A Deeper Blue: The Life and Music of Townes Van Zandt
by Robert Earl Hardy
A Review by Rickey E. Pittman
My recent interest in the life and music of Townes Van Zandt began with a recording on one of my Oxford Magazine music CD’s. The song was “Nothin’” and it was sung by Townes himself. A haunting, almost terrifying song, I couldn’t get it out of my mind, so I memorized it and now it is part of my own Americana music show. This song was followed by hearing an interview of Steve Earl on the radio, discussing his new CD, Townes on which he performs his favorite songs of the late Texas songwriter.
After the immersion of music, I decided to learn about Van Zandt’s life, so I ordered two Townes Van Zandt biographies: To Live’s to Fly by John Kruth, which I’ll review in a future post, and A Deeper Blue: The Life and Music of Townes Van Zandt, written by Robert Earl Hardy and published by University of North Texas Press. I just finished reading Hardy’s book so I wanted to write a short review.
I’ve always loved to read biographies, and I found Hardy’s book to be a page turner, one that kept my interest throughout the read. I learned that many of the songs I had loved through the years and incorporated them into my show had actually been written by Townes Van Zandt—”Tecumseh Valley,” “Snowing on Raton,” and many others. In A Deeper Blue, the anecdotes and conversations are carefully chosen and powerfully and sometimes sadly, illuminate the life of this Texas troubadour. It was interesting and sometimes surprising to read of the many musicians I’ve known of and respected who were woven into Van Zandt’s milieu—Guy Clark, Emmy Lou Harris, Steve Earl, Jerry Jeff Walker, and so many others. Hardy was thorough and careful in his research, and to his credit, though the author was honest, direct, and revealing, he never came close to voyeurism or paparazzi cruelty in his evaluations or revelations. The chronology of Townes’ life was woven carefully with photos and the threads of songs (with origin and anecdotes), lyrics, and performances. When I finished the read, I felt I had looked inside the mind and heart and music of Townes Van Zandt. Townes was, in Hardy’s words, “the embodiment of the troubled troubadour” (2).
The book’s inside jacket provides a succinct summary of the book’s contents: “A Deeper Blue traces VanZandt’s background as the scion of a prominent Texas family; his troubled early years and his transformation from promising pre-law student to wandering folk singer; his life on the road and the demons that pursued and were pursued by him; the women who loved and inspired him; and the brilliance and enduring beauty of his songs, which are explored in depth.”
This past Saturday night, after the Scots-Irish band I’m in (Angus Dubghall) finished our performance at Enoch’s Pub in Monroe, I talked with the pub’s owner Doyle Jeeter, who had some good stories of his own to share of Townes Van Zandt.
I purchased this biography to learn about a great musician, and Hardy came through. Overall, I would have to highly recommend this biography.