The celebrated singer and songwriter Steve Earle once said "Townes Van Zandt is the best songwriter in the whole world, and I'll stand on Bob Dylan's coffee table in my cowboy boots and say that." Earle was hardly the only artist of note who loved Van Zandt's poetic, elliptical songs of love and dashed hopes -- Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, Norah Jones, the Cowboy Junkies, and Nanci Griffith are among the many performers who have recorded his work, and he was a key inspiration for much of the Texas singer/songwriter community, including Guy Clark, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Joe Ely, and Lyle Lovett. However, while Van Zandt was greatly admired by his peers and a small cult of passionate admirers, it was other artists who had hits with his songs, not him, and this gifted but troubled man was haunted by drug and alcohol addiction much of his life. Van Zandt also had difficult relationships with his family and three wives, and at the age of 20, he was given shock treatments which wiped out nearly all of his childhood memories. In the 1990s, Van Zandt's public profile began to grow larger, and he was signed to a major record label for the first time in 1996, but as often happened in his songs, fate stepped in, and Van Zandt died following hip surgery on New Year's Day, 1997. Filmmaker Margaret Brown, a longtime fan of Townes Van Zandt, examines both his life and his art in the documentary Be Here to Love Me: A Film About Townes Van Zandt, which includes interviews with many of his close friends, family members and collaborators, including Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Emmylou Harris, Steve Shelley, Guy Clark, and many more. ~ Mark Deming, All Movie Guide
Among the many documentaries about performing artists, TOWNES VAN ZANDT: BE HERE TO LOVE ME rates pretty damn high. Although I had barely heard of this songwriter/performer, he evidently holds an important place in the minds/hearts of many top musicians from Kris Kristofferson to Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris and others who are shown in the documentary--not to mention his many fans. Experiencing this fine film goes far in explaining why. Bearing some resemblance in face and body type to the late actor Tony Perkins, Van Zandt possesses a quiet charisma that he seems to have maintained well into his later years. I found his lyrics and music worth hearing (and hearing again) and his history more bizarre and interesting than that of many other musicians.
While alcohol was the drug of choice, blame for his inability to connect in most ways (to family, friends and the world at large) seems more likely due to a personality disorder for which shock treatment therapy was prescribed early on. His need to create songs comes through as the most important thing is his life, and once he connected with this, he remained true to that need--if not to anything or anyone else. His story grows sadder as it progresses, but I think you'll find it worth sticking with. Director Margaret Brown has done a fine job of assembling bits and pieces into as solid a whole as documentary biography is able to achieve--still leaving open as many questions as she answers.