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A Deeper Blue: The Life and Music of Townes Van Zandt

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A biography of Townes Van Zandt which traces his 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; and the women who loved and inspired him.


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A biography of Townes Van Zandt which traces his 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; and the women who loved and inspired him.

30 review for A Deeper Blue: The Life and Music of Townes Van Zandt

  1. 5 out of 5

    Tamara Saviano

    Townes was a pathetic mess and an amazing (if uneven) songwriter. This book is a sad and difficult read, especially in light of the pain his children and those closest to him endured. What also struck me is the people who took advantage of his illness and addictions.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Steve Bennett

    Townes Van Zandt is one of the best songwriters of all time. Snowin' On Raton and White Freightliner Blues are two of my favorite songs ever. I always knew Townes was an arsehole but not until I read this book did I know how complete a jerk and jackass he was. Here was a man who let heroin, whisky and vodka destroy his career, three marriages and his entire personal life. That said, the chapter on his treatment (shock therapy) at a Galveston psychiatric center while he was in college, made me cr Townes Van Zandt is one of the best songwriters of all time. Snowin' On Raton and White Freightliner Blues are two of my favorite songs ever. I always knew Townes was an arsehole but not until I read this book did I know how complete a jerk and jackass he was. Here was a man who let heroin, whisky and vodka destroy his career, three marriages and his entire personal life. That said, the chapter on his treatment (shock therapy) at a Galveston psychiatric center while he was in college, made me cry and made me much more sympathetic to his situation and his life. It is an extremely depressing book but only because Townes' life was so depressing. Whether it was his fault for submitting to drugs and alcohol or the fault of people who took advantage of him (most notably his third wife Jeanene or his manager Howard Eggers) or, perhaps most likely, the fault of his bipolar syndrome, it it quite depressing. Looking on the sunny side of life, here are at least 3 facts to provide hope for mankind: 1) Townes came from an extremely important and wealthy family of original settlers of Texas, politicians, lawyers and oil executives. His father was a lawyer and oilman. I always figured some of the demons in Townes' life was due to his father disowning or at least disapproving of his son becoming a counter culture folk musician. Actually his father was extremely kind, encouraging and supportive of him. As was his mother. 2) Townes' first wife Fran was a saint. She devoted several years of her life to trying to help Townes and only left him after he continued using heroin after the birth of their son. 3) Despite it all, Townes always had some sense of character and class. When one of his friends was badmouthing his third wife (who at least by the account of this book, was a pure demon) he told his friend "Never criticize Jeanene. She is the mother of my children." Two interesting tidbits I learned from this book: 1) The lines in White Freightliner Blues--"Well, it's bad news from Houston/Half of my friends are dyin'/Well, it's bad news from Houston/Half of my friends are dyin'" were unfortunately true. Townes wrote the song after moving to Nashville from Houston and his old friends really were dying from drug abuse. 2) While I knew Doc Watson and Emmylou Harris had each recorded a version of Townes' "If I Needed You" I had not known they each omitted the line "Loop and Lil agree/She's a sight to see." Loop and Lil were two parakeets Townes regularly traveled with. The referencing to his two parakeets approving the woman he is with is key to a very charming aspect of Townes' nature and are easily the best lines of the excellent song.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Ray

    I gave this four stars because I am a big fan of Townes' music. I worked with him toward the end of his life and this somehow provides a bit of closure now that I know the circumstances. More time is spent on his final years which of course is not a true reflection of the man. He was very funny and witty. i wish that his true character during the 'good years' was better represented. I gave this four stars because I am a big fan of Townes' music. I worked with him toward the end of his life and this somehow provides a bit of closure now that I know the circumstances. More time is spent on his final years which of course is not a true reflection of the man. He was very funny and witty. i wish that his true character during the 'good years' was better represented.

  4. 5 out of 5

    DJMikeG

    A very well written, well researched biography of the Late, Great Townes Van Zandt. I've been a huge fan of Townes for years now, and even after reading many articles about him and watching "Be Here To Love Me" numerous times, there were still a lot of things I learned for the first time reading this book. I think, with a guy as brilliant and complex as Townes, you could learn new things about him forever. My only misgiving with this book are the descriptions of the songs, where the author reall A very well written, well researched biography of the Late, Great Townes Van Zandt. I've been a huge fan of Townes for years now, and even after reading many articles about him and watching "Be Here To Love Me" numerous times, there were still a lot of things I learned for the first time reading this book. I think, with a guy as brilliant and complex as Townes, you could learn new things about him forever. My only misgiving with this book are the descriptions of the songs, where the author really injects his own take on them and tries to present his opinions as facts. Sometimes the info on where the songs came from is concrete and illuminating, other times its his sole opinion. And, he misses some major points, when it comes to the song meanings as well. Example, Hardy describes "Loretta" as being about a barroom girl. Yeah, it is on the surface, but dig deeper and its Townes' love song to his muse. He doesn't mention that at all. That's really the only failing of the book, however. His look at Townes' life is balanced, credible and well done. The chapters detailing the last few years of his life are harrowing and incredibly sad, as well. Its a shame that Townes went out the way he did, that someone with so much talent could abuse themselves so intensely. Highly recommended for fans of Townes or folk and country music in general.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Justin

    This book reads like the info cards stationed next to museum exhibits and as such, should not be experienced by those seeking brilliant prose. However, Robert Earl Hardy, despite his writerly shortcomings, clearly loves Townes' music (how could you not?), and has compiled a lot of great research for A Deeper Blue. He tracked down a ton of interviews with folks close to the singer/songwriter, and while I wish he would have cleaned up some of his quotes a bit, their stories really flesh out the ma This book reads like the info cards stationed next to museum exhibits and as such, should not be experienced by those seeking brilliant prose. However, Robert Earl Hardy, despite his writerly shortcomings, clearly loves Townes' music (how could you not?), and has compiled a lot of great research for A Deeper Blue. He tracked down a ton of interviews with folks close to the singer/songwriter, and while I wish he would have cleaned up some of his quotes a bit, their stories really flesh out the man's life. Fans will glean invaluable insight into Townes' personality and work ethic by hearing about it from those who knew him best. Non-fans don't care anyway, so y'all go ahead and read something else.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Finngm

    Not for me. My pet hate with biographies is when the writer lists things without any passion. I'm all for objectivity but I want some feeling. If you want an ipso facto account of Townes' life then dig in. If you want to understand him then I suggest you watch Margaret Brown's Be Here To Love Me. A very honest and moving portrait of one of our most overlooked songwriters. Not for me. My pet hate with biographies is when the writer lists things without any passion. I'm all for objectivity but I want some feeling. If you want an ipso facto account of Townes' life then dig in. If you want to understand him then I suggest you watch Margaret Brown's Be Here To Love Me. A very honest and moving portrait of one of our most overlooked songwriters.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Matti Paasio

    "There was a mixture of darkness, light and slapstick going on. Townes could make us feel his pain, laugh and feel hopeful all at the same time." - Jimmie Dale Gilmore "There was a mixture of darkness, light and slapstick going on. Townes could make us feel his pain, laugh and feel hopeful all at the same time." - Jimmie Dale Gilmore

  8. 4 out of 5

    Nd

    I was tempted to give A Deeper Blue . . . a higher rating. It's a pretty thorough biography, well-researched, well-documented, and including first-hand experiences by the author. This 'Life and Music of Townes Van Zandt" is a dark portrait of a brilliant, bi-polar, alcoholic artist. The amount of art that he managed to produce and the number of friends who tried to help him, and the number of people's lives he affected are amazing. Having been exposed to and liked his music in my early 20s, I fo I was tempted to give A Deeper Blue . . . a higher rating. It's a pretty thorough biography, well-researched, well-documented, and including first-hand experiences by the author. This 'Life and Music of Townes Van Zandt" is a dark portrait of a brilliant, bi-polar, alcoholic artist. The amount of art that he managed to produce and the number of friends who tried to help him, and the number of people's lives he affected are amazing. Having been exposed to and liked his music in my early 20s, I found myself not willing to skip any of the narrative, but it was very hard to read. I had heard Townes Van Zandt play here in what was virtually the only small bar & music venue here in our little southern college town in the early '70s. He was all of the things portrayed by Robert Earl Hardy: a fabulous, intelligent lyricist and musician whose performance and personality captivated the small, intimate audience. I do remember being included in a small group of people who, the day after his performance, visited a small house in the country where he was staying. It was a lovely afternoon; Townes was sitting on a swing outdoors. I was very young (20 or so), and I recall being disappointed that we were there for only brief amount of time for reasons that no one ever told me. After reading this book, I can only suspect what state Townes might have been in at the time, particularly knowing that my musician boyfriend at the time, while enjoying a party as much as anyone (and more than most), was opposed to intraveinous drug use. It's a tough life that Townes Van Zandt lived and remarkable that he lived as long and produced as much as he did.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Chase

    The greatest american songwriter of all time, all fucking time, I'll fight you on that one. Maybe I'm a tad bit biased though, Van Zandt was born and raised in my hometown Fort Worth, Texas and played with my step grandfather in the early 70s before he (my step grandfather not van zandt that is) went off the rails and murdered his 2nd wife with a sawed off shotgun while they were lying in bed together, and got away with it but I digress. Van Zandt also happens to be buried less than a mile from The greatest american songwriter of all time, all fucking time, I'll fight you on that one. Maybe I'm a tad bit biased though, Van Zandt was born and raised in my hometown Fort Worth, Texas and played with my step grandfather in the early 70s before he (my step grandfather not van zandt that is) went off the rails and murdered his 2nd wife with a sawed off shotgun while they were lying in bed together, and got away with it but I digress. Van Zandt also happens to be buried less than a mile from my elementary school in Dido, Texas. With my own personal history set aside, this book and the accompanying documentary released round the same time does a tremendous job of retelling the rambling shit show of Van Zandt's existence in all its sadness and beauty. Now go listen to his records dumbass.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Brent

    This biography remarkably captures his heritage, his genius, his friends and family, as well as his legendary failings. I never really realized Townes was bipolar before he was addicted. He was such a great songwriter. I used to listen all the time him on WREK, then to the double-LP live record; but the context here is so good. Townes passed through and played Atlanta before and during my time: any friends willing to share some memories of those days? I first saw the Flyin' Shoes LP, I think, This biography remarkably captures his heritage, his genius, his friends and family, as well as his legendary failings. I never really realized Townes was bipolar before he was addicted. He was such a great songwriter. I used to listen all the time him on WREK, then to the double-LP live record; but the context here is so good. Townes passed through and played Atlanta before and during my time: any friends willing to share some memories of those days? I first saw the Flyin' Shoes LP, I think, blown up to giant-size on the wall of Peaches record store on Peachtree Street, late 1970s. Highly Recommended.

  11. 5 out of 5

    T.G. Anderson

    I confess, prior to listening to this book I knew very little about Townes Van Zandt. Now that I’ve listened to “A Deeper Blue; The Life and Music of Townes Van Zandt” I know a lot more about him but I’m still not a fan. Don’t get me wrong: although this is not new material (“A Deeper Blue” was written in 2008 after years of research) it is an impeccably crafted account of the singer-songwritter’s life. But, to me, it depicts yet another wasted life of a gifted artist. I don’t much like Van Zand I confess, prior to listening to this book I knew very little about Townes Van Zandt. Now that I’ve listened to “A Deeper Blue; The Life and Music of Townes Van Zandt” I know a lot more about him but I’m still not a fan. Don’t get me wrong: although this is not new material (“A Deeper Blue” was written in 2008 after years of research) it is an impeccably crafted account of the singer-songwritter’s life. But, to me, it depicts yet another wasted life of a gifted artist. I don’t much like Van Zandt’s songs and I certainly think he wasted his life with way too much alcohol and drugs but this book did a tremendous job of laying bare all the details of his life and letting the listener decide. If you’re a Townes Van Zandt fan you’ve no doubt already read this book and I would suggest a revisit by way of the audiobook. If you’ve never heard of Van Zandt “A Deeper Blue; The Life and Music of Townes Van Zandt” lays bare his life in all the bluest details. I was given this free review copy audiobook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Victoria Haugen

    I did not know much about Townes Van Zandt before reading/listening to this book, and I learned a lot about a fascinating man, his struggles, his demons, his legacy and legend. It's not a rainbows and puppies kind of story, but it tells you a lot about a man who became legendary. From great struggles comes the most amazing art, and that's the story here. We can all learn a thing or two from this tale, and hopefully use that knowledge to better ourselves, how we see the world, and how the world s I did not know much about Townes Van Zandt before reading/listening to this book, and I learned a lot about a fascinating man, his struggles, his demons, his legacy and legend. It's not a rainbows and puppies kind of story, but it tells you a lot about a man who became legendary. From great struggles comes the most amazing art, and that's the story here. We can all learn a thing or two from this tale, and hopefully use that knowledge to better ourselves, how we see the world, and how the world sees us. Great writing and narration, very much enjoyed it :) I was given this free review copy audiobook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Erika

    wish I could have given this a higher rating. unfortunately feels like Hardy's writing is devoid of passion or storytelling; analysis of lyrics is interesting, but very opinion based & overly literal. wish I could have given this a higher rating. unfortunately feels like Hardy's writing is devoid of passion or storytelling; analysis of lyrics is interesting, but very opinion based & overly literal.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Gary

    This is an excellent and engrossing biography of the troubled singer/songwriter. It seems like a fair portrayal to me, discussing but not dwelling on the tawdry aspects of the singer’s life. I particularly appreciated the intelligent discussion of the albums Townes released.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Thomas Driver

    Great research and bio. Lacks some of the great storytelling bits that is a huge part of Townes character and legacy.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Tony Eller

    Great insight to the life of Townes!

