling. I do not pretend to be an authority on anything. Anyone that tells you documentary is truth is full of shit. It is what you get on that day.”
What Brown managed to get on camera includes some of Van Zandt’s well-known friends and admirers — Steve Earle, Guy Clark, Kris Kristofferson, Emmylou Harris. Just as impressive is Brown’s mining of a surprisingly deep archive of performance and interview footage with Van Zandt. She has a keen eye for turning limitations into opportunities, too. When she was not able to shoot inside Memphis’ Easley Studios, site of Van Zandt’s final session, an exterior shot of the building, with the singer’s wretched studio patter on the soundtrack, plays like something out of a ghost story.
“It is a male archetype: The guy who goes away to find the golden fleece and forsakes everything and sacrifices his life,” she says of Van Zandt’s tale. “I felt like it was really dark by the end. But I knew there was something inspiring, too.”
Brown’s feel for the subject may be related to the fact that her father is songwriter Milton Brown, best known for his music in Clint Eastwood’s Every Which Way But Loose and Bronco Billy and for covers he placed with Jimmy Buffett, Loretta Lynn, Glen Campbell, Charlie Rich and others. Margaret, a transplanted southerner studying film at New York University, first fell under Van Zandt’s spell when a friend played her “Waiting Around To Die”. “That is how Townes’ music reaches people — you hear it at a certain point when you need it,” she says. “It is like medicine.”
Given the competing accounts of the singer’s life — ex-wives, ex-managers, children from different marriages, friends, drinking buddies and various acquaintances — Brown’s aversion to settling on a single recounting of Van Zandt’s legacy is understandable. “These [friends and relatives] are people who are approached a lot and get screwed a lot,” the director says. “People take sides in the press….But I just kept at it. We were sincere, we really wanted to do this,” she says. Then she adds with a laugh, “It was just stupidity. We didn’t know enough to stop, and that saw us through.”
SADIES FIRST: Also dabbling in the documentary film world are the SADIES, scoring moviemaker Ron Mann’s Tales Of The Rat Fink, which recounts the career of cartoonist and car customizer Ed “Big Daddy” Roth. The Sadies’ penchant for guitar-driven instrumentals made them a natural fit to score Roth’s gonzo story. “We started making the soundtrack completely as shots in the dark,” says guitarist Dallas Good. “We had no idea what the film was going to look like, but we had a general idea of what hot rod music should sound like.” The band has recorded 35 songs for the project, and has plans for ten more. “It has been really fun, something we have been chipping away at on the road for the last year,” he says. Good says the Sadies’ material will be compiled into a soundtrack album….
Meanwhile, the Sadies side-project configuration, the Unintended, has recorded a number of Gordon Lightfoot covers for a split-record project with agit-rockers the Constantines, who are covering Neil Young songs.
MAN IN BLACK IN LIVING COLOR: As Hollywood gears up the hype machine this month for director James Mangold’s feature-film account of the life of JOHNNY CASH in Walk The Line, it appears hard-core Cash fans will soon be able to get their hands on highlights from the singer’s groundbreaking late-1960s ABC network variety show. The TVshowsonDVD.com website reported that a set containing four hours of material from the program’s short but memorable run will hit the shelves on November 15. No official word on which guest performances might be featured, but bootleg DVDs have included Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Derek & the Dominos, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Stevie Wonder, Roy Orbison, James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt, Joe South, Roy Clark and Carl Perkins….
That same release day brings a three-DVD set of Ed Sullivan’s Rock N Roll Classics taken from Sullivan’s legendary 1950s-60s show, featuring 64 songs from the likes of Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, the Beatles and the Byrds.
AMA ROUNDUP: At its fourth annual awards show at the Ryman Auditorium on September 9, the AMERICANA MUSIC ASSOCIATION presented its Lifetime Achievement awards to Marty Stuart (Performer), Guy Clark (Songwriter), and Rounder Records founders Ken Irwin, Marian Leighton and Bill Nowlin (Executive). John Prine received Artist of the Year honors; Buddy Miller was awarded Album of the Year for Universal United House Of Prayer, and that album’s leadoff track earned Song of the Year recognition for its late composer, Mark Heard. The New/Emerging Artist award went to Mary Gauthier; her fellow native Louisianan Sonny Landreth took home Instrumentalist of the Year honors. The AMA’s annual President’s Award was given to the late John Hartford.
VIA CHICAGO: Although the planned WILCO concert DVD has been removed from the release schedule, the band will release a live double CD on November 1. Kicking Television: Live In Chicago was recorded over four nights last May at the Vic Theater. The set includes a cover of Charles Wright’s “Comment”. Fans in the U.K. can catch front man Jeff Tweedy in a solo performance at London’s Shepherds Bush Empire on November 22.
AFTER THE FLOOD: Upstream: Downstream: A Benefit For The Victims Of Hurricane Katrina features tracks from St. Louis-area musicians including JAY FARRAR, who contributed a live version of “Afterglow 61”. It’s available at Milesofmusic.com and CDBaby.com, with all proceeds benefiting the American Red Cross and St. Patrick House in St. Louis….
ARLO GUTHRIE, who enjoyed a career-defining hit with his rendition of Steve Goodman’s train song “City Of New Orleans”, announced plans to board a train in Chicago on December 5 and perform a series of flood benefit concerts before arriving in the Big Easy on December 17.
FORTUNATE SON-OF-A-GUN: After a bitter, decades-long battle with Fantasy Records, JOHN FOGERTY now finds himself back in the label’s fold. After Creedence Clearwater Revival’s tenure with Fantasy during the 1960s and early ’70s, Fogerty fell out with the company, and for years control of his catalogue was the subject of litigation. So after three decades, what paved the way for Fogerty’s return? The Concord Music Group recently purchased Fantasy, and is celebrating November 1 with the release of a career-spanning Fogerty retrospective titled The Long Road Home.
GRAHAM GOODNESS: Austin musicians have convened to raise funds for WILLIE GRAHAM, son of Austin singer-songwriter Jon Dee Graham, by releasing a benefit CD and DVD through Freedom Records. Graham suffers from Legg Perthes disease, a rare bone and hip disorder that requires multiple surgeries and therapy. Participants performing Jon Dee’s songs (and one of Willie’s as well) include Alejandro Escovedo, Charlie Sexton, Patty Griffin, Kelly Willis, Ray Benson, James McMurtry, Bob Schneider, David Garza, the Resentments, and many others.
‘TIS THE SEASON: A healthy crop of artists are getting into the Christmas spirit this year. Many of them band together on For Kate’s Sake, a compilation album organized and produced by E Street Band bassist GARRY TALLENT to benefit the Children’s Organ Transplant Association on behalf of sisters Kate and Caroline Kirk, who are afflicted with a rare and fatal genetic disorder. Artists contributing Christmas songs include Buddy & Julie Miller, Steve Earle & Allison Moorer, John Prine, Raul Malo, Joe Ely, Jim Lauderdale, and Jason & the Scorchers….
MARTIN SEXTON’S Camp Holiday (November 15) is a bare-bones set of yuletide favorites recorded in an Adirondacks cabin and released on his own Kitchen Table Records, with a portion of the sales going to charity….
Already in stores is BRIAN SETZER’S Dig That Crazy Christmas and accompanying DVD Christmas Extravaganza (both released through Surf Dog); on November 30, Setzer and his orchestra will be at New York City’s Rockefeller Center for the annual tree-lighting ceremony….
Marah chases the October release of their new album If You Didn’t Laugh, You’d Cry with the twenty-track holiday-themed collection A Christmas Kind Of Town on Yep Roc, which also is issuing a seasonal set from REVEREND HORTON HEAT titled We Three Kings….
The McGarrigle Christmas Hour (Nonesuch) is due from KATE & ANNA MCGARRIGLE on November 1.
SIGN ME UP: Stoughton, Massachusetts, singer-songwriter LORI MCKENNA, who was the subject of an ND Town & Country profile in issue #52 (July-August 2004), has signed to Warner Bros. Records. The label reissued McKenna’s latest Signature Sounds album, Bittertown, in September. The signing comes after Faith Hill covered three McKenna tunes on her album Fireflies….
EDWIN MCCAIN has signed with Vanguard Records and is in a Greeenville, SC studio recording a new record expected next spring.
BAND BITS: Legendary Band drummer LEVON HELM, who had battled throat cancer, is back singing and performing informal “midnight rambles” at his Woodstock, New York, home. Information on upcoming shows, as well as DVDs and recordings of previous rambles, are available at levonhelm.com….
Meanwhile, just as the latest Band box set, A Musical History, is arriving in stores, the archival label Other People’s Music has announced plans for an eight-disc compilation of pre-Band and Big Pink-era recordings by Levon & the Hawks, titled From Bacon Fat To Judgment Day.
BEAUTIFUL LOSER: Last issue, we reported Canadian singer LEONARD COHEN was back in the studio producing singer Anjani Thomas, had a new book of poetry due in the spring, and is the subject of a forthcoming documentary. Now the bad news: He’s reportedly broke. According to media reports, the 71-year-old singer has filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against his ex-manager, lawyer and tax consultant. Cohen has alleged that he was convinced to sell his publishing company and artist royalties in an estate-planning scheme that ultimately has left him with a retirement nest egg of about $150,000.
ALL THE FIXINS: The Billy Bragg box set mentioned in last issue’s column that was originally planned for a September release has been pushed back to early 2006….
A review of Big Star’s In Space in ND #59 cited the track “Mine Exclusively” as a band original. It was written by S.M. Matthews and was a regional hit for the Olympics in the mid-1960s.