A Deeper Blue: The Life and Music of Townes Van Zandt
Robert Earl Hardy
University of North Texas Press
By James Calemine
“But the aces only flew through heaven
And the diamond jack called no man friend…”
--Townes Van Zandt
Robert Earl Hardy’s A Deeper Blue covers Townes Van Zandt in a literary manner that presents a lucid picture of the legendary songwriter. This honest book describes the extremely sensitive and intelligent Van Zandt in his early years that foreshadowed his manic-depressive, alcoholic later years. Hardy recounts classic stories re-telling Van Zandt’s glue-sniffing at military school, and a sober Van Zandt driving with a girlfriend and not paying attention to the road before slamming into a police car. Quintessential Van Zandt asked the cop, “What were you doing? Backing up?”
The book retraces Van Zandt’s music tastes such as Bob Dylan, John Hurt, Hoyt Axton, Blind Lemon Jefferson and Lightning Hopkins as well as Van Zandt’s musical aptitudes throughout high school. Van Zandt began hitchhiking instead of tending to his college curriculum, which led his parents to believe electroshock therapy would correct his wayward tendencies. After such treatments, Van Zandt lost most of his childhood memories.
Later Van Zandt meets Guy Clarke and then they met Lightning Hopkins. Soon Van Zandt began writing original songs. A Deeper Blues proves a commendable work on Van Zandt’s life. Hardy traces Van Zandt’s family history, recording sessions, songwriting, cultural backdrops and turbulent circumstances with respect--without overlooking Van Zandt’s business and personal flaws. Hardy also does a fine job of injecting Van Zandt’s humorous side into these pages, a side of Van Zandt’s personality generally overlooked in recent books and articles.
Hardy never loses sight of Van Zandt’s deft songwriting. In fact, the songwriting remains the cohesive theme in every chapter. The book also describes tainted business deals that plagued Van Zandt, even when musicians like Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Emmylou Harris, Doug Sahm and Freddie Fender covered his songs. A Deeper Blue researched significant facts surrounding Van Zandt’s classic release, Live At the Old Quarter. Hardy provides informative insight regarding every album in the songwriter’s discography, and Van Zandt’s final days—a troubadour until his death on New Year’s Day 1997.
In the end, Hardy leaves the reader with the heavy sentiment such as his Van Zandt’s daughter’s words to her friend the day her father died, “Daddy had a fight with his heart.” A Deeper Blues serves justice to Van Zandt’s life, sorrow and his timeless songs.