Blaze Tells an Austin Music Legend’s Story as it was Lived

by Adrian Gandara

Blaze Ethan Hawke

This is a story of one of our own.

This much was said before a recent screening of Blaze at Violet Crown, with opening remarks given by director Ethan Hawke and Sybil Rosen, co-writer of the screenplay and a central figure in the film and in the life of country musician Blaze Foley (portrayed by newcomer Ben Dickey in the film). For Austinites watching the film, this is what sets this biopic apart from other music movies, and probably the biggest reason you should see it if you want to hear Hawke and Rosen’s Austin tale.

Granted this story doesn’t start off in Austin, or Texas, and large parts of it take place in other locales. Then again, most of the people in my life aren’t from here. In my Austin experience, the words “How long have you lived in Austin?” get thrown around a lot when you chat up a stranger. And whether you’ve lived here six months or 60 years, the words “Austin has changed” or “Austin isn’t what it used to be” also get thrown around. As an Austinite (of 2+ years since moving from Fort Worth), this is what drew me into the story of Blaze Foley. It’s the Austin story of a man from other places, taking place in another Austin that no longer exists.

Blaze is a folk tale, from one Austin resident to another — the kind of story that gets told around a campfire or sitting at a bar; the kind of story with larger-than-life figures and parts you can’t help but want to call “bullshit” on it sounds so outlandish and made-up at times. In Blaze, it’s Townes Van Zandt telling the story. It’s told through his point of view, in the midst of a radio interview where Van Zandt learns the DJ has never heard of Foley. Van Zandt starts it with that “Let me tell you the story of Blaze Foley” feel.

What follows are pieces of Foley’s life tied together with, for better or worse, all the parts and cliches of a folk tale of a legend: scenes set in dive bars, cabins in the woods, porches, the backs of pickup trucks; a love story with its ups and its downs that go far down; and dialogue that’s almost always profound but simple country talk, words of wisdom to live by. “I don’t want to be a star, I want to be a legend,” Blaze explains in the back of a pickup. “People can [be legends], songs can. It’s just a matter of time.” “Sorry about your troubles ma’am, but everybody’s got them,” a cemetery caretaker tells Foley.

Blaze Ben Dickey Alia Shawcat

Sometimes it’s a bit much as it switches back and forth from fact to what you’re pretty sure is wildly embellished fiction — “bullshit” you want to say — but you sit and you listen anyway. You’re intrigued. Someone’s passing on an oral history, the kind the sounds like you can’t find in writing. Blaze is a story that gets told to you as someone lived it, or as someone heard it from someone who lived it. You came for the facts but stayed for the legend.

Leaving the theater, I wasn’t sure what I thought actually happened or didn’t happen, but like I heard in the film (or maybe misheard, but I’m going to tell it like I remember it): “Now that’s a true story.”