Austin’s Legends: Townes Van Zandt

Tales From The Legendary Founder of The Groundlings

Austin’s Legends: Townes Van Zandt
My Conversation With Townes Van Zandt
By Gary Austin
Contributing Writer

I saw Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark together at McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica, California about eighteen years ago. One would sing while the other sat in a chair and listened with eyes closed.  How many times had they listened to each other through the years?

As I left McCabe’s, Townes was standing at the door talking to someone.  My impulse was to stop, wait my turn and speak to Townes but I opted to walk on out the door.

What the hell would I have said to him?  “I love your music?”  “You’re a great writer?”  You’ve become a part of who I am?”  “Wow, great lyrics.  You’re a real poet.”

I’m glad I walked on by.  My private, secret,  personal feelings evoked by the music and lyrics of Townes Van Zandt are the only “words” I have for him.

Of course I envy the companionship all those he knew had with him.  I envy the mischief and the self inflicted trouble and the humor and wit and the jamming and the road and the shared tragedies.

Artists are faced with a choice that is always there.  Do I create to win the approval of my audience or do I create to tell my truth?  When the stars are in alignment one does both at the same time.

Telling the truth was Townes’ prior choice and if the audience dug it then that was very cool but not required.

Townes’ song “Marie” never was and never will be on Billboard’s top 100 Country or Folk charts.  This isn’t a song to dance to or to sing to your lover while watching the setting sun.  The song paints a picture we don’t want to view or even think about.  It’s a desolate, grisly picture of the most hopeless and helpless among us.

…Well, the man’s still grinnin’ says he lost my file
I gotta stand in line again
I want to kill him but I just say no
I had enough of that line my friend
I head back to the bridge, it’s getting kinda cold
I’m feelin’ too low down to lie
I guess I’ll just tell Marie the truth
Hope she don’t break down and cry….

..Marie she didn’t wake up this morning
She didn’t even try
She just rolled over and went to heaven
My little boy safe inside
I laid them in the sun
where somebody’d find them
Caught a Chesapeak on the fly
Marie will know I’m headed south
So’s to meet me by and by
“Marie,”  Townes Van Zandt

Living inside the words and music of Townes Van Zandt is the conversation I will always have with the man I chose not to speak to at McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica, California.


Gary Austin

Gary Austin

A native of the Haliburton oil camps in Oklahoma, Texas and California, Gary Austin is the founder and original director of LA’s legendary Groundling Theatre. He is currently creative director for all courses and shows at Gary Austin Workshops. An acclaimed singer/songwriter, Gary’s contributions to the world of Country music include songs in film and television, as well as openingfor Charlie Daniels, Sweethearts of the Rodeo and The Marshall Tucker Band, among others.A Legend in his own right, Gary’s column “Austin’s Legends” is asounding board for all things Texas and Country.
Gary Austin

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