Friday, November 20, 2009

Days Up and Down They Come; Like Rain on a Conga Drum; Forget Most, Remember Some; But Don't Turn None Away

As summer turns to fall and fall turns to early winter, every year I start listening to Townes van Zandt records again. Yet, because the songs of Townes can be so brutal in their phrasing, imagery, and observations, it is best to listen to his albums in moderation. While I would firmly suggest that he was one of the very best American songwriters of the late 20th century, there are times that I cannot listen to him as his words cut too close to the bone. "To Live is to Fly" appeared orginally as the first song on Side B of "High, Low and in Between" which was released in 1972. Townes is able to capture in 3 minutes and 15 seconds the struggle to answer a crucial question that we all will eventually ask about life: how do we value the drudgery, the joy, and the pain in the march of our lives and how do we respond?

"We all got holes to fill.
Those holes are all that's real
Some fall on you like a storm
Sometimes you dig your own

The choice is yours to make
The time is yours to take
Some dive into the sea
Some toil upon the stone

Well, to live's to fly, both low and high
So shake the dust off of your wings
And the sleep out of your eye
Shake the dust off of your wings
And the tears out of your eye"

There have been a number of good cover versions of this song in the nearly 13 years since Townes left this mortal coil. In particular:

*Guy Clark on the tribute collection "Poet: A Tribute to Townes Van Zandt" (2001)and also on his "Old Friends" (2006) collection
*Peter Rowan & Tony Rice on their "Quartet" album (2006)
*Steve Earle on his "Townes" tribute album (2009)

And from nearly 18 years ago:
*Cowboy Junkies on their "Black Eyed Man" album (1992) [Which they recorded after getting off the road with Townes when he opened for the Junkies on most of the dates on their 1990 U.S./Canada tour]

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