Be Here to Love Me: A Film About Townes Van Zandt

“I think my life will run out before my work does,” singer-songwriter Townes Van Zandt predicts in the voice-over that opens this 2004 documentary portrait. “I’ve designed it that way.” He wasn’t kidding. When he died of a heart attack in 1997 he’d spent 30 years boozing and courting death (he once jumped off a fourth-floor balcony out of curiosity), yet his profoundly lyrical guitar ballads are revered by Willie Nelson, Lyle Lovett, Steve Earle, and Emmylou Harris. Son of a wealthy Fort Worth family, Van Zandt was subjected to insulin-shock treatment as a boy, which wiped out portions of his memory; in like fashion, filmmaker Margaret Brown leaves much of his personal life wreathed in the smoke of his romantic self-destruction, ceding the narrative to his eloquently hopeless songs. This may not be a solid biography, but it feels true—as Van Zandt sings in “Pancho and Lefty,” his biggest hit, “Nobody heard his dying words, ah but that’s the way it goes.”