But only kind of. Unlike, say, Jimi Hendrix or Kurt Cobain, Van Zandt, who some call the greatest songwriter of all time, grew up wealthy, a happy, well-adjusted kid with a relatively noble last name in the Houston area.
All of which makes his brooding, enigmatic musical persona something of a mystery.
Director Margaret Brown attempts to solve that mystery with a slew of anecdotes from family members and old friends (Joe Ely, Emmylou Harris, Guy Clark doing tequila shots in Van Zandt's memory). They -- and the man himself, in archive footage (he died of a heart attack in 1997) -- tell stories about the "wild, crazy things" Van Zandt got into when he was young: sniffing glue, drinking, locking himself in his room and listening to Lightning Hopkins, dropping himself out of a fourth-story window just to see what it would feel like. His sister recounts, chillingly, how their parents put him in shock therapy for three months -- an experience that burned all the images out of his past.
Here you catch a glimpse of the murky, minor-key heart around which he strung songs like "Waiting Around To Die" and "If I Needed You." But Van Zandt himself remains impenetrable.
As the film reels off the rest of his life -- a seemingly unbroken string of disappointments and broken relationships -- it reveals not a tortured genius whose madness propelled him to great heights, but rather just an ordinary, messed-up individual who learned to give voice to his ordinary, messed-up sadness. It's a notion that Townes addresses in the middle of the film, when an interviewer in Amsterdam in 1995 asks him why all his songs are sad.
"I don't think they're all that sad," he says. "I have a few that aren't sad -- they're hopeless, about a totally hopeless situation. And the rest aren't sad -- they're just the way it goes, kinda." (Not Rated)