SINCE he released his first album in , and especially since his death in , the country songwriter Townes Van Zandt has been a prototypical cult figure. Though his songs have been recorded by the likes of Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson and the Cowboy Junkies, Van Zandt never sold many records himself, and he battled addiction and depression for decades. His songs, at once lyrical and unsentimental, depicted love, and life itself, as experiences to be enjoyed free from all inevitably disappointed expectations. The singer-songwriter Steve Earle is having none of that. But he is not interested in sustaining the myth of Van Zandt as a beautiful loser. Earle said at his home here. Earle has put himself in a tough emotional spot. After all, Mr. That statement embarrasses Mr.
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On Jan. Having lived multiple lives worth of suffering, making travel companions out of addiction, penury and destitution, the perennially hurting folk bard left the world at the age of It was practically a self-fulfilling prophecy. It was the same age Van Zandt's father had died of a heart attack in Unlike the enchanting sorrow that colored the scenes in his illustrative verse, however, the sight of his passing would be an unsightly and disturbing one.
His musical style has often been described as melancholy and features rich, poetic lyrics. During his early years, Van Zandt was respected for his guitar playing and fingerpicking ability. In , six years after Emmylou Harris had first popularized it, Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard covered his song " Pancho and Lefty ", reaching number one on the Billboard country music chart. For much of the s, he lived in a simple shack without electricity or a telephone. He suffered from a series of drug addictions,  alcoholism ,  and was given a psychiatric diagnosis of bipolar disorder. When he was young, the now-discredited insulin shock therapy erased much of his long-term memory.
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