Willie Nelson is an American legend. Willie Nelson has fans from all walks of life, but especially among senior citizens. My grandma doesn’t consume marijuana, but is pro-marijuana reform mainly because Willie Nelson supports it. I know that she’s not alone. That’s why it’s huge that Willie Nelson recently provided the following quote to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP):
I’ll probably take a couple of hits before or after the show tonight. It relaxes me, and the medicinal form of pot can cure everything from stress to cancer. It’s a shame that it was thrown in with the other hard drugs. Now that the legalization has proven successful in Colorado and in Washington state, it’s just a matter of time before it’s legal everywhere. There’s a lot of money to be made from it, number one.
Willie provided that quote in an article that covered all kinds of topics. It would have been nice to see him get a full article dedicated to just marijuana, but it’s still significant. How many senior citizens are going to read that? And how many minds are going to be changed as a result? It’s my hope that it’s a significant amount of people. Whereas celebrities like Miley Cyrus try to promote marijuana use without ever supporting the cause in a meaningful way, Willie Nelson has donated a lot of money and time to support reform. Go Willie, you are my hero!
Willie Nelson turns 80 this month, and the country music legend is celebrating — you guessed it — by going on the road again in support of a new album. Out April 16 from Legacy Recordings, “Let’s Face the Music and Dance” is heavy on covers from the the 1930s, the decade when Nelson was born. The singer-songwriter, actor and activist has composed some of the most indelible tunes of our times (did you know that he wrote “Crazy,” popularized by Patsy Cline?), but it’s a pleasure to hear him breathe new life into these sturdy old numbers, and a relief to know that his vocal and guitar stylings are aging like fine Kentucky bourbon. (Yes, he’s from the Lone Star State, but who’s ever heard of Texas bourbon?)
Nelson recently visited the South by Southwest festival in Austin, where he played a modern St. Nick in the indie film “When Angels Sing,” and he told a reporter there that he supports gay marriage and finds the controversy over legalizing it “ridiculous,” adding, “Let’s get off that and talk about guns.” Well, we took the opportunity to ask him about guns and a whole lot more. Read on to find out what Willie thinks of federal gun-control efforts, the prospects for legalized marijuana, the rising young boxer who shares his name and what really happened in Nashville to him and Paul.
Your birthday’s coming up on April 26, and you’re celebrating with a new album. What else do you have planned?
I haven’t really thought about it that much. I think other people seem to have more plans than I do. So I’m really just waiting to see what everyone else plans, and then I’ll do a little duckin’ and dodgin’, probably.
The album focuses on the 1930s. Is that because you were born in 1933? No, but thanks for bringing that up. I didn’t realize that. [Laughs.] It’s Irving Berlin and the classic face of music and dance, and that was his era.
What’s the biggest thing that has changed for you since you wrote “On The Road Again” back in 1979? I think things have gotten better. We’re traveling in new buses these days. The crowds are still good, everyone seems pretty healthy. I really believe that music brings people together. They come a long way to clap their hands and sing along, so it must be just as therapeutic for them as it is for me, because I send out a lot of energy and they send it back.
Are there ever songs you get tired of playing after all these years?
Not really. With this short-term memory, I forget what I did last night.
Do you have a favorite song that you just can’t wait to get to every night?
Years ago I did an album called “The Great Divide.” I really enjoyed singing the title song back then, and then I sort of got out of the habit of doing it after [guitarist] Jodi Payne retired. But I’m back doing it every night, because I like doing the song better than I thought I did.
I heard a rumor that you park the tour bus at your house and sleep in there. Is it true?
Well, it depends on if there’s anybody waiting for me at the house. If my wife is there and she’s sleeping, I just might sleep in the bus until she wakes up. Normally I go home. But the back of the bus has been home for a long time, too.
One of my favorite songs of yours is “Me & Paul,” which chronicles your adventures with your drummer, Paul English. Have you two gotten in any trouble since you wrote it?
Well, the good news is that Paul is still back there and we still do the song every night. There were times along the way when I wasn’t sure either one of us would still be there, but here we are.
In the song, you sing, “Nashville was the roughest, but I know I’ve said the same about them all.” What exactly happened in Nashville?
If you’re a young songwriter in Nashville and nobody knows you, you have problems to begin with. The odds are always stacked against you. By then I was doing well in the rest of the world, and by that I mean Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico. I was doing all right there, but when I got to Nashville very few of those folks had been to my show or knew who I was. So I had all of those walls to break through. Waylon [Jennings] had the same problem. They didn’t like our lifestyle, and they didn’t like the fact that we’d let our hair grow, etc. There were many things back in those days that frankly I don’t think exist to any great degree now in Nashville. I go back there all the time and have a lot of friends there, and enjoy doing it. It was rough at one time. It’s not rough at all now. A few of those little guys are still around, but not so many.
You’re from Texas where people are very protective of their right to bear arms. What’s your view on gun control in the wake of the shootings in Newtown and elsewhere?
