Thursday, June 12, 2008

Townes Van Zandt: If I Needed You

This is my weekly reminder to tune in to Sinking with Sylvia and Todd on Little Radio. The show airs Friday from Noon - 2:00 PM on the internet. Tomorrow their guest will be Jeff Weiss. Jeff has the popular blog, Passion of the Weiss and is also a regular contributor to the LA Weekly and LA Times. Tomorrow he'll be educating us all on hip hop.

Each week on their show, I make an "official" selection, they play it and I eventually write about it. On May 23rd my pick was Townes Van Zandt's "If I Needed You." Like a lot of people, my first exposure to TVZ was through his writing. Back in the early 1980s I listened to a lot of country radio on road trips with my Dad. Circa 1983, TVZ's song, "Pancho and Lefty" was a number one hit thanks to Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson. It didn't really occur to me that Townes had written the song until I moved to Texas in 1999. When you live in Austin, Townes' legend is unavoidable.

Starting in 1999 I started to pick up TVZ's records. TVZ pretty much personifies Austin for me (even more than Willie). He/it are unmistakably Texas in their cowboy hats with their drawl, but they're sensitive, smoke some grass and possibly have progressive politics. Townes has been on my mind again lately, because I just finished the John Kruth biography, To Live's to Fly - The Ballad of the Late, Great Townes Van Zandt. The book's only essential for the real fans. It's long and not all that well written, but does have a lot of great anecdotes and some interesting analysis of the songs.

Townes is a fascinating writer and character, but I don't spend a lot of time listening to his albums. Most of his studio recordings are marred by poor production, and a lot of live recordings are marred by his alcoholism. But when he nails it, he nails it. So many of his songs are completely heartbreaking and haunting. "If I Needed You" has always been one of my favorites. I'm not sure if I prefer Townes' original version or Emmylou Harris' cover, but why choose when they're both so great?

If I needed you
Would you come to me
Would you come to me
For to ease my pain
If you needed me
I would come to you
I would swim the seas
For to ease your pain

Townes' discography has been mired in lawsuits over the year, so you never know what you'll be able to find at the record store. The studio albums are hit or miss, so you should probably start with one of the compilations (Texas Troubadour's pretty good). There's also an interesting documentary about TVZ called Be Here to Love Me. Definitely worth popping in your Netflix queue.

Check out the Townes Van Zandt Myspace page.
See TVZ perform and talk about "If I Needed You" on Youtube (check out the girl who's interviewing him).

No comments: