The Tao of Willie
A Guide to the Happiness in Your Heart
by Willie Nelson and Turk Pipkin
“Most of the members of my family band have been playing with me for over thirty years. No one has an exact tally as to the number of shows we’ve put on, but it might be in the neighborhood of ten thousand. We’ve played everything from two-bit shit holes to 100,000-seat stadiums, and maybe twenty million people have heard me sing with my family band.
Even after all those shows, it feels good to be out there playing with family for all our friends. As I mentioned earlier, we’ve got a lot of friends. I’m still knocked out by all the people at the show, and the mix of the crowd is part of what I like best about it. We get lots of young people, plus we get lots of older folks who have been listening to my music for a long time.
The last couple of summers, we’ve been touring minor-league baseball parks with Bob Dylan. That keeps us out of the corporate amphitheaters and it brings a lot of families to the shows. The best part is that kinds under twelve get in free. How great is that? When I look out there and see three or four generations from one family boogieing and be-bopping to the music, the good feelings I get make the long drive to tomorrow night’s show a hundred miles shorter. At least that’s the way it feels.
Gator and L.C. may be driving the bus, bu it’s the audiences that move it down the highway.
So when people ask why I still go out there and sing every night that I can, the answer is simple. because I enjoy it. I’ve got the audience I’ve always dreamed of, and I like playing music with the greatest musicians in the world. Add it up, and the result is I get entertained every night my own self.
Besides, if I’m not out there on the concert stage, I’m probably picking for free at Poodies in Austin, so I might as well do it where I’ll get paid.Â Otherwise I might have to teach Sunday school for a living.
The Tao of Willie
by Willie Nelson with turk Pipkin
A few years ago, when Willie and I were writing our book The Tao of Willie, I felt that many people would be referring back to the book over the coming years to get a fresh dose of Willie’s Baptists/Buddhist outlook on life (“Bootist” as Willie called it). But I’m not sure I realized that I’d be one of those readers, coming back again and again to Willie’s words in our book during my own times of need.
First the concert. Sunday was a beautiful day at Zilker Park. As I looked out from the stage at 75,000 fans and blue skies smiling at me, Matthew McConnaughey came onstage to intro Willie, and the roar from the crowd was the loudest I’ve ever heard at an Austin show, at least until the roar for Willie one minute later. I have no idea how many Willie shows I’ve seen – a couple of hundred or more – and somehow every show still ends up being fresh and amazing in wonderful ways.
Matthew McConnaughey introduces Willie to 70,000 at ACL Fest in Austin
Last night was much more than that. The joy and connections Willie puts out from the stage are always palpable but for his first ACL fest show in years, 83-year-old Willie was in fine voice (as good as I’ve heard in a very long time), in beautiful spirit (practically shining) and playing Trigger like the true rock-n-roll/country/blues/jazz Zen master than he is. Eight (?) years ago at Willie’s last ACL fest appearance, I stood next to the late, great Willie road manager Poodie Locke, and Poodie and I talked about the magic of Willie and how it all comes together when it needs to.
Last night, I thought about Poodie’s spirit floating around that stage, about the spirit and love of Bee Spears and other Willie family band members that have moved on, and I thought how their spirits are part of what makes the ongoing family band so wonderful and strong and full of love. Consider Sister Bobby, still sounding great and looking beautiful at her giant grand piano, despite the fact that she and her little brother Booger Red, aka Willie, have been playing music together for nearly 80 years.
I was particularly taken with Willie’s ACL version of “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground”, and thought of all the people I’ve met for whom this song has great meeting (if you have any biker friends, ask them what Hell’s Angels think the song is about).
“I make it a point not to disagree with any of the interpretations,” said Willie in our little book, “as long as you’re not trying to sell your junk food or your god or your war with my song. It’s not up to me to tell you what my songs mean. The meaning is already in the song. And the song is the meaning.”
Later in the book, we came back to “Angels”, a little like how Willie keeps coming back to “On the Road Again” in his concert. Here’s a clip of Willie’s ACL version:
“Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground” IS the Tao of Willie,” he wrote (or we wrote, anyway this is all from the book.) “It and a whole bunch of other songs I’ve written are the reflection of what I’ve learned on a really great ride on the merry go round called Earth.”
I felt blessed to experience the ACL show from the sound board, with a great view and surrounded by a huge audience that was soaking up the love, and I was moved to tears as I watched how Willie soaked it all in.
Here’s another passage from our little book, in Willie’s voice, as is the entire book except for my short introduction.
“Sometimes in my concerts, I find that I’ve slipped outside of myself to the same place that I find in meditation. Like the audience, I can see myself on stage. I can see my band behind me and all around me. I can see Poodie and David Anderson in the wings, and Budrocks and Bobby Lemmons, Josh the sound guy on the light and sound boards. All of us are connected to each other and to the audience, and whether we’re all caught up in “Angel Flying to Close to the Ground, or just rocking through “Whiskey River” for the third time of the night, that’s the kind of moment that keeps me coming back on the road again and again. In that moment, I see myself, my family band, and the audience — all of us are a part of one joyful whole.
It’s like the eye of a hurricane, I’m connected to everything.”
Towards the end of his set, I saw Willie pause a little longer than usual between songs and watched him look from face to face in the front rows then lift his gaze up and up to the crowd that seemed to stretch all the way to the sun setting in the beautiful hills he calls home. There was a long history of music and musicians in Austin before Willie, but much of what is great about this city’s love of music and film and arts flows stems from forty-plus years ago when Willie decided he didn’t want to be what Nashville wanted him to be, he wanted to come home to Texas and be himself.
Looking out at the crowd at Zilker, Willie didn’t seem to want to end his set at all. If Mumford and Sons hadn’t been coming up later, he might still be playing.
“I didn’t come here,” Willie is fond of saying, “And I ain’t leaving.”
I’ve known Willie for much of the time he’s been in Austin. In the 70s, I was fortunate to be his opening act on Auditorium Shores not far from Zilker Park, and Christy was a producer at the 1990 Willie picnic in Zilker Park, one of those 105 degree marathon concert days when you wish you were dead and thank God that you’re alive to see it all. We made some movies together and played a lot of golf and poker, all times that I loved and still love, but what I cherish most is the way Willie helped open my heart to the world, and how Willie (and Annie who is a great, and tireless rock of support and inspiration as well) enabled Christy and I to do more with our lives by believing in us and supporting out idea that individuals and couples who want to change the world and are willing to work for their vision can have great impact. There are countless others out there like Christy and me.
If nothing else, Willie helps us know who we are.
So once more from The Tao of Willie, this time from end of the book, Willie’s words again, taken from my journals and scraps of paper where I had noted things Willie said to me over the years.
“Since we know so little of the whole, it’s all the more important to know yourself. That brings us to the last question, the question that will best start your day, possibly every day, of your life.
The question is, “Who am I?”
Within the answer to that question is the thing we call happiness.
As for myself, I am just a troubadour going down the road, learning my lessons in this life so I will know better next time. I believe the lessons are out there waiting to be found, and waiting inside me to be found as well.
As the miles and miles of miles and miles roll by, I try to listen to the voice inside me as it offers advice, tells tales and whispers the melody to what will be my next song.
Depending on the time of day, and what’s been bouncing around in my life, those voices may not always be in my best interest. If an inner voice says, “Tell Gator to stop the bus on the next overpass so I can determine whether I can fly or not,” then I’ll probably have a cup of coffee and choose to listen to some other voice.
I like it when the other voice reminds me that I am the luckiest man on earth, that I am surrounded by a very large family of people I love and whom I love, and that as long as my body and this bus will carry me, I can step on stage and lift my heart in song that will carry me and my audience through the worst that life has to offer.
Knowing this may not spare me from the sorrows of life and the troubles of the world, but together — myself, my family and my friends and fans — we use that common song in our hearts to carry on.
In the end, all of us are just angels flying close to the ground.
Returning to the words of Kahil Gibran that I first read so many years ago, I am reminded that in our quest to return to God, each of us, in our heart, carries a map to that quest, a map that is made of love.
Love is what I live on. Love is what keeps me going.
So all I can say to you is what I’ve said to myself a thousand times.
“Open your heart, Willie, and give love a try. You’ll be amazed at what happens.”
So far, it’s worked pretty well.”
Thank you Willie. In this crazy election year, I think we could all use a little move love. And a lot more people voting.
Marijuana is obviously having its most major moment. And with it comes an entirely new culture — one where it’s more acceptable than ever to wear weed on your sleeve. Here at The Cannabist, we are setting out to shine a light on those who define the style of cannabis culture — past or present, real or fictional. We’re looking to those who embody the spirit of what marijuana means, through art, music, fashion and film.
It is our honor to start this series on weed icons with the original outlaw, Willie Hugh Nelson (b. April 29, 1933; Abbot, Texas). In a recent Rolling Stone profile, Patrick Doyle dubbed him “one of America’s greatest songwriters, a hero from Texas to San Francisco, a hippie’s hippie and a redneck’s redneck.” We will also add that he’s a stoner’s stoner.
Willie Nelson’s new memoir goes on sale Tuesday, May 5.
In the book, Nelson also reflects on finding inspiration in the counterculture of the 1960s — the time when he first experienced and soon adopted the hippie lifestyle.
“I liked that (the kids) had courage to look and act any damn way they pleased,” he writes. “The new world represented by the Grateful Dead or the Jefferson Airplane was new only in appearance. (It) appealed to me because it was bold and creative and said to the world, ‘To hell with what you think. I’ll dress any way I please.’”
And he always has. Nelson’s signature style is anti-establishment, anti-fashion even. A black hat, bolo tie, cowboy boots (now New Balance), T-shirt and a bandana headband are all a part of Nelson’s enduring look. Oh, and the braids. Hell, they fetched $37,000 at auction in 2014. When classic cowboy is matched with rockstar authenticity — it’s inimitable. He doesn’t try, and he doesn’t have to. He’s just that fucking cool.
High fashion too, looks good on Nelson. Designer John Varvatos, who has a deep connection to music, celebrated Nelson’s style in his fall/winter 2013 advertising campaign featuring the star alongside his sons Lukas and Micah.
Watch Willie Nelson and family perform:
Soon you can channel the style of the inhaling icon. Plans are in the works to open“Willie’s Reserve” stores in 2016, which will carry his own strains of marijauna as well as like-minded products “reflective of his passion” in each recreationally legal state.
“Snoop said I was the only one to smoke him under the table
But I remember more than once when the pot party
Ended, Shep and I were the last ones standing
Let’s burn another one soon Shep”
— Willie Nelson
Order your copy today “They Call Me Supermensch: A Backstage Pass to the Amazing Worlds of Film, Food, and Rock’n’Roll” By Shep Gordon here.
An eye-popping peek into entertainment industry from the magnetic force who has worked with an impeccable roster of stars throughout his storied career.
In the course of his legendary career as a manager, agent, and producer, Shep Gordon has worked with, and befriended, some of the biggest names in the entertainment industry, from Alice Cooper to Bette Davis, Raquel Welch to Groucho Marx, Blondie to Jimi Hendrix, Sylvester Stallone to Salvador Dali, Luther Vandross to Teddy Pendergrass. He is also credited with inventing the “celebrity chef,” and has worked with Nobu Matsuhisa, Emeril Lagasse, Wolfgang Puck, Roger Vergé, and many others, including his holiness the Dalai Lama.
In this wonderfully engaging memoir, the charismatic entertainment legend recalls his life, from his humble beginnings as a “shy, no self-esteem, Jewish nebbisher kid with no ambition” in Oceanside, Long Island, to his unexpected rise as one of the most influential and respected personalities in show business, revered for his kindness, charisma—and fondness for a good time.
Gordon shares riotous anecdotes and outrageous accounts of his free-wheeling, globe-trotting experiences with some of the biggest celebrities of the past five decades, including his first meeting with Janice Joplin in 1968, when the raspy singer punched him in the face. Told with incomparable humor and heart, They Call Me Supermensch is a sincere, hilarious behind-the-scenes look at the worlds of music and entertainment from the consummate Hollywood insider.
Nancy Elizabeth Smothers and William Alfred Nelson
“Mama and Daddy Nelson”
Marion County, Arkansas, 1929
Four years before I was born, my daddy, Ira, then 16 years old, married my mother, Myrle, 15, and they packed up with Granddad and Grandmother Nelson and moved from the ridges and valleys of Searcy County, Ark., to Abbott in search of a better life. They were tired of picking shoetop cotton on the slopes of the Ozarks for pennies and trusted that the fields of Central Texas would treat them better. It was the year of the stock market crash, called Black Tuesday, when Union cigar stock dropped from $118 to $4 in only three hours and the company president took a header out of a hotel window. The stock market crash was big news in New York, but I doubt if my folks paid much attention to it. The big story of 1929 to most Americans was Admiral Byrd flying to the South Pole.
The Great Depression didn’t really hit until 1931, a few months after my sister Bobbie was born. By the time I came along in 1933, there were bread lines and soup kitchens in the cities.Â Franklin D. Roosevelt took office as president and started the New Deal six weeks before my opening act in Abbott, which was a loud yell at Dr. Simms. Prohibition was repealed, which opened up my future in beer joints. Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany, Chicago opened its World’s Fair, Walt Disney introduced a cartoon movie short of the Three Little Pigs singing Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf? and the top song of the year was Stormy Weather.
Not that I knew any of this at the time, of course.
But I did know, even as a baby, that I had been born into a world of music.
All of my people on both sides of my family were musical people as far back as I know. I am including my Indian blood — which I got from my mother — as being musical.Â If you ever spent the night dancing and chanting in a huge circle with 15,000 Indians, like I did when they made me Indian of the year in the spring of 1987 in Anadarko, Okla., you would understand how powerfully musical Indians are.
My mother’s family was the Greenhaws of Arkansas and Tennessee. They were talented bootleggers and moonshiners as well as musicians. My mother told me that her folks used to run hideouts in the mountains where outlaws could come and find safety. When I was little, I would day dream about Billy the Kid hiding out with my mother’s family. My mother was a very strong woman, a beautiful woman. She had long hair and an Indian profile like Bobbie’s and mine. Sometimes, if it was necessary for their survival, the Indians in the Greenhaw family would claim to be Mexicans. Whether they were Indians or Mexicans makes no difference to me — I would be just as proud either way — but if you’ve ever seen an Indian-head nickle, you’ve got a pretty good idea of what I look like with my hair down.
Thanks again to Joe Nick Patoski, for his book, and for this poster that he gave me a few years ago. If you haven’t read his book about Willie Nelson, you should. He is a great writer and a big Willie Nelson fan. The book is a great source of information about Willie Nelson.
Learn more about Joe Nick Patoski, his other books and other crazy passions:
Willie Nelson fans like me and music lovers everywhere are very grateful for Danny Clinch’s photographs. He released a book of his photographs
photo: Danny Clinch
On the first time he met Willie Nelson: “It was through [producer] Daniel Lanois. I just happened to be outside when Willie and Emmylou were together for a show, I asked to take a picture, and that was it.” — Danny Clinch
by: Andy Langer
Danny Clinch is in the trust business. Take two accomplished photographers, give ’em the same equipment, access, and time, and the one who’s established the trust of his subject wins every time. Clinch’s reputation, his X factor, is rooted in a calm temperament, the self-awareness to know it’s about them, not him, and an innate ability to read non-verbal cues. As Springsteen suggests, shooting with Clinch isn’t so much a ballet, but a loose, free-flowing conversation — a collaboration. And if you’re Springsteen — or Eddie Vedder, Dave Grohl, or Neil Young — at this point, you’re only collaborating with people you trust, people who themselves have something to say. And for folks who don’t love the process, Danny Clinch shoots have a habit of not feeling at all like shoots. He’s notoriously spontaneous. He’ll say, “This’ll work.” Or maybe just, “Let’s go see what’s over there?” Watching him work over the years, I’ve seen it happen again and again: Clinch will get what he needs and the response will be “Man, that didn’t feel like a photo shoot. What a great hang. We’re done already?”
Danny Clinch’s best images, collected in the new 296-page coffee-table retrospective Danny Clinch: Still Moving (Abrams Books, out September 23), represent the work of a real documentarian. He has a way of putting himself, and by extension us, in the right place at the right time. Still Moving very effectively tells the story of modern music history. But from Willie Nelson to Tupac, Tony Bennett to Beyonce, his best photos don’t just tell a story, but also tell you something you didn’t know about the subject. Mostly the way they look when they’re not “performing,” when they’re relaxed a little, guard at half-mast, or sometimes, all the way down. “Soul” is an overused word, but damned if that’s not what Danny Clinch has made a name documenting. And because of it, many of Danny Clinch’s pictures have become the images you associate with those musicians when you hear their names. Still Moving is full of those images. We asked Clinch to tell us the stories behind ten of them, which you can see exclusively here:
“I shot the video for ‘You Don’t Know Me.’ Willie doesn’t mind having his photo taken, he just doesn’t like doing photo shoots. If you’re around with a camera, he doesn’t really have a problem with it. But if he has to stand and pose, he doesn’t love that process. It’s why I suspect I get to photograph him so often. They know I’ll hang around and get it without annoying him. At the shoot, we were on the bus and Willie needed to fix his braids a little. I looked down the corridor of the bus, the hallway, to the back of the bus and saw him sitting in his bedroom fixing his braids. I just slid down there really quickly, got the shot, and backed off. If you look closely, you can see Trigger, his guitar, in the corner. And of course, his reflection. And in the back, there’s this leather kind of doctor’s bag that says Spirit on it. It’s great when you look at a photograph and see a little story. To me, this one does that.” — Danny Clinch
See rest of Esquire article, and more pictures and stories about Bruce Springsteen, Tim and Faith McGraw, Black Keys, Grace Potter, and more:
Fans of Willie Nelson have been following Dave Thomas’ writing and looking forward to his annual Willie Nelson Fourth of July Picnic Reviews for years. I call him the Picnicologist. When Dave Thomas covers Willie Nelson’s Picnic on Monday in Austin, it will be his 18th time of celebrating America’s birthday with Willie Nelson & Family and his ninth covering the concert event for the Austin American-Statesman.
Dave has just released an 18-page booklet showing more than 75 Willie Nelson Fourth of July Picnic posters, ordered by year. For picnic poster collectors, it makes a great resource, with pictures and sizes, along with Dave’s comments respecting price. As a bonus, when you purchase a copy the guide, you receive a copy of the official Dave Thomas history of the Picnic, which is a great collectible for any WNF fan.
Dave Thomas has been an editor, designer, producer, and writer for the Austin American-Statesman since 2002. You can read more of his articles about Willie Nelson, Texas music, travel and culture here:
The Facts of Life and Other Dirty Jokes
by Willie Nelson
Published by Random House in January 2002
They say writing the first line of a book is the hardest part. Thank God that’s over. Roger Miller said it must be true that the longer you live with your pet, the more you look alike. My neighbor came over this morning and chewed my ass out for shitting in his front yard. Thank you, Roger. I also have you to thank for the opening of my last book-“I didn’t come here and I ain’t leaving.”
My daughter Lana just asked me if I wanted a couple of ibuprofen. I said no, I save my pain for the show. We are in Tulsa, Oklahoma, for a concert at Cains Ballroom, where Bob Wills and countless other great bands have performed in the last fifty years. The last time we were here, we had to move it to a larger place because of ticket sales, so we decided to do two days at Cains this time.
Lana, Kinky Friedman, and I are responsible for the contents of this endeavor, which is to be one-part song lyrics, one-part photographs, and ten-parts bullshit. That’s where I come in. I seem to be doing very well. I have ripped off my friend Roger twice already, bragged about how well we draw in Tulsa, and exposed my daughter Lana for offering me drugs before the show. How do you like me so far?
“You do know why you’re here?”
“Yes. There’s great confusion on earth, and the Power that is has concluded the following: Perfect man has visited earth already, and his voice was heard. The voice of imperfect man must now be made manifest, and I have been selected as the most likely candidate.”
“The time is april, therefore you, a taurus, must go. to be born under the same sign twice adds strength. this strength, combined with wisdom and love, is the key.”
Where’s the Show?/Let Me Be a Man Explain to me again, Lord, why I’m here
I don’t know
I don’t know
The setting for the stage is still not clear
Where’s the show?
Where’s the show?
Let it begin, let it begin
I am born
Can you use me?
What would you have me do, Lord?
Shall I sing them a song?
I could tell them about you, Lord
I could sing of the loves I have known
I’ll work in their cotton and corn field
I promise I’ll do all I can
I’ll laugh and I’ll cry
I’ll live and I’ll die
Lord let me be a man
Please, Lord, let me be a man
And I’ll give it all that I can
If I’m needed in this distant land
Please, Lord, let me hold to your hand
Dear Lord, let me be a man
And I’ll give it all that I can
If I’m needed in this distant land
Please Lord, let me be a man
Lana, David Anderson, sister Bobbie, L.G., and Gates are regulars along with me on the bus, Honeysuckle Rose III. Ben Dorcy is not with us. Ben is now being preserved for trips in the near Austin area. At seventy-six-years young, he is cutting his world tours considerably. But for all the millions of Ben Dorcy fans, Ben is alive and well. Well, alive anyway. Thank you, Ben, for many years of faithful service and wisdom-“If you need a friend, buy a dog.” We’ll see you in Austin.
Cains Ballroom was good tonight. The crowd was loud, which I like. The girls were pretty, which I like, and the guys were friendly. I forgot the words to “Crazy” and that’s a first. Sammi Smith came by and sang “Help Me Make It Through the Night.” Her son, Waylon, and Waylon’s dad, Jody Payne, joined in on “Hey, Good Lookin’ ” and “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.” Sammi’s still singing like an angel.
On the Road Again On the road again
I just can’t wait to get on the road again
The life I love is makin’ music with my friends
And I can’t wait to get on the road again
On the road again
Goin’ places that I’ve never been
Seein’ things that I may never see again
I can’t wait to get on the road again
On the road again
Like a band of gypsies
We go down the highway
We’re the best of friends
Insisting that the world keep turnin’ our way
And our way
Is on the road again
I just can’t wait to get on the road again
The life I love is makin’ music with my friends
And I can’t wait to get on the road again
I wrote this song on an airplane with Sydney Pollack and Jerry Shatzberg. We were talking about needing a song for the movie Honeysuckle Rose. Sydney was the producer and Jerry was the director. So I said, “What do you want the song to say?”
Sydney says, “Something about being on the road.”
“You mean something like, ‘On the road again, on the road again, I just can’t wait to be on the road again? The life I love is making music with my friends, I can’t wait to be on the road again?’ ” I said the words kinda bland I guess, maybe without any feeling or emotion.
Sydney and Jerry kinda stared at each other, and Sydney said, “But what about a melody?” I said, “I’ll come up with one before we get to the studio.”
At the time they were not that knocked out with the song. Of course they couldn’t hear the whole song like I could. They were very gentlemanly about the whole thing, not wanting to hurt my feelings and trying to act like they weren’t worried.
I think the more I talk about my hometown, Abbott, Texas, the better. Not only is it the only hometown I have, it is by far the most educational spot on the planet. I honestly believe I learned more in my first six years in Abbott than I’ve learned since. Smoking, drinking, and cussing are definitely three subjects in which I excelled.
Miss Brissler, our next-door neighbor, and my grandmother, Mama Nelson (who raised me and sister Bobbie from the time I was six months old), had already told us that if we drank beer, smoked cigarettes, and cussed, we were hell bound. At six years old I was well on my way. However, the first songs I remember singing were gospel songs. “Amazing Grace” was the first song I learned.
My first public appearance was in Brooken, Texas. We were at the annual Brooken Homecoming, with all-day singing and dinner on the ground. I was five years old. My poem was given to me by Mama Nelson to recite at the singing and performing part of “singing and dinner on the ground.” I guess I was nervous, because I started picking my nose until it started bleeding all over my little white sailor suit, trimmed in red. I did my poem . . .
What are you looking at me for?
I ain’t got nothing to say.
If you don’t like the looks of me
You can look the other way!
I have never had stage fright since.
There was always music in our home. My grandparents, Alfred and Nancy Nelson, were both musicians. They took music courses through the mail from the Chicago Music Institute. I could hear them at night practicing their music lessons. My grandfather, Daddy Nelson, was a voice teacher at one time, and they both knew a lot about music. We lived in a little house on the edge of Abbott, and I could hear every note they sang. I could also see the stars through the holes in the roof of that house. It was all very beautiful!
Soon after that time, I was given my first guitar. Up until then I had only written a few poems. Now I was able to learn to play guitar and write songs. It was a Sears and Roebuck Stella guitar. The strings were very high off the neck, so my fingers bled a lot. But they eventually got tough. Kinda like life . . . (more…)
Willie Nelson’s book, “It’s a Long Story: My Life”was released in paperback this month. A year after it’s successful publication and becoming a national best seller (international, really), the book has been published in paperback. For the paperback version, Willie wrote an update for us all:
FROM THE BUS, SOMEWHERE ALONG THE GREAT AMERICAN HIGHWAY
Whether a singer of songs or a writer of books, an artist is always happy to have his work presented to the world. So I’m delighted that, a year after the publication of the hardback edition of It’s a Long Story, this paperback version is now available. To be honest, I was a little worried that my title might prove fatally prophetic — that my story would be, in fact, too long for anyone to bother with. Turned out I had nothing to worry about. Reviews were kind and readers even kinder. They put up with my long-windedness and kept my story on the bestseller lists for longer than I would have ever imagined. Thank you.
Well, I’m not going to push my luck and make this addition to the book any longer than it needs to be. I’ll just catch you up with my comings and goings this past year.
First and foremost, I’m still on this blessed bus, still “on the road again,” still loving the act of performing live — which is a lot preferable to performing dead — still grateful for every opportunity to visit with my friends and fans.
On the recording front, I’m happy to report that my last album, Django and Jimmie, a collaboration with Merle Haggard, hit number one on the country charts. Always love working with Merle. Our video, by the way, “It’s All Going to Pot,” was a YouTube sensation, generating millions of hits, pardon the pun.
Talking about pot, last spring I announced the launching of Willie’s Reserve, a cannabis brand reflecting my long-standing experience and commitment to regulated, natural, and high quality strains of marijuana in United States legal markets. I feel like I’ve bought so much, it’s time to start selling it back.
Beyond celebrating pot’s pleasures, though, I remain a staunch advocate of its vital agricultural and medical benefits. Along those lines, I’ve been encouraged to learn of parents traveling to Colorado and Oregon to legally obtain the marijuana derivative cannabidiol so that, under a doctor’s care, their children’s seizures might be effectively treated.
This past summer was the thirtieth anniversary of Farm Aid. It’s another reason why, as I move toward my eighty-third year on the planet, I’m happy to be alive and kicking. I’m also sad and pissed that, after all this time, the small farmer is still struggling.
In 1985, when this effort to help the small farmer began, we raised $7 million. Now that number has grown to $48 million. Our recent benefit concert in Chicago, in addition to including my sons Luke and Micah, featured the two great men who founded this effort with me three decades ago: Neil Young and John Mellencamp.
It’s a damn shame that the small farmer is still marginalized. On the other hand, I do think, in a small way, we’ve been able to help. Beyond the money raised, we’ve also raised the public consciousness. There’s awareness today about the challenges of farming and the benefits of buying products on a local level — especially organic food — that was missing thirty years ago. Farmers’ markets have sprouted up everywhere. People realize the downside of shipping in food from hundreds of miles away — wasting money on costly fuel — when wholesome food can be grown and bought close by.
Real progress has been made, especially when it comes to spreading information about farm products. The proliferation of social media, for instance, has generated intelligent discussion.
All forms of communication help, especially when it starts at the grass-roots level. Corporate-owned newspapers and magazines can be biased, but nowadays folks are looking beyond that. Folks are hungry for the truth. Consumers are educating themselves about where and how food is grown. And that’s a good thing.
Allow me to conclude this little P.S. on a couple of musical notes. I never like straying too far from the music. I recently recorded a tribute album to my dear friend Ray Price, one of my early mentors. Fred Foster produced. I worked with both the Time Jumpers — that supergroup of Nashville musicians that includes Vince Gill — and the fine arranger Bergen White.
I also just left the studio where I completed another new album, this one composed of Gershwin songs. Along with other geniuses like Irving Berlin and Cole Porter, the Gershwins are among America’s greatest songwriters. So when I learned that the Library of Congress was awarding me the 2015 Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, I was deeply honored and decided to respond the best way I know how — musically. Interpreting Gershwin in my own peculiar way has been a big thrill and another career high point.
The award, according to the Library of Congress, “celebrates the work of an artist whose career reflects lifetime achievement in promoting song as a vehicle of musical expression and cultural understanding.” I’m proud to stand along with previous awardees that include Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, Carole King, and Billy Joel.
Enough talk about me.
One of the sweetest memories of this past year concerns one of my best friends, who left this world in 2002. I’m talking about Waylon Jennings. I helped put together an all-star tribute show to Waylon that was fi lmed and, by the time you’re reading this, should be widely distributed. Everyone showed up to sing songs associated with Waylon — Kris Kristofferson, Toby Keith, Eric Church, Kacey Musgraves, Alison Krauss, Bobby Bare, Waylon’s wife, Jessi Colter, and his son Shooter. I cherish the memory of the grand finale — all of us all singing “Luckenbach, Texas,” the song that, in Waylon’s words, “recaptures a world where everyone is welcome and love never dies.”
That’s the world — at least on this bus — that I’m living in today. For that reason, and many others, I consider myself a very fortunate man.
If you’re not an anti-marijuana crusader, if you don’t have a Justin Bieber poster above your day bed, there’s a pretty fair chances you like Willie Nelson. But being a Willie Nelson superfan requires a little more education.
It’s easy to like “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.” It takes commitment to know all the words to “I Never Cared for You.” It’s easy to know Willie’s guitar is named “Trigger.” It takes some research to know the name of the fellow that takes care of it on the road. It’s easy to remember Willie Nelson was born in Abbott and lives near Austin. But do you know his connection to Fort Worth? San Antonio? Bandera?
12-29-15 Willie Nelson performs during the Willie Nelson & Family New Year concert at ACL LIve at the Moody Theater. Suzanne Cordeiro for American-Statesman
Willie Nelson performs during the Willie Nelson & Family New Year concert at ACL LIve at the Moody Theater on Dec. 29, 2015. Suzanne Cordeiro for American-Statesman
Fortunately, the Red Headed Stranger is no more a stranger than he is red-headed these days. All you have to do is want to learn and Willie Nelson U. is in session. Here is your required reading:
“The Facts of Life And Other Dirty Jokes” and “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die: Musings from the Road,” by Willie Nelson: When Willie rolled out the “Roll Me Up and …” book to go along with his 80th birthday and his “Heroes” album, everyone else got the memo: “Don’t be a critic, the man is 80 years old. Just say it’s great.” But this one jerk couldn’t be dissuaded from saying “Hey, it’s the same book he released 10 years ago! Right down to the same golf jokes!” I couldn’t help it. It was true. Pick either book for a mix of philosophical musings, history and humor, but you don’t need to read both.
“Willie Nelson Family Album” by Lana Nelson and “Willie Nelson: Heartworn Memories” by Susie Nelson:The “Family Album” is essentially a scrapbook, a trove of not-seen-elsewhere photos, some news clippings a little biographical exposition and enough song lyrics to pad out the effort to a respectable thickness. But “Heartworn Memories” is a surprisingly effective effort, written through the perspective of a daughter who saw a side of Willie even the most dedicated biographer couldn’t reach. Surprisingly frank at times, it’s the go-to source for understanding Willie’s tumultuous home life.
“It’s a Long Story: My Life” by Willie Nelson: The latest entry on this list and, for the superfan, superfluous. However, this relaxed and comfortable conversation with Willie is the perfect entry-level bio for the curious. A fast read, it covers all the bases, but doesn’t linger long on any.
“Willie Nelson: The Outlaw” by Graeme Thomson: Written by an Englishman, “The Outlaw” offers up a whole new perspective on Willie Nelson, albeit one with an odd spelling every few pages. Thomson left no stone unturned in conducting interviews, talking to heavyweights such as Waylon Jennings and Merle Haggard in addition to longtime associates such as Zeke Varnon, Larry Trader and Johnny Bush. In only a few pages, the book offers perhaps the most definitive look at the most off-limits topic in the Willie universe — the suicide of his son Billy.
Willie Nelson, An Epic Life” by Joe Nick Patoski: This is the definitive biography, though, like every other book on this list, it kinda skates through everything that happened after the IRS thing was settled. Still, when I’m old and gray, I’m going sit in my South Texas barn every morning and read a little bit from the gospel of Patoski-describes-Willie-in-Austin-in-the-1970s.“Willie” by Willie Nelson with Bud Shrake: This 1988 book was the top word for a long time, if you liked your Willie recollections unsullied by tiresome and lengthy examinations of his IRS troubles (which happened in the early 1990s). The genius — and the lasting significance — of the book is that most chapters are followed by “The Chorus” … stories, explanations, memories by his friends and family. Particularly telling is the one from first wife Martha, who clarifies that she did not sew up a passed-out Willie in a bed sheet and beat him with a broom handle: “The truth is, I tied him up with the kids’ jump ropes before I beat the hell out of him.” Sewing, she says, would’ve taken much too long.