Well, my honest opinion is, I don’t think we need to have any of those guns that will fire a hundred times a second. I don’t think we need that. But the other side of that is, they do exist. And the old saying around Texas is: “If you got one, I want one.” They used to kid Ray Price and Ernest Tubb because they were highly competitive, and they used to say that if Ernest Tubb got a battleship, Ray Price would want an aircraft carrier. It’s kinda like, whatever you’ve got, I want too. I don’t want you to have an advantage. But where does it stop? Are you gonna get a bazooka? Do I get a drone?
Do you think the federal government needs to do something?
I don’t think the federal government needs to do anything but shut up for a while and let the people vote in and vote out who they like and don’t like. I think the federal government has kinda got a negative image at this point because they tend to tell you what to do and me what to do. I don’t like that. My old friend D.C. Cooper says, “It’s my mouth, I’ll haul coal in it if I want to.” I think that should be the attitude everyone should think about — that my rights and your rights are more important than what some old guy over in somewhere thinks we oughta be doing.
What about pot policy? I know you’re active in that. Do you think there’s hope? Do you think we’re going to get to a place where marijuana will be legalized?
Oh, yeah, I think it’s only a matter of time. The economy going off is going to help it a lot. There’s money there, and anyone with any brains at all can say, Why do you want the criminals to make all the money off of this when it’s proven that it won’t kill you unless you let a bale of it fall on you?
Are you a boxing fan, by any chance?
Have you heard about the boxer Willie Nelson? He’s 25 years old and he had a first-round knockout last month.
Well that’s great, I’m glad to hear it. I have never met him, but I’m obviously his biggest fan.
“Since life is a journey, let’s think of it as a road trip. Ahead of you are untold opportunities for joy, learning, sharing, and a lot of fantastic sunsets and sunrises. And every one of these opportunities will be at the intersection of your trip and a road called Now.
Unlike a real highway, it’s not a problem if you doze off and coast right through the corner of Now and Happiness avenues, because life is an infinite progression of these intersections, and each of them holds opportunity, surprise, and the promise of a smile.
But if you’re asleep at the wheel your whole life, you’re gonna miss a lot of places called Now.
Thousands of pages and millions of words have been written about living in the moment, but it is not a complicated idea. All you have to do is open your eyes — and all your senses – to the world around you.
The easiest mistake on earth is to forget to appreciate what you have right now.
Take last year, for instance, when my hand startedÂ knotting up on me and I found it almost impossible to play guitar. I went to see a bunch of doctors and they got worried looks on their faces, and that put a worried look on my face, and that got my band and crew looking really worried. When I don’t work, they don’t work. And we all like to work.
So I had to take a few months off for surgery. And while my hand was healing more slowly than I wanted it to, I had a of time to appreciate all those gigs that I’d sometimes let myself think were just the okay gigs.
Away from the road, I realized that every show is a blessing.
I’m not trying to say that nothing goes wrong in my life. Or in yours. Your love life may not be perfect — okay, chances are your love life is definitely NOT perfect. Work may have something lacking, and you may be a few coins shy of that Jamaican vacation you’ve been dreaming about. But those are not causes of unhappiness. Those are distractions, obstacles, and challenges to overcome.
You may carry a big chip on your shoulder about things that happened to you in the past, but that chip is nothing but a weight that’s anchoring you to intersections you’ve already passed. Quit looking in the rear view mirror and set your sights on the road ahead.”
The Tao of Willie
A Guide to the Happiness in Your Heart
by Willie Nelson, with Turk Pipkin
“If I had to break it down, I’d say about 99 percent of the people in my life were telling me I wasn’t going to make it. All that adversity and lack of faith ended up just strengthening my own convictions. All that negativity really helped me in the end, because there’s no better inspiration for doing something than having somebody say that you can’t do it.”
The Right Words at the Right Time, Marlo Thomas and Friends
“Willie Nelson is like a lighthouse, like a preacher. Every time I find myself in an emotional pressure situation, the first thought in my mind is what would Willie do? ‘Cause nothing seems to rattle him. I’ve had some problems here lately with my mind, like, ‘Oh, gosh, everything’s moving so fast, what gear should I be in?’ And Willie, he’ll tell me which gear.”
(Thanks again to Pat from Texas for sharing this picture great photo she took of Willie Nelson’s bus in Galveston, TX)
“Add it all up and I’ve spent more time on the road than off and slept more nights on the bus than anywhere else. On the bus, I sleep like a baby. Sometimes I dream that I’m on the road headed through the heart of America toward another town full of people who are coming to hear me sing. And when I wake up, I find that my dream has come true.”
“People wonder what keeps me going back on the road again, but the answer is obvious – I like to play music. And the more I move around, the more people I get to play that music for.”
– Willie Nelson
The Tao of Willie
A Guide to the Happiness in Your Heart by Willie Nelson and Turk Pipkin
“Willie Nelson’s impact on American music is indelible. He stands at the crossroads of all the sounds and colors of this country. What he reflects is true soul and sincerity. He’s also a pretty mean guitar player.”
“Willie Nelson is a profound, original songwriter in a class with Stephen Foster who continues to enrich our lives with classics. He plays guitar like Django Reinhardt – it’s an extension of his body and soul, totally responsive to the power of his imagination. He is an artist of the very highest order, and beautifully – often hilariously – human. His heroic face will be on stamps and money, and it will always represent freedom, heart, and laughter.”