"I'll kindle my fires with the words I can't send you/ And the roads I can't follow and the songs I can't sing/ I'll wander alone on the sleighbells of winter/ With the stars for a diamond and the world for a ring"
Townes Van Zandt ,The Catfish Song
Despite not being well known, Townes Van Zandt is revered and admired by musicians and musical aficionados alike as one of the most evocative lyricists in contemporary music.
Van Zandt wrote songs of immense beauty, sadness and pathos, many of which draw from his conscious and unconscious experience and from historical and personal events.
He wrote songs of tragedy and sadness, like Marie, perhaps the finest song ever written about homelessness and poverty, and songs of despair and sorrow in the face of the pain and struggle of daily life, such as A Song For (which mentions my home town Perth, Australia)
He also wrote songs that drew on his own struggle with mental illness and addiction, such as Sanitarium Blues, The Rake and The Hole.
Van Zandt also wrote beautiful and life affirming songs of daily life, of love, of the cycles of nature and the landscape and environment, and of his reflections on the experiences of being human.
There is a timeless, poetic and deeply philosophical quality to his lyrics which stand as poetry first, then as music. For Van Zandt it was essential that songs work as poetry first and he worked tirelessly to craft his song lyrics.
The Catfish Song is the final track on Van Zandt's 1987 album At My Window. The album was Townes Van Zandt's first studio album in 9 years and is full of magnificent songs of love, loss, grief, the beauty of daily life and the struggles of living. This includes Songs like Snowin on Raton (which has featured on this blog before), At My Window and For the Sake of the Song.
But for me, The Catfish Song is the highlight of the album and ranks in the my top ten Van Zandt songs of all time.
Van Zandt's world weary spoken singing style is accompanied by the evocative gospel style piano of renowned jazz and country pianist Charlie Cochran. It is a magnificent piece of instrumental support; a performance of haunting intensity and profound humanity.
The Catfish Song
Townes Van Zandt
Down at the bottom of that dirty old river