“My Willie” — Kinky Friedman

Backstage at any show has its similarities, whether it’s Broadway or the circus or the meanest little honky-tonk in Nacogdoches — the palpable sense of people out there somewhere in the darkness waiting for your performance, or being able to pull a curtain back slightly and experience the actual sight of the audience sitting there waiting to be entertained by someone who, in this case, happens to be you. Standing alone in the spotlight, up on the high wire without a net, is something Willie Nelson has had to deal with for most of his adult life.

One night at Billy Bob’s in Fort Worth, I was standing backstage in the near darkness when a voice right behind me almost caused me to drop my cigar into my Dr. Pepper. It was Willie, “Let me show you something,” he said, and he pulled a curtain back, revealing a cranked-up crowd beginning to get drunk, beginning to grow restless, and packed in tighter than smoked oysters in Hong Kong. Viewed from our hidden angle, they were a strangely intimidating sight, yet Willie took them in almost like a walk in the trailer park.

“That’s where the real show is,” he said.

“If that’s where the real show is,” I said, “I want my money back.”

“Do you realize,” Willie continued in a soft, soothing, serious voice, “That ninety-nine percent of those people are not with their true first choice?”

“Do you realize,” I said, “that you and I aren’t with our true first choice either?  I mean, a latent homosexual relationship is a nice thing to have going for us, but sooner or later…”

Willie wasn’t listening to my cocktail chatter