Classic Clips: Townes Van Zandt “Waiting Around to Die” from Heartworn Highways (1981)

This week’s clip comes from the 1981 documentary ‘Heartworn Highways‘ by James Szalapski. The documentary focuses on early footage of folk and country musicians. It includes artists Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, Steve Earle, David Allan Coe, Rodney Crowell, Gamble Rogers, Steve Young, and The Charlie Daniels Band. The documentary shows parties, bars, and artists in their houses with no formal facts or narration. The images and songs can speak for themselves and the americana they showcase.

The clip is from inside Townes Van Zandt’s modest home and shows members of his household doing chores while he strums his guitar. His wife does some washing up and sometimes joins in singing. Van Zandt pours whiskey, and a wizened African American man creaks into his kitchen and perches on a stool. ‘Waiting round to Die‘ is a ballad that tells of a troubled childhood, violence, vice, and hopelessness. The seated man is a travelling blacksmith, Uncle Seymour Washington, who died just before the film was released, and he is the unwitting highlight of the clip. As Townes Van Zandt croons in his kitchen, unfolding the sad story, the man is increasingly, but silently, moved. After a while, tears are streaming down his face with a power rarely captured on film and could only be found in footage of a country singer’s home.

Unfortunately, ‘Heartworn Highways‘ is not available to stream at the moment but is available on Blu-ray and DVD from your favourite local entertainment purveyor. Many of the clips from the documentary are up on YouTube for your enjoyment.

Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments