The third instalment in our fan-requested Classic Covers* series is Townes Van Zandt's 1969 prescient lyrical ditty, Lungs.
Dave Burns, the delightfully intuitive fan who requested this song couldn't have picked a more poignant one for us. In fact, his three potential selections were so wonderfully idiosyncratic that we were a bit torn as to which to play, but no songs - or artists - resonated so deeply with us as Townes' Lungs. He is a songwriter after our own hearts.
Van Zandt purportedly stated that "this song should be screamed and not sung," as recounted by Lyle Lovett. An arguably criminally-underrated songwriter, Townes got his start covering Lightning Hopkins and Bob Dylan in Houston. After following his dying father's suggestion that he play more originals, he spent most of his years touring low-rent bars and performing for very small audiences. It is said that he never released a commercially successful album, despite having been covered famously by Bob Dylan (a self-proclaimed fan of Van Zandt), Emmylou Harris, Willy Nelson and Merle Haggard. He lived reclusively outside of Nashville in the '70's and recorded less frequently as the decades wore on. Many of his records are widely regarded as overdone, no doubt the work of zealous producers. Only live performances revealed the true Townes Van Zandt. The 80's found him recognition as a songwriter as his songs - recorded by others - Pancho and Lefty and If I Needed You hit the top of the US country charts. The 90's saw him touring with The Cowboy Junkies in the US and Canada and the outing helped expose his music to a fresh generation. Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley approached Van Zandt in 1996 hoping to record and release a new album for him; Townes agreed. Just before recording was to begin, though, he fell down a stairwell and severely injured himself, and despite attempts to push through and record the record in a wheelchair, the effort was woefully abandoned due to Townes' unsettled and intoxicated condition. He died "naturally" in Tennessee on New Year's Day (1997), the same day on which his idol, Hank Williams, had passed away.
Often inextricably linked to his music is the pathos surrounding his existence; the alcoholism and heroin addiction; the youthful diagnosis with manic depression, shock treatments, and failed attempts at normalcy before succumbing to his musical drifter calling. All of these negative images are overshadowed by the masterful poetic symbiosis of his songs, and his casual, yet candidly sensual singing voice. Like so many genuine artists and so-called cult musicians - his personal plight has inspired legions of fans to break free from their own spiral into depression in favour of paying witness to life's harmonious beauty.
We count ourselves among them. To pursue music ascetically means to "blow everything off - family, money, security, happiness, freedom." Thank you Dave Burns for the stunning song selection. Buried deep in our hearts and minds, it is one that will not soon leave our repertoire.
The song's lyrics do it the greatest justice, so without further ado:
Well won't you lend your lungs to me
Mine are collapsing
Plant my feet and bitterly breathe
Up the time that's passing
Breath I'll take and breath I'll give
Pray the day ain't poison
Stand among the ones that live
In lonely indecision
Fingers walk the darkness down
Mind is on the midnight
Gather up the gold you found
You fool it's only moonlight
If you try to take it home
Your hands will turn to butter
Better leave this dream alone
Try to find another
Salvation sat and crossed herself
Called the devil partner
Wisdom burned upon a shelf
Who'll kill the raging cancer
Seal the river at its mouth
Take the water prisoner
Fill the sky with screams and cries
Bathe in fiery answers
Jesus was an only son
And love his only concept
Strangers cry in foreign tongues
And dirty up the doorstep
And I for one you for two
Ain't got the time for outside
Keep your injured looks to you
We'll tell the world that we tried
Thank you sincerely forever, Townes Van Zandt.
Here's an editorial take on the song (includes two original versions of Lungs for your ears): http://www.avclub.com/articles/how-townes-van-zandts-lungs-veers-from-platonic-ep,89423/
*Cursed Arrows are a post-proto-punk duo from Canada. Our Classic Covers Project was initiated during the making of our 2013 full-length original album, SONIC UNION. All songs were performed and recorded by us, specifically by fan request, and remain unreleased outside of Youtube. All videos were shot and edited by Cursed Arrows.
© 2013 Aluminum Monster Productions