‘You can’t separate them’: the unlikely love story of Guy Clark, Susanna Clark and Townes Van Zandt | Documentary films

When director Tamara Saviano determined to make a movie about the Americana songwriter Guy Clark, she knew she couldn’t inform his story with out overlaying the lives of two different artistic souls – his spouse, the songwriter and painter Susanna Clark, and his greatest buddy, the fellow Americana star, Townes Van Zandt. “They influenced him a lot, and he influenced them too,” stated Saviano to the Guardian. “You can’t separate them.”

At the similar time, their entwined lives endured deep fractures and brutal hurts. The story Saviano tells in the new documentary With out Getting Killed or Caught, named after a lyric from one of Clark’s best-known songs, LA Freeway, traces a large arc of private traumas and artistic triumphs. It includes a violent suicide, a number of addictions, and ruinous depressions. However, regardless of all that, the central figures solid a three-way love that, nonetheless unconventional, enriched all of them. To disclose the intimacies of the story, Saviano scored a real coup – audio and written diaries left by Susanna Clark after her demise from most cancers in 2012. All through the movie, the diaries are learn by Oscar-winner Sissy Spacek. “They’re a gold mine,” Saviano stated of the tapes.

That the director was capable of safe them from Guy Clark reveals the belief he had in her. Saviano, a music journalist, obtained to know the songwriter, who died of lymphoma in 2016, over a decade in the past when she wrote his memoir, which shares the title of her movie. Amazingly, Clark by no means listened to, or learn, his spouse’s diaries when he bequeathed them to Saviano. “Guy stated, ‘No matter’s in there may be Susanna’s reality and you’re welcome to it,’” the director stated. “He wasn’t afraid of it. I believed that was actually courageous of him.”

Then once more, Clark’s openness dovetails with the variety of songs he wrote. Like John Prine, Clark used plain language in his songs to attain literary feats. Equally, the music he composed infused fundamental American genres, like people, blues, and nation, with recent tunes, which he delivered in a voice that communicated each a dry humor and a prepared empathy. All through the movie, buddies of Guy’s, together with fellow Americana stars Rodney Crowell, Steve Earle, and Vince Gill, speak admiringly about the craft in his songs, in addition to his indifference to industrial issues. They converse simply as overtly about the issues in his key relationships.

Guy’s connection to Susanna started in tragedy. Once they met, he was courting her sister, Bunny, who had turn into pregnant. Quickly after, she killed herself. “There was no singular motive anyone might pin level,” Saviano stated. “There was a information article that stated she suffered from melancholy however no one actually is aware of.”

Guy wrote the poignant music for Bunny, She Ain’t Going Nowhere. The loss of her sister hit Susanna arduous. In the diary she wrote, “I used to be determined to carry on to my sister and Guy was the closest factor. Over our grief for Bunny, we fell in love.”

Again then, in the late 60s, Guy had a day job as an artwork director for PBS Tv however he longed to commit himself absolutely to songwriting. He took inspiration from his buddy Townes Van Zandt who had already began a prolific profession. After Susanna met Townes, they solid a bond as deep as she had together with her husband. “Guy and I have been married, however Townes and I have been soul mates,” she wrote in her diary.

The connection between Susanna and Townes wasn’t simply emotional however, at instances, sexual. Oddly, the latter facet isn’t coated in the movie. “To me, it simply didn’t matter,” Saviano stated of the omission. “It was actually about the love and the friendship between them. Guy knew that it was sexual and it was simply accepted. We’ve to remember that they have been all younger adults in the free love period of the 60s. And it’s not like Guy was the good husband by any stretch. They have been all particular person artists and they wished to do what they wished to do. They weren’t huge on conference in any half of their lives.”

Heartworn Highways film stills. Guy and Susanna Clark, Townes Van Zandt
Heartworn Highways movie stills: Guy and Susanna Clark, Townes Van Zandt. {Photograph}: Handout

As Steve Earle says in the movie, “the relationship between Susanna and Townes, no one talked about as a result of it was a bit too intimate to be in the similar room with typically. And no one introduced up questions no one wished the reply to.”

Saviano believes Townes gave Susanna one thing that Guy couldn’t. “He had this religious, susceptible facet and Guy didn’t share that,” she stated. “Guy was a way more stoic, no-nonsense variety of individual. I believe he favored that Townes took some of the strain off him so he didn’t need to be the charming husband all the time.”

Past their friendship, the trio’s bond centered on the artwork of songwriting. To rejoice it, Guy, Susanna and Townes fashioned a casual salon of fellow songsmiths. Susanna used to tape some of their conversations, a number of of that are featured in the movie. Some seize them drunk, a key characteristic of their nights collectively. Although Susanna most frequently expressed her creativity as a painter – evidenced by work of hers that graces album covers by Guy, Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson and others – she additionally wrote songs. Hers had extra industrial attraction than Guy’s or Townes’, which triggered some jealousy. Two items she co-wrote grew to become no 1 nation hits: I’ll Be Your San Antone Rose for the singer Dottsy, and Come from the Coronary heart sung by Kathy Mattea. Whereas some of Guy’s songs did effectively via cowl variations by artists like Jerry Jeff Walker, Ricky Scaggs and Vince Gill, his personal albums in the mid-70s bombed. Worse, he fought mightily along with his file firm over their insistence on fuller preparations and manufacturing. Even the use of drums in his recordings irritated him, believing they took consideration away from the coronary heart of the music. Van Zandt went additional, going out of his method to alienate even these Nashville executives who tried to assist him.

Guy Clark launched 5 albums on main labels and hated all of them, although they contained traditional items he wrote, like Desperados Ready for a Practice or The Randall Knife. In the early 80s, he stop the enterprise for 5 years. By decade’s finish, he got here again to file for the variety of indie labels that allowed him to carry out largely with an acoustic guitar, as he most well-liked. His work wound up anticipating the Americana motion, for which he was later acknowledged with many awards in that area. “Guy has legendary standing there,” Saviano stated.

Guy Clark in 2013.
Guy Clark in 2013. {Photograph}: PR

At the similar time, his marriage to Susanna went via horrible instances, main to separate for a quantity of years. “She had sufficient of my bullshit,” Guy says in the movie, whereas in Susanna’s diaries, she expresses her have to work out issues on her personal. In time, nonetheless, the depth of their connection introduced them again collectively and Townes remained a good half of their lives. However by then Townes had begun a deadly spiral downward, with addictions to each alcohol and heroin. “These days, Townes would have been identified as bipolar,” surmised Saviano. “When he was younger, they did shock remedy on him and he misplaced all of his reminiscence. So, who is aware of what that did to his mind.”

When Townes died, at 52 in 1997, Susanna took to mattress and by no means left it. She additionally grew to become hooked on the opioid Percocet. The director believes that “Townes’ demise compounded lingering grief she felt from her sister’s demise. However “as a result of she was in mattress for 15 years, folks in Nashville wrote her off as loopy,” Saviano stated. “I wished them to know that Susanna wasn’t loopy. She was grieving and by no means rebounded from it.”

The director stated one of the causes she made the movie was to revive Susanna’s status in addition to to burnish the work of Guy and Townes. Susanna died earlier than she might give an opinion about Saviano use of her diaries in the movie. However, the director stated she feels “fairly assured that her stamp of approval is there. Fairly frankly, I believe Susanna has been guiding this entire course of from the nice past.”

As proof, she factors to some odd connections between Susanna, Guy and the diaries’ narrator, Sissy Spacek, which she solely found whereas making the movie. Again in the 70s, Spacek had realized to play guitar from Guy’s first spouse, Susan Spaw, and the actor recorded a music written by Susanna on her one and solely album, again in 1983. The director believes each Guy and Susanna would have appreciated the indisputable fact that her movie doesn’t sugarcoat their sophisticated story. “Guy wasn’t afraid of the reality,” she stated. “None of them have been. He would say, “Yeah, that is life. That is what it was.”

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