Cross-posted (in slightly different form) at The Daily Kos and the Facebook group, “Townes Van Zandt–Best Songwriter Ever.”
I got so much positive response, to my “Pancho and Lefty” slideshow that I though I would put up this one, which I finished last week. This is another sequence of images inspired and accompanied by a Townes Van Zandt song, “Tecumseh Valley,” which–by the way–is a real place in Oklahoma (as is Spencer, also mentioned in the song). It’s kind of an alt-country narrative ballad, a little ragged around the edges, and I think I chose this live version of the song because of that very raggedness. I was immediately drawn to it when I first heard the studio version on Townes’ Drama Falls Like Teardrops compilation. There is a beautiful music that Townes’ finds in the name (“Te-cum-seh”), and the simple poetry of the seasons, the dignity of labor, and in human passion that just sort of stunned me (a fairly normal reaction for me listening to his songs). It seems to mean even more to me now than when I first heard it, in that I realize that it is a song about someone we would essentially look at as a “disposable” person (and we’d call her much worse than that), beneath our notice except as someone to use and discard like a crumpled paper cup. The song (also recorded by Nanci Griffith and Steve Earle, among others) gives expression, dignity, and beauty to her hopes, harsh circumstances, struggles, and desires in a way that that I feel is too rarely seen, although doubtless some people will disagree. I hope you like the song at least, whatever you think of the slideshow I compiled (I basically set it in the depression and the dust bowl, although some of the photos are much more modern).
Cross-posted at The Daily Kos. I just did this Wednesday night. Emmylou Harris’s version of “Pancho and Lefty” was probably the first Townes’ song I ever heard, so I include it here, although I use a live version from the Old Grey Whistle Test rather than than the one on her Luxury Liner album. I guess the song’s narrative is very vaguely inspired by the story of Pancho Villa (according to Townes, anyway, apparently Pancho did have a companion whose name meant “lefty” in Spanish, although he only found that out after he wrote the song). Still, if you are looking for a historically accurate account of the Mexican bandit-revolutionary, you’re looking for the wrong thing in the wrong place; instead, the song is just a brilliant mediation on loyalty and loss, the choices we make and their consequences. I would argue it is Protest Music, although of an amazingly subtle kind; in any event it is still an terrific song, and I love Emmylou’s interpretation.
For no especially good reason, here is a lovely version of Emmylou Harris singing one of her own songs, “A River for Him,” from her Bluebird album. As with so many of her self-penned turns, some of it feels autobiographical, while some the some of the other lines (“I’m a stranger to the strange land I’m in / Where all is forgotten / But nothing’s forgiven”) are written at such a high level that they basically seem timeless. This not my slideshow, by the way, but was created by catman916, whose YouTube channel this is from:
This is another one of Townes’ more oblique and allusive songs (cf. “Our Mother the Mountain”), and I certainly see how one could interpret in different ways–most obviously as about alcohol and/or drugs. As I am now looking at those as sort of a way of avoiding the anxiety caused by avoiding rather than confronting mortality, I of course place the song in the visual context of grief, loss, isolation, and death. As you might guess, I’ve been reading Irvin D. Yalom’s Existential Psychotherapy, and its explorations have unquestionably had an effect on me. In some sense this is another slideshow about existential dread, and about some of the more dysfunctional ways we deal with pain. At the same time, Townes has created a beautiful, mysterious song about pain, loss, and how we flawed human beings deal with such things, and I hope that the images, timings and movements I have chosen for the slideshow do it justice. I really believe that quote from Kathleen Raine above, by the way, and it also ends the slideshow.
Here’s a video that I just ran into last night for the first time (I didn’t even think Moby was still relevant–obviously, I just hadn’t been paying attention). In some sense it explores some of the same issues–isolation, pain, grief, empathy, and how we deal we such things–but on a much more universal and apocalyptic level.
Another meditation and mortality and what constitutes a well spent life, inspired by another Townes Van Zandt song. Like Phil Ochs, he’s just another gift that keeps on giving, even long after he is gone. For Townes, obviously. And for Karen.