Yesterday, I watched Be Here to Love Me, a documentary about Townes Van Zandt.
Until I saw this film, I had completely forgotten about my first encounter with him and his music. A friend's band opened for him in New York in 1991, or maybe early 1992. I remember my friend telling everyone that if we didn't come to any other show of hers, we had to come to this one because it was a chance to see Townes Van Zandt close up in a small room. I'd never heard of him.
The show was at the Speakeasy, one of the old folk clubs in the West Village, and it was very small, as I remember. We crammed into a tiny room, my friend's band, Pie Alamo, played a short set, and then Townes Van Zandt came out, sat on a stool with his guitar and played a few songs but mostly talked. Long rambling stories; I don't remember what any of them were about. In my memory, it went on for hours. Too long, really. He died a few years after that, and I wish I remembered it more clearly. I wish I could say that such-and-such song blew me away and I remember every word. I don't. I remember the absolute silence in the room more than anything in particular about the songs. I do remember that he was funny and charming but at times incoherent, and that maybe the silence wasn't only reverence for a great artist but fear that he might never find the thread of that story. Or that he might fall off the stool. I'm gonna guess he was pretty drunk, and everyone in the room was completely in love with him.
I'm ashamed to admit that one possible reason I don't remember the evening in much detail is that I was preoccupied with a man. I was there with a date. A guy I had met at a sex club -- the very early incarnation of Michael Wakefield's "He's Gotta Have It" parties, when he was doing them in his East Village loft. This guy was dark and gorgeous and we had had some of the best sex I've ever had in my life, twice, which I guess I thought might translate into a more lasting relationship. (Go ahead and laugh; it was a long time ago.) We went out twice, not counting the 2 encounters at the club. The Townes Van Zandt show was our last date. He left before the show was over. I scoffed.
Not long after that night, I met J, and not long after that, we auditioned for our first gig as Y'all. It was a cabaret event which a small theater company was producing at Flamingo East, a restaurant on Second Ave. J approached them, and they asked us to come sing a couple songs for the directors of the company. We'd been making up songs at home for fun and playing them for friends, but this was the first time we'd presented them to strangers and we were nervous. We walked into the big empty ballroom upstairs (it was mid afternoon) and there were 3 or 4 people sitting at a single table in the corner. We sat opposite them and sang our little set. I played ukulele. I didn't notice until halfway into the first song that one of the people at the table was the sex club guy. He was friendly, I was friendly, but we didn't acknowledge our previous acquaintance. We got the gig, the rest is history.
Oh, and Michael Wakefield, who I didn't know personally at the time, ended up taking the first publicity photos of Y'all. He was a wonderful photographer in addition to successful sex club mogul. Later Michael became a sort of mentor to J and me. One of our early money-making ventures to finance Y'all was to produce our own bi-weekly sex party. I think we had 3 of them. We made pots of money at the first one, but attendance dropped off quickly, and we moved on to other harebrained schemes.
Be Here to Love Me is a beautiful, very sad film about a great American artist. I recommend it. The clip below is not from the film, I just ran across it and it struck me as being very much like I remember him.