I would compare the song below to modern song writing - but there's not really any fair way to do that. I'd put these words next to a Justin Bieber song - but that would tarnish the beauty of what Townes put to paper.
Used to be, there were poets. And an audience who appreciated them. It seems that both are lost, or at least hiding. What the heck happened?? When did we lose our love of beauty?
We can fix it.
If artists agreed to only create things with meaning, purpose and passion - could we, as the audience, agree to only support those things created that met our new lofty expectations? Is it within us to deny the power of pop culture and turn ourselves away from cheap entertainment and towards the incredible struggle that is genuine creativity? I think we can. I think many people already have.
If enough of us agreed to this, it could begin a cycle that might actually become self-sustaining. What's it take?
It takes commitment from both artists and audience.
As an audience, we must be patient. And critical. As audience members we must not accept shit as art. There is nothing wrong with encouraging an artist as they grow - but not everyone who puts paint on a canvas is a painter, not everyone who learns three cords is a musician, and not everyone who hated their daddy is a poet. We have to raise the bar. But we must also be patient. We must support artists as they produce good and meaningful work, even if we can't see the output right away. The days of instant gratification must be put behind us.
The artist must be dedicated. The artist cannot leave the road less traveled. Even if it means working 80 hours a week to make a living and make art. It is the struggle to create that is beautiful. Not the object itself. Artist's will have to remember that.
This will lead to some people's feelings being hurt. So be it. But the hard truth is that not everyone has the commitment required to be an artist. If you 'occasionally' like to paint but just can't make enough work for a show, if you learned a few chords from a book but just haven't found the time to write your own songs, if all of your 'poetry' still has to rhyme, if you spend three hours a day watching tv but don't have time to get into your 'studio', if you can imagine your life without your art in it...this life is not for you. You can hang out from time to time - but you no longer get to claim to be something that you are not. I'm not trying to be a dick. But if you spend 20 minutes a month dabbling some paint on a little canvas you bought from the Hobby Lobby - is it really fair to put yourself in the same category as someone who has committed decades to studying their craft and might spend a year on a single painting to get it right? I don't think so. I occasionally have to do some math - but I don't get to call myself an accountant.
If you cannot function without creating. If you cannot picture a moment in your life where your art will not be essential to your sanity. If your work is an amazing and terrible struggle. If you are willing to sacrifice every free moment you have in order to get just a little more work done. If you create knowing that what you do does not have an end, a conclusion, or even a good place to stop...then you are part of the family. Keep it up.
Now. The song I referenced above. Townes wrote about his life. He lived his art. And his poetry reflects that struggle. And its beautiful. Happy Birthday Townes.
Rake, by Townes Van Zandt
I used to wake and run with the moon
I lived like a rake and a young man
I covered my lovers with flowers and wounds
My laughter the devil would frighten
The sun she would come and beat me back down
But every cruel day had it’s nightfall
I’d welcome the stars with wine and guitars
Full of fire and forgetful
My body was sharp the dark air clean
And outrage my joyful companion
Whisperin’ women how sweet did they seem
Kneelin’ for me to command them
And time was like water but I was the sea
I’d have never noticed it passin’
Except for the turnin’ of night into day
And the turnin’ of day into cursin’
You look at me now, and don’t think I don’t know
What all your eyes are a sayin’
Does he want us to believe these ravings and lies
They’re just tricks that his brains been a playin’?
A lover of women he can’t hardly stand
He trembles he’s bent and he’s broken
I’ve fallen it’s true but I say unto you
Hold your tongues until after I’ve spoken
I was takin’ my pride in the pleasures I’d known
I laughed and thought I’d be forgiven
But my laughter turned ’round eyes blazing and
Said my friend, we’re holdin’ a wedding
I buried my face but it spoke once again
The night to the day we’re a bindin’
And now the dark air is like fire on my skin
And even the moonlight is blinding