There are some albums that hit you hard, they make you think, they make you cry, sometimes with their beauty or their perfection but more rarely some are just so honest. Townes Van Zandt Live at the Old Quarter, Houston, Texas is one of those rare honest albums.
A man, a guitar and an audience. That rare thing a performance captivating and magical. Van Zandt sounds strong and honest when singing and insecure and shy when telling his awkward jokes or faltering introductions. A unique and flawed talent that burned brightly despite the self destructive elements and mental illness.
There is more rock’n’roll on this four sides of acoustic songs than on many a rock album of testosterone fueled peacockery. You get the feeling Townes had lived every one of these songs and his liver and lungs and emaciated body bore the scars. Standing in the sunlight through the window on the cover like a cowboy version of Iggy Pop, there is a fragility to the image of Townes that truly speaks to the power of the songs. Townes doesn’t sacrifice his body to the power of the song like Iggy but bares his soul and comes out bloody and bruised just the same.
I met Townes once after a gig in Southport. It was a good gig and I hope I did not embarrass myself too much. I was drunk and so was he. We sat and drank from a whiskey bottle on the steps of the Southport Arts Center for an hour. I have no idea what we talked about but his gentle spirit and generosity is what I remember and the sight of that tall lanky Texan taking off into the dark with a guitar case in hand. I hope he made it to wherever he was going that night.
His songs have carried me through some dark times and happy times. He has managed so often to capture the thought or idea that was eluding me and sitting and listening to him is always an experience.