The esteemed David Hepworth recently wrote a blog post generally decrying the idea that a record might change your life. I thought about this for a while and then decided that my initial reaction was correct, and that reaction was “Bollocks!”. There’s a certainly an issue about the over-praising of records, gigs and experiences generally and there’s also the point that life-changing records should be few and far between, maybe only one for the vast majority of people. But they do exist.
One that changed my life was legendary Texas singer-songwriter Townes van Zandt’s Live At The Old Quarter, Houston, Texas. It’s a warts and all recording of a sold out show that features all the tropes that van Zandt fans will recognise. Bad jokes, slightly uncomfortable between-song patter, fairly rudimentary guitar playing and some of the finest songs ever written. It has a real sense of “liveness”, unlikely so many live records, and you do feel as though you’re there in the room. All of which make it a great album but not a life-changer. What elevates it to life-changing for me is my reaction to it. It was my first exposure to Americana and that style of performing and because I loved it so much Americana became what I spent my money on. A long time later (and together with another life-changing record, this time traditional folk, but that’s another post) that path led to writing about it, first for americana-uk, then magazines, and then to promoting gigs featuring it. When I’m not working that’s what I do these days. It is my life, pretty much.
Would I have followed that path without hearing that album? Possibly. Perhaps the same revelation might have been achieved by a different record. But it wasn’t. It was Townes, and it changed my life.