To be a fan of Townes Van Zandt is to be a member of a worldwide brotherhood/sisterhood - his extraordinary songs are a source of solace, comfort and guidance to those in on the secret, those who have taken the time to apprehend and understand. His work transcends boundaries of genre, and for all their variable quality, there is something in almost every song, be it a couplet, a characteristic twist of logic, a homily that soothes, a sobering vision of the darkest side of life or a verbal shaft of sunlight for a bleak day, that pulls you up short - not just a songwriter, then, but a poet and a sage. But his extraordinary legacy came at a terrible price, a life of manic extremes that's laid out in definitive and unflinching detail in Hardy's articulate biography. Much is revealed - the unexpected scale of heroin's hold on Townes; the punishing touring schedule undertaken in his final years; the shady machinations of those who professed to have his best interests at heart - and much is implied between the lines. Hardy's analysis of individual songs is one of the book's most valuable assets, steering even the most avid fan toward a song previously overlooked, maybe, or deconstructing a familiar one to reveal hidden elements.
Don't be put off by the book's quasi-academic framework - there is none of the stuffiness commonly associated with a university press, and the copious endnotes only serve to add vital material. The photographs in the book's centre suffer from poor reproduction, and it's a shame that the budget couldn't run to art paper for them, but it's a minor quibble. In the final analysis, Hardy has seemingly written the definitive story of this extraordinary man, and no lover of Van Zandt's music can call their collection complete without this book on their shelves.