“Blue Guitar” by Michael Timmins of The Cowboy Junkies has haunted me for a while. Townes Van Zandt is listed as a co-writer, but on further reflection, I find that while Townes toured with The Cowboy Junkies and wrote “The Cowboy Junkies’ Blues” for them, Michael Timmins wrote the song upon hearing that Townes had died that day. The day was January 1st, 1997. Michael Timmins must have felt the spirit of Townes Van Zandt was guiding his hand, as he gave Townes a posthumous writing credit for the song. Another eerie thing about the untimely death of Townes was that New Year’s Day was also the day that Hank Williams died. Dave Alvin of The Blasters wrote a song about Hank’s death that was also recorded by Dwight Yoakam:
Night wolves moan
The winter hills are black
I’m all alone
Sitting in the back
Of a long white Cadillac
Williams was scheduled to perform at the Municipal Auditorium in Charleston, West Virginia. Williams had to cancel the concert due to an ice storm; he hired college student Charles Carr to drive him to his next appearance, a concert on New Year’s Day 1953, at the Canton Memorial Auditorium in Canton, Ohio. Carr stopped for gas in Oak Hill, West Virginia where Williams was found to be unresponsive in the back seat. After an autopsy, the cause of death was determined to be “insufficiency of the right ventricle of the heart.” Dave Alvin’s song, “Long White Cadillac,” is obviously about Hank Williams, though the Cadillac in question is actually light blue. Though both Townes and Hank were no strangers to narcotics and alcohol, both died primarily of heart trouble. Townes’ official cause of death was “natural” cardiac arrhythmia. He died 44 years to the day after Hank.
So, though Townes isn’t mentioned in “The Blue Guitar” and Hank’s hallowed name is nowhere invoked in “Long White Cadillac,” the songs are definitely about Townes and Hank respectively and respectfully.
The other thing that I wondered about was if there was any connection to the poem, “The Man With the Blue Guitar” by Wallace Stevens. Here’s the first stanza of a much longer poem:
I The man bent over his guitar, A shearsman of sorts. The day was green. They said, "You have a blue guitar, You do not play things as they are." The man replied, "Things as they are Are changed upon the blue guitar." And they said then, "But play, you must, A tune beyond us, yet ourselves, A tune upon the blue guitar Of things exactly as they are."
So far no connection but The Cowboy Junkies did a cover of “Sweet Jane” by Lou Reed, and he was a student of Delmore Schwartz at Columbia. Delmore once visited Wallace at the Insurance company where Wallace Stevens worked. I think this story was recounted in The Truants by William Barrett. OK, I don’t remember if it was Lou Reed who went also, probably it was William Barrett, anyway, in the song, “Sweet Jane,” there are a few lines that say,
“Riding a Stutz Bearcat, Jim. Those were different times:
Poets studied rules of verse, and ladies rolled their eyes.”
Of course Margo Timmins probably left that part out of their version, but still. A tenuous connection is established. Synchronicity. Lou Reed dedicated his album, The Blue Mask, to Delmore Schwartz. The title track is specifically about him, and he even says “the proud and regal name, Delmore” on the cut.
I can hear the skeptics now, they are saying, “so what?” The skeptics, they don’t dig my ‘belief’ in synchronicity. But screw them. I feel a certain numinous sensation like a ringing in the ears. It is connected to the voice of a person I met at the Dustbowl Dojo that meets at St Pauls church at 7:30 AM on Saturdays. Lindsay Sharpe has a yoga studio with a free meditation session and I am trying to get her to start a band with me, tentatively titled Sam, José, and the Silicone Valets. I will let you know as soon as we book our first gig.