"Heartworn Highways"

Giving My Bones to the Western LandsTownes van Zandt said "I never envisioned a very long life for myself. I believe my life will run out before my work does. I planned it that way." He knew what he was talking about. Townes van Zandt struggled with drug addictions and alcoholism, and was given a psychiatric diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Adding to this, insulin shock therapy erased much of his long-term memory. Heartworn Highways is a documentary film by James Szalapski whose vision captured some of the founders of the Outlaw Country movement. It features performers like Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, Steve Earle, David Allan Coe, Rodney Crowell, Gamble Rogers, Steve Young, and The Charlie Daniels Band. The film was shot in 1975 and 1976, but not released theatrically until 1981. Outlaw country has a nice ring to it, but I'm sceptic to the whole concept. Being an artist outside the Nashville hegemony of country music isn't really the same as being a lawless person or a fugitive from the law. I also find the documentary unstructured and unfocused. The only thing worth watching is Townes Van Zandt. There's a memorable scene where Townes Van Zandt plays "Waitin' Around To Die" in the presence of Kathy Tenell (his then girlfriend) and Uncle Seymour Washington, a travelling blacksmith. Uncle Seymour is immortalized as the man in the documentary with tears streaming down his face as he listens to Townes sing the song. "Waitin' Around To Die" was Townes van Zandt's first composition and has been covered by many artists, read my list of the 10 best versions here (opens in a new window). Another highlight is "Pancho and Lefty" (a bonus song on the DVD). The song tells the tale of two partners in crime – Pancho and Lefty. Pancho is a Mexican bandit boy who "wore his gun outside his pants", while Lefty is a restless young soul who left home and his adoring mother for a greener pasture. While the two began as an accomplice, the lyrics tell the story of how Lefty crossed Pancho, which led to his untimely death at the hands of the federals. He died alone in "the deserts down in Mexico" while Lefty left for Ohio with a load of cash. It’s said that the character of Lefty was based on his touring friend, Daniel Antopolsky. "Pancho and Lefty" is one of the most covered among Townes Van Zandt songs. Executive summary: Heartworn Highways wouldn't be anything without Townes van Zandt.

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