Google+ Badge

Saturday, April 20, 2013

With All the Lust Inside Her


Tecumseh Valley
The name she gave was Caroline
Daughter of a miner
Her ways were free
It seemed to me
That sunshine walked beside her

She came from Spencer
Across the hill
She said her pa had sent her
'cause the coal was low
And soon the snow
Would turn the skies to winter

She said she'd come
To look for work
She was not seeking favors
And for a dime a day
And a place to stay
She'd turn those hands to labor

But the times were hard, lord,
The jobs were few
All through Tecumseh Valley
But she asked around
And a job she found
Tending bar at Gypsy Sally's

She saved enough to get back home
When spring replaced the winter
But her dreams were denied
Her pa had died
The word come down from Spencer

So she turned to whorin' out on the streets
With all the lust inside her
And it was many a man
Returned again
To lay himself beside her

They found her down beneath the stairs
That led to Gypsy Sally's
In her hand when she died
Was a note that cried
Fare thee well... Tecumseh Valley

The name she gave was Caroline
Daughter of a miner
Her ways were free
It seemed to me
That sunshine walked beside her

--Townes Van Zandt

John Townes Van Zandt (March 7, 1944 – January 1, 1997) was an American singer-songwriter. Many of his songs, including "If I Needed You," "To Live is to Fly," and "No Place to Fall" are considered standards of their genre.

While alive, Van Zandt had a small and devoted fan base, but he never had a successful album or single, and even had difficulty keeping his recordings in print. In 1983, six years after Emmylou Harris had first popularized it, Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard covered his song "Pancho and Lefty," scoring a number one hit on the Billboard country music charts.

Despite achievements like these, the bulk of his life was spent touring various dive bars, often living in cheap motel rooms, backwoods cabins, and on friends' couches.

Showing Promise in Early Days

Townes Van Zandt was born in Fort Worth, Texas, to a wealthy oil family. He was the third-great-grandson of Isaac Van Zandt, a prominent leader of the Republic of Texas and second great-grandson of Khleber M. Van Zandt, Confederate Major and one of the founders of Fort Worth

In 1952 the family transplanted from Fort Worth to Midland, Texas, for six months before moving to Billings, Montana. Then in 1958, Townes' family moved to Boulder, Colorado, where he became known as a good student who was active in team sports.

In grade school, it was recognized that Van Zandt had a genius IQ and his parents began grooming him to become a lawyer or senator. Fearing that his family would move again, he willingly decided to attend Shattuck School in Faribault, Minnesota. He received a score of 1170 when he took the SAT in January 1962. His family soon moved to Houston, Texas.

In 1962, Van Zandt was accepted into the University of Colorado at Boulder. In the spring of his sophomore year, his parents flew to Boulder to bring Townes back to Houston, apparently worried about his binge drinking and episodes of depression.

His parents admitted him to the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, where he was diagnosed with manic depression.There, he received three months of insulin shock therapy, which erased much of his long-term memory. Afterwards, his mother's "biggest regret in life was that she had allowed that treatment to occur."

Becoming His Addictions

Van Zandt was notorious for his drug addictions, alcoholism, and his tendency to tell tall tales. He struggled with heroin addiction and alcoholism throughout his adult life.
At times he would become drunk on stage and forget the lyrics to his songs. As a result of Van Zandt's constant drinking, Harold Eggers, Kevin's brother, was hired on as his tour manager and 24-hour caretaker in 1976, a partnership that would last for the rest of the singer's life.Although the musician was many years older than he was, Eggers would later say that Van Zandt was his "first child."

At one point, his heroin habit was so intense that he offered Kevin Eggers, Harold's brother, the publishing rights to all of the songs on each of his first four albums for $20.

Van Zandt's battle with addiction led him to be admitted to rehab almost a dozen times throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Medical records from his time in recovery centers show that he believed his drinking had become a problem around 1973, and by 1982 he was drinking at least a pint of vodka daily.

 Doctors notes reported: "He admits to hearing voices, mostly musical voices," and "Affect is blunted and mood is sad. Judgment and insight is impaired."At various points in his life, he was prescribed to take the antidepressant Zoloft and the mood stabilizer lithium. His final and longest period of sobriety during his adult life was a period of about a year in 1989 and 1990.

Living As a Recluse

Despite critical acclaim, Van Zandt remained a cult figure. He normally played small venues (often to crowds of fewer than fifty people) but began to move towards playing larger venues (and even made a handful of television appearances) during the 1990s.

For much of the 1970s, he lived a reclusive life outside of Nashville in a tin-roofed, bare-boards shack with no heat, plumbing or telephone, occasionally appearing in town to play shows. Steve Earle would later say that Van Zandt's primary concerns during this time period were planting morning glories, listening to Paul Harvey's radio show, and watching the sitcom Happy Days.

Van Zandt died on New Years Day 1997 from health problems stemming from years of substance abuse. The 2000s saw a resurgence of interest in Van Zandt. During the decade, two books, a documentary film, and a number of magazine articles about the singer were created.

Van Zandt's music has been covered by such notable and varied musicians as Bob Dylan, Norah Jones, Lyle Lovett, Steve Earle, Cowboy Junkies, Andrew Bird, Robert Plant, Alison Krauss, Gillian Welch, and Devendra Banhart.

"Tecumseh Valley"

What is a person to think about Caroline? Appallingly poor yet industrious and extremely family grounded. Young and tough yet a fragile creature in her free, natural environment. A lustful common whore yet a rare, radiant fallen angel.

I've seen such girls on the streets of town. To be honest, my first thoughts when confronted by their stark images are negative and demeaning. My lips immediately form words like "wasted" and "dirty" and "diseased."

But then, I notice something strikingly poignant in their desperation, and I wonder how many took one or two missteps that turned their innocent freedom into bondage and slavery. I find myself with mixed emotions.

You see, I begin to realize that these women are not just pieces of bartered flesh but significant lost human beings. All daughters -- some abandoned, some mentally deficient, most scarred in childhood, most racked by substance addiction. All of them hurting and seeking somewhere where filthy dollars will buy happiness. All of them forlorn little girls looking for unconditional love.

And, I begin to hate all those things that ruined such innocence -- the abusers, the users, the pimps, the drugs, the pushers.

It bothers me that I am able to drive past in indifference those whom I know will be abused, defiled, and eventually discarded. It pains me to know that such souls will likely lie as refuse beneath places like "the stairs that lead to Gypsy Sally's." And, it especially hurts me to understand how these struggling individuals simply bid their uncaring society "goodbye" to escape into the next plane.

Video of "Tecumseh Valley"
Nanci Griffith
Written by Townes Van Zandt
Post a Comment