While he’s remembered as a free spirited, rambling poet and one of the most influential and respected songwriters in music history, the late Townes Van Zandt was also a father whose devotion to his artistry left little time for his children. In a video produced by YETI coolers, Van Zandt’s eldest song, J.T. Van Zandt, discusses how his dad shaped his path, his love of fly fishing and what fatherhood means to him.
In the video, Van Zandt, a fly fishing guide and boat builder, says watching his father live out his passion had a profound impact on him.
“Our fathers sort of set the path for us, whether we choose the same thing or we depart from that,” he explains. “It’s still sort of the architecture of who we are.”
Van Zandt says while growing up without Townes was difficult, he’s come to understand his father and the choices he made.
“I think for anyone who’s aware of his lifestyle and what he did and how he wrote songs, that would’ve been great for just a single rambler. But the guy had a son at home. I just wondered why he wasn’t there,” Van Zandt says. “I didn’t understand at a young age that he had chosen a path that was meant for him.”
J.T. Van Zandt, who’s been fly fishing for over 20 years, says the sport brought peace and clarity to him, calling it “the end of confusion in my life.” And while the two shared a bond over music (J.T. learned Townes’ picking style as a way to honor his father), the sea connected the father and son as much as the songs.
“He loved sailboats. He loved reading about the sea. He never had the chance to do it because he was so locked in to writing tunes,” Van Zandt says. “My takeaway from my dad and how he wrote songs was a particular aesthetic about living. All of the words that my father ever told me rang out in nature.”
Now that he has children of his own, Van Zandt says he uses his father as the blueprint for what to do and what not to do. From Townes, J.T. learned the importance of living passionately and creatively. He also learned that balancing that passion with a dedication to your family is the most important aspect of fatherhood.
“Figure out what it is that makes you happy. Work hard, forget about the rest, come home and be a good man,” Van Zandt says. “Go to sleep, wake up early and do it again.”
Watch the full video below:
Townes Van Zandt died in 1997 at the age of 52. He was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame earlier this year.
Over the years, J.T. Van Zandt has honored his father by covering some of his biggest hits. He performed Townes’ “Flyin’ Shoes” at a 1997 tribute show. He’s also put his own spin on the somber “Nothin’.”
For more information on J.T. Van Zandt’s work as a fly fishing guide in Texas, click here.