“Two Nights With Townes Van Zandt”
Way back in 1981/82 I was a young songwriter with very big dreams and even bigger heroes. Townes Van Zandt was one of those heroes even back then. (I think I was ahead of my time). I loved his dark but warm and lonely sound and learned what would later become my hands down favorite song by Townes. A song called: “Waitin’ Round To Die.”
Anyway, I found out Townes was coming to The Rainbow Tavern in Seattle’s U-District and I was thrilled! I was probably about 22 years old and the world was just one big open song for me at that time in the early 80’s. I remember playing my record “Townes Van Zandt/Live @ The Old Quarter, Houston, Texas.” This could be seen as Towne’s best album I think. What’s better than a Townes Van Zandt concert on vinyl? That was my first exposure to Townes and I used to listen to it endlessly.
So, I told my girlfriend at the time named Britt about the concert and she was as excited as I was. And just in case I got to meet Townes, I brought along a cassette tape of some of my best songs. In hindsight, at that time, I can imagine how bad they were however. I didn’t really learn how to write songs until after my first trip to Nashville in 1983. That was the same year I got to work with Norman Petty of Buddy Holly fame in Clovis, New Mexico. He turned out to be my first publisher and Producer as well. Anyway, in 81/82 I was along ways off from that. But at the time…I only knew I wanted to be like Townes so naturally I was thrilled to be giving him a tape.
We got to The Rainbow early and found a great place to sit. Then Townes showed up with I think his second wife and he mighta had Mickey White with him on guitar. (It was along time ago folks). Townes was a long and lanky character in person. I had only seen the one picture of him before off the album jacket. These were innocent times without the 24/7 media blitz we get now so things seemed bigger back then when they happened. And Townes had a presence about him that I don’t think I’ve ever seen again. He was truly a treasure to behold.
I approached Townes as casually as possible and gave him my tape. He just said: “Thanks…I’ll listen to this later” and put it in his front shirt pocket. I thought in my young mind back then…BINGO, I’ve made it! I gotta tape to Townes Van Zandt. Oh to be young. I really thought thats all there is to it. Pretty funny thought now. So throughout the night when Townes would see me he would take the tape out of his pocket, hold it up and say: “I’m gonna listen to this.” I was extatic!
Then as the night wore on Townes got a little bit, shall we say, more lubricated. We were keepin’ up with him the best we could. I remember Townes leaving the Tavern and going out to his pickup truck quite a few times. Soon he let everybody inside know that he had lost his keys. This really freaked Townes out! By the time he found them again and calmed down, over half the Tavern had emptied out during the 45 minute wait. But we were still there waiting for more of Townes to start. He sat down alone on stage and out he pulls Bruce’s “Racin’ In The Streets.” Perfecto! (I feel sorry for the people who left as they missed one of the classic Townes Van Zandt moments). But we were there with all our young bravado. And that was the first time I met Townes Van Zandt. I wondered if I’d see him again?
Then, almost ten years later, Townes and I would meet up again this time in Portland, Oregon. Townes was playing with a friend of mine from Nashville named Steve Young who I met on my second trip to Nashville in 1986. This time I didn’t have a girl with me as I was flyin’ solo. And this time things were quite a bit different. By now Townes had turned into a huge legend. Yes he was a living legend but he was also haunted. I sat with Townes backstage and talked to him about god knows what? As we talked, Townes would take a swig from a bottle of something in a paper sack. He was kinda quiet but still good natured as you’d expect. I could barely help but feel this would be the last time I saw Townes alive. Sadly I was right. He died at the early age of 52 years old according to the AP obituary I put on a collage/painting I did of Townes after his death. This peice means a-lot to me.
I never did hear back from Townes on that first tape I gave him in the early 80’s. Oh well, I got to meet and hang out with the great Townes Van Zandt not once but twice. That means more to me then any old published song anyway.
Two years or so later I would write a song about all this called: “My Friend Townes.” And I really felt that way about him. There was only one Townes Van Zandt.