Living in a Tree House: Sybil Rosen Remembers Blaze Foley

Getty Images

Townes Van Zandt once described singer-songwriter Blaze Foley as “one of the most spiritual cats I’ve ever met: an ace picker; a writer who never shirks the truth; never fails to rhyme; and one of the flashiest wits I’ve ever had to put up with.”

Foley — promising, yet self-destructive — was murdered in 1989 before he turned 40 years old. His songs have been covered by the likes of John Prine and his story is now being told thanks to a biopic directed by Ethan Hawke.

In this poignant piece at Texas Monthly, Sybil Rosen, widely acknowledged as Foley’s muse, writes of her time on set of the movie Blaze and of what it’s like to see parts of your life and the man you loved portrayed by others for the big screen.

Forty-one years ago, I described living in a tree house with Blaze Foley as being like falling out of a dream. This afternoon, landing in the parking lot of the film studio where much of Blaze will be shot, I feel the way I did at 25—as if I’ve been dropped into a mysterious world without quite knowing how I got here.

All at once, Ryan Hawke, a producer on the movie and Ethan’s wife, races out of one of the houses and hugs me. “A person, a real person!” she cries, meaning me. I suppose it must be odd to know someone mostly as a character in a movie script and then have them pop up in the flesh a week before filming begins. It feels a bit odd to me too.

Ryan and I met once before, six months ago in New York City, when she and Ethan and I had dinner together. We were all nervous, but we wanted the same thing: to make a loving movie about Blaze and his music. Collectively, the three of us are like a couple who get pregnant on the first date. You don’t really know each other, but you’re suddenly committed to bringing this baby into the world.

The making of Blaze has constantly demanded that I abandon what I think of as real and enter the envisioned world these artists have created. At the same time, the creators yearn for authenticity, fired by the desire to make their invented world as believable as it can be.

Frankly, it’s a relief to surrender to it. That past no longer exists, except as music and memory. And if I’ve learned anything from Blaze Foley, it’s that memory is like a thought: it weighs nothing. You can’t even hold it in your hand. And these particular memories are forty years old. They’ve been altered in my mind by time and emotion and more time. The only real constant is how I feel about Blaze and the life we lived together.

Read the story