Townes Van Zandt is the best songwriter that you’ve never heard of. Poetic, unique and profound, his songs have been covered by everyone from Bob Dylan to Willie Nelson to Steve Earle. Yet, his catalog was out of print by the time that he was in his prime and his music is still passed around today like a dog-eared, heavily underlined novel.
“Be Here to Love Me” is the fascinating and at times harrowing documentary based on Van Zandt’s life. Featuring private home footage and interviews with Nelson, Earle and Emmylou Harris among many others of Townes’ contemporaries, the film follows the singer-songwriter from the rather conventional early days of his youth to his death, when he completely bottomed out, thanks to a more than regular consumption of alcohol and drugs.
While the film at times suffers from being too much in awe of its subject – even though Van Zandt’s full-career arc is explored, the picture often skips over or around some of the artist’s musical periods that could easily have been explored in more detail – the mere fact that any real insight is given into Van Zandt’s life and heavy legend is a blessing.
Heavily inspired by the early Delta blues and Dylan, Van Zandt drank like there was no tomorrow. Combine this with his staggeringly beautiful musical output and you have the makings of a myth. “Be Here to Love Me” does an excellent job of penetrating the fog that now surrounds Van Zandt’s life. Moreover, the film provides for the viewer what feels like a privilege: personal insight into a man, a musician who never stopped writing and roaming.
It is staggering to watch Van Zandt’s last few years on screen. He looks 20 years older than he really was. His voice is slow and slightly slurred. He is the personification of tired, beat. But, as an artist, he was still creating. Still thinking and writing. And when you consider that the songs on his records still sound as gorgeous and as powerful as they did when they were first recorded, it is a sad but wonderful thing to see any footage of the man who is now just known as “Townes.”
“Be Here to Love Me” has been held over for a fourth week and is currently showing at the Clinton St. Theater, nightly.