  17. 4 out of 5

    Cory

    Interesting reading this after the Guy Clark book... seeing topics both books discussed from different perspectives, as well as topics that were discussed in one but not the other. Good stuff.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Donald

    A look at another troubled man a great songwriter and poet

  19. 4 out of 5

    Hans Allhoff

    The book is every bit as sad and aggravating as you’d expect it to be. I think about the genius-madness conundrum in art, and sometimes it seems so inevitable, but then there’s John Prine......

  20. 4 out of 5

    Özgün

    “My goal is to write one song good enough to rock the lord off of his throne and have him look down and say, ‘That was a good job. You just saved a little girl’s life.’ If I could do that - I don’t care about the money or anything along those lines...”

  21. 4 out of 5

    Amalia Madalina

    To sum it up, this book lacks the artistry you'd expect to sense when reading about TVZ. To sum it up, this book lacks the artistry you'd expect to sense when reading about TVZ.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Mike Markle

    Townes is a very important musician to me. His music takes me places that no other musician can. This book really helped me understand him and his life better. I recommend it to anyone who loves Townes or music.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    The first book of 2017 is fitting a music bio of Townes Van Zandt. I got to see Townes perform once at the Turning Point, Piermont, NY probably late 1984. I remember there was only about half a house (TP only had an official capacity of 78, although we sometimes packed as many as 101 in) but an interesting performance of songs I knew. At that point I was not very aware of Townes. This book was a going away gift from my friend Laurencia as she left for the big smoke. This is a rather thorough bio The first book of 2017 is fitting a music bio of Townes Van Zandt. I got to see Townes perform once at the Turning Point, Piermont, NY probably late 1984. I remember there was only about half a house (TP only had an official capacity of 78, although we sometimes packed as many as 101 in) but an interesting performance of songs I knew. At that point I was not very aware of Townes. This book was a going away gift from my friend Laurencia as she left for the big smoke. This is a rather thorough bio, starting with his childhood growing up in various parts of the country starting in Texas, where the Van Zandt family has deep roots, going back to pre-Republic, when it was still Mexican territory. His Dad worked in the oil industry and thus moved the family around a bit, including Colorado a place that became very special to Townes and reflecting in many songs. Townes was a man on the road, and felt restless when he was 'home' for more than a couple of weeks. The book delves into Townes many demons: drug abuse, alcoholism, violent nature when drunk, mental instability. Over all it is a very full picture of the man and the artist and the many friends that tried to support him and help him, so he could continue to create. Unlike many artists who have a create burst and then struggle to match former glories, Townes wrote great songs right up through to the end of his life. If you love Texas music and songwriting, this book just may be for you.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Dawn Lennon

    So much musical genius seems to be imbeded in the tortured, confused, and lonely lives of the musician. That certainly was the case with Townes Van Zandt. In spite of being reared in a loving home, Townes was a restless spirit, eventually attributed in part to bipolar disorder at a time when awareness of the condition was not fully understood, managed, or accepted. In that context, inevitable misfortune and misery is bound to arise. The power (okay, the magic) of music has a way of taking over, f So much musical genius seems to be imbeded in the tortured, confused, and lonely lives of the musician. That certainly was the case with Townes Van Zandt. In spite of being reared in a loving home, Townes was a restless spirit, eventually attributed in part to bipolar disorder at a time when awareness of the condition was not fully understood, managed, or accepted. In that context, inevitable misfortune and misery is bound to arise. The power (okay, the magic) of music has a way of taking over, filling in some gaps and opening others. Townes, as might have been expected, came to abuse alcohol and drugs but his music continued to emerge through it all. He found a way to perform, sometimes well and sometimes not, even when in dire straits physically and emotionally. He was adored by fans, revered by other music icons, and loved by those close to him, in spite of so much. He was a musician who needed the road and not much else. There is something both sad and noble about him, but nothing sad about the grandness of his body of work. There's a lot to learn from the life of Townes Van Zandt and this book gets us started. It is both well-written and complete without becoming mired in a lot of music industry detail. It'll make you want to listen to Townes while you read it.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    What do you make of a character like Townes Van Zandt? On the one hand, he was a brilliant songwriter, a poet with a guitar, and I think along with Bob Dylan one of the two best songwriters of the second half of the 20th century. But he also had a self destructive streak a mile wide. He was an alcoholic and drug user who stubbornly resisted the efforts of his friends and family to help him. He wrote beautiful songs about love that will break your heart but his personal life was a wreck, married What do you make of a character like Townes Van Zandt? On the one hand, he was a brilliant songwriter, a poet with a guitar, and I think along with Bob Dylan one of the two best songwriters of the second half of the 20th century. But he also had a self destructive streak a mile wide. He was an alcoholic and drug user who stubbornly resisted the efforts of his friends and family to help him. He wrote beautiful songs about love that will break your heart but his personal life was a wreck, married three times and by all accounts a lousy father. One of the artists Townes was closest to in his life was Guy Clark. Townes drank himself to death at age 52. Clark is now in his 70s and still writing great music. It really makes you wonder what could have been if he had been able to get his demons under control. This is a very good account of Townes' life and music. The author managed to interview most of the important figures in his life and, while a fan, presents a warts and all picture of Townes Van Zandt. I'd highly recommend this very readable account to all those interested in the great artist.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Rob Allen

