Townes Van Zandt is the best songwriter in the world and I'll stand on Bob Dylan's coffee table in my cowboy boots and say that.
Who hasn't heard this quote from Steve Earle by now? Or the many variations thereof: Hank Williams, Guy Clark, and my own personal favorite, James McMurtry.
Full disclosure: I've seen Dylan twice, but I'm not a Bob Dylan freak. So when a friend posted this video of Shelby Lynne and her sister, Allison Moorer, singing "It's Not Dark Yet" on Facebook, it hit me upside the head so hard, I just assumed they'd written it. They owned that damn song.
Suddenly, I thought: Why is it always men who are called "the country's best songwriter?" It's like that antiquated Great American Novel thing. In the end, did anyone hunt down that shaggy behemoth and stake the bloody pelt to the wall? Saul Bellow? Philip Roth? Mailer? Um, kinda, but not really.
As it turned out, Dylan wrote the song. But Shelby and Allison nailed it. "It's Not Dark Yet" says everything about the way I felt this Christmas, and maybe how you're feeling, too. The state of America, the state of our lives. To turn the '70s feminist saw around: the Political is Personal.
Does the writer of a song matter? Or do the singers?
Both? And maybe it's timing, as much as anything else.
It turns out that Steve Earle backtracked on that whole coffee table thing.
Maybe it's time to stop keeping score and just listen.
Friend of JOTPY Paul Cullum on the prescience ofTownes van Zandt: That old order was perpetuated on moral ambiguity and material displacement. What devil’s bargain did it demand of us; what rot in the armature? Read here.