Townes Van Zandt, the elegant Texas troubadour who authored some of the finest songs ever written over the course of his 52 troubled years, was always quick to make it known that he was very much in on the cruel joke of his destiny. During a checkered, if frequently brilliant, recording career — often derailed by label concerns, production difficulties and Townes’ own recalcitrance — he produced a handful of outstanding albums possessing gallows humor titles like The Late Great Townes Van Zandt. Johnny Cash once famously bragged in song about shooting a man in Reno just to watch him die. Townes seemed committed to a similar experiment on his own physical being, drinking with such masochistic abandon and candid reportage that he made himself a veritable art project of personal desiccation — he would carefully record the minutes as all of us watched him die a Kafkan death. As inarguably exceptional as the body of work that Van Zandt left behind, it can feel ferociously dedicated to the depths of human despair, to the point of inaccessibility. Even a devoted miserablist like Lou Reed will occasionally allow that, “Anyone who ever had a heart/ wouldn’t turn around and break it.” Townes Van Zandt was the exception to the rule: He had a heart and smashed it into a million wretched slivers.