    I'm really into music. I especially like good lyrics. Music (to me) is the sound of an amplified heart. Anything less diminishes all. Having stated that I'll get on with the review. The book is a well written easy read. Even for people that aren't into music. 'Ol Towns Van Zant lead quite a strange life. I say look up his music, listen to it. It'll be like you can't help but wonder what kind of man wrote these songs. That's where this book comes in handy. It gives the, "Low Down", with out white I'm really into music. I especially like good lyrics. Music (to me) is the sound of an amplified heart. Anything less diminishes all. Having stated that I'll get on with the review. The book is a well written easy read. Even for people that aren't into music. 'Ol Towns Van Zant lead quite a strange life. I say look up his music, listen to it. It'll be like you can't help but wonder what kind of man wrote these songs. That's where this book comes in handy. It gives the, "Low Down", with out whitewashing the man. (which is done a lot with dead artists) This is the story of one of the last rambling folksinger/songwriter Thanks Mike Moore for turning me onto the man, his music, and this book-

  27. 5 out of 5

    Robert Barbantini

    I'm loving these biographies that show me what was happening to the folks whose music I love. Unfortunately, seeing who these people really were is sometimes saddening as was the case with this biography. And this one, as did Iggy's, Brian Jones's, and Slash's, reinforces the idea that drugs can really mess one up. I always thought I'd have done well in these musical situations (if I had only gotten a guitar for my 15th Christmas!!!!!), but maybe not as I probably would have succumbed to the dru I'm loving these biographies that show me what was happening to the folks whose music I love. Unfortunately, seeing who these people really were is sometimes saddening as was the case with this biography. And this one, as did Iggy's, Brian Jones's, and Slash's, reinforces the idea that drugs can really mess one up. I always thought I'd have done well in these musical situations (if I had only gotten a guitar for my 15th Christmas!!!!!), but maybe not as I probably would have succumbed to the drug influence. Still, the music itself had a powerful influence on my life and now I can read about where it came from...

  28. 5 out of 5

    Kiof

    Probably the best bio we're going to get of this near genius (IQ-wise and song-wise). He's the man who wrote a handful of classics and a whole lot more head-scratchers with terrible faux-poetic lyrics. The book is by all accounts accurate; it shows Townes as an alcoholic, moody and not very compelling man. After reading the book though, Townes' songs and lyrics are just as inscrutable to me as they were before. Probably the best bio we're going to get of this near genius (IQ-wise and song-wise). He's the man who wrote a handful of classics and a whole lot more head-scratchers with terrible faux-poetic lyrics. The book is by all accounts accurate; it shows Townes as an alcoholic, moody and not very compelling man. After reading the book though, Townes' songs and lyrics are just as inscrutable to me as they were before.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Shirley Brown

    I read this book in two days. I found Townes to be a very sick man, but I was drawn to him because he is a distant cousin. His life was very difficult. Born into a very loving and caring family, he suffered from alcoholism and was bi-polar...not a good combination. He was a very talented songwriter, and with his death in in 1997 a tortured life came to an end. My son, Greg, has found a great interest in Townes as well. It was his book I read.

  30. 4 out of 5

    CURTIS NUGENT

    I have long been a fan of Townes Van Zandt and I was familiar with his body of work. I was even able to see him at the Kerrville Folk Festival once. I found this book to be a very honest and critical look at his life. No romanticizing here. I honestly had trouble sleeping a few nights thinking about Van Zandt's self destruction. Why is it that so many creative geniuses self destruct? A topic for another book. I have long been a fan of Townes Van Zandt and I was familiar with his body of work. I was even able to see him at the Kerrville Folk Festival once. I found this book to be a very honest and critical look at his life. No romanticizing here. I honestly had trouble sleeping a few nights thinking about Van Zandt's self destruction. Why is it that so many creative geniuses self destruct? A topic for another book.

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