The best part of having a podcast is that it gives me an excuse to reach out to people who I think are smart or interesting and talk to them about topics that I find fascinating. Last month, when I was holed up in a Nashville hotel room for several days (I’ll explain later), I had the chance to pick the brain of Tyler Mahan Coe, who you might know as the host of Cocaine & Rhinestones: The History Of Country Music. If you don’t know Tyler, rectify that immediately, because Cocaine & Rhinestones is the best longform music podcast out there.
I wanted to talk to Tyler about one of the great songwriters of the last 50 years, an enigmatic genius who endures 20 years after his death as the archetypal Texas troubadour, Townes Van Zandt. While his catalog of studio albums isn’t large — he put out nine proper albums in his lifetime, over the course of about 25 years — Van Zandt is remembered as a foremost chronicler of romantic desolation, resigned fatalism, and profound loneliness. Since his death in 1997, his music has become a popular signifier of a kind of dusty southwestern noir, appearing in movies like Hell Or High Water and Three Billboards Outside Of Ebbing, Missouri. But in the popular consciousness, Van Zandt remains mysterious, known for standards like “Pancho And Lefty” and “If I Needed You” and but not usually celebrated with the likes Dylan, Cohen and Mitchell.
In this episode, Tyler and I talked about Van Zandt’s career, and provide some tips for how to explore this man’s rich, if also complicated career.