Same Highway, New Travellers: Heartworn Highways Revisited
Growing up, my definition of country music was defined by my Dad. While I love my Dad to death and he’s scored plenty of cool points throughout the years: old pictures that would make you think Buddy Holly took my mom to prom, Thriller blasting over and over from the basement of our tiny Detroit house, and “Long, Cool Woman In A Black Dress” his favorite rock n roll song of all time, my Dad somehow epically failed when it came to country music.
In his defense, it was the early nineties. “Young” country had overtaken the airwaves. Every time I got into the car with my Dad, I was barraged by Garth Brooks and Billy Ray Cyrus. I began to think that country music consisted of nothing but awful syncronized dancing and ridiculously clad men being hoisted into the air by invisible wires like some kind of weird country-meets-Van Halen circus. For years, I eschewed country music for the many musical phases of my youth: Brit pop, 80’s new wave, glam rock, and eventually, the all encompassing genre of classic rock. From there, in the constant rewind of my musical education, certain names began to show up over and over again and to my surprise, they were labelled country music. Not only that, but it was GOOD. Really good. And compared to the country that I had grown up on, I felt like the far off look I’d had behind my eyes all my life was suddenly put into lyrics about trains, the bottom of bottles, and the open road.
In the midst of my re-education, I came across the obscure 1976 documentary Heartworn Highways and a whole new world opened up for me. Nothing could have prepared me for how much this music felt like home. I wasn’t Southern, knew practically nothing about being on the road, and yet something about Townes Van Zandt, Rodney Crowell, and Guy Clark felt like I had found the music that was going to speak to me for the rest of my life.
A must see for any country/roots music fan, the film is a day in the life look at the late 70’s outlaw country music scene. From a Larry Jon Wilson recording session, to Townes Van Zandt’s notoriously split persona (one minute drunkenly clowning for the camera, the next bringing a grown man to tears with “Waitin’ Round To Die”), to an encapsulating jam session scene in Guy Clark’s living room (featuring a very young Steve Earle), the film is a true original within the realm of music documentaries. Directed by Jim Szalapski, Highways is a series of snapshots rather than a linear story, allowing the music to speak for itself and in the process, personifying the spirit of a time in music that consisted of songs and moments between friends rather than gold records.
For a new generation of bands, the spirit of outlaw country survives. With the changing tide of the music industry, musicians are on the road more days out of the year than ever before and the highway rolls on as bands of the modern Americana music scene continue to discover what it is that inspires them and makes it all worth it. It is in this spirit that director Wayne Price has recently announced Heartworn Highways Revisited, a 36th anniversary celebration of the original film featuring Shovels and Rope, Joshua Hedley, John McCauley, Langhorne Slim, Robert Ellis, Johnny Fritz and many more. Like the original, Revisited promises to be an intimate snapshot of the new outlaw scene: bands that are surviving and thriving on the road through their stories, songs, and a shared camaraderie. Guy Clark and David Allan Coe also make appearances in the film as the seasoned elders, giving the updated trailer a feel of the continued sense of community that has allowed this music to survive. So far there is no specific release date for the film, but you can watch the trailer below and subscribe to the official website for updates.