Townes Van Zandt

Buckskin Stallion Blues

Song Review by

Townes Van Zandt was the rare type of songwriter with the seemingly effortless ability to create staggeringly beautiful songs. There is little, if any self-conscious literary referencing, wordplay, or fancy musical footwork; there are rarely more than two or three changes in his songs. He hardly seems concerned as he tiptoes through minefields of loaded clichés that in lesser hands might bog down a song with banality. "Buckskin Stallion Blues" sports a traditional-sounding Celtic folk melody and verses that are lyrical in much the same way as an old Irish folk standard like "Carrickfergus." Van Zandt was not afraid to be pretty (or ugly, for that matter) in his songs. The cyclical melody of "Buckskin Stallion Blues" is surely pretty, but stays a fairly even course, never reaching too far to emote -- perhaps due in some part to Van Zandt's limited vocal range -- but the simple tune, which uses only three or four notes coupled with brilliant lyrics that ring with clarity and truth, is enough to tear the listener's heart strings right out. The first two verses of the song are jaw-dropping: "I heard her sing in tongues of silver/I heard her cry on a summer storm/I loved her, but she did not know it/So I don't think about her anymore/Now she's gone, and I can't believe it/So I don't think about her anymore/If three and four was seven only/Where would that leave one and two?/If love can be and still be lonely/Where does that leave me and you?/Time there was, and time there will be/Where does that leave me and you?" The central metaphor of the song, the stallion that the singer wishes to have to "tame him down and ride away," represents the love of the woman, also compared to "a flyin' schooner/I'd sail into the light of day/If I had your love forever/Sail into the light of day." Like the work of legendary Brazilian composer Antonio Carlos Jobim, "Buckskin Stallion Blues" and most of Van Zandt's songs are like Zen haiku and koans, with their grounding in a few images from natural surroundings, aiming directly at the human heart. In this case, his lover cries "on a silver storm" and Van Zandt's narrator asks, "'If love can be and still be lonely/Where does that leave me and you?" It is a bare, elegant, breathtaking line that ranks as poetry. The sentiment is similar to Jobim's "Meditiçao": "Whoever believed/In the smile, in the flower/Then lost his peace of mind/The love, the smile, and the flower/Transformed too quickly too much/Whoever then returned/To the love, to the smile, and the flower/Then found the reason for everything/As the pain itself/Revealed the road of love/And the sadness ended." The two writers -- separated by geography, language, a little time, and style -- nevertheless were both able to write unadorned, direct pop songs that were devastatingly emotional and beautiful. Speaking to the heart, the universal things that are felt by everyone and yet seem beyond the realm of expression, neither man needed more than an acoustic guitar and limited but expressive soft-spoken voices. And on the recording of "Buckskin Stallion Blues" from The Nashville Sessions (1993), Van Zandt is supported by little more than just that: his voice and guitar, along with a keyboard (harpsichord?). The record culled together early-'70s recordings that were shelved for 20 years after label difficulty. It was also recorded on Flyin' Shoes (1978) and At My Window (1987). Seattle garage rockers Mudhoney teamed up with a contemporary of Van Zandt's and fellow Texan, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, on a cover of "Buckskin Stallion Blues" for a 1994 EP of the same name.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Flyin' Shoes 1978 EMI / Fat Possum Records 0:00
At My Window 1987 Sugar Hill 3:01
No Image 1993 Charly Records
Texas Troubadour [Snapper Long Box] 2002 Snapper 0:00
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack] 2017 Varèse Sarabande 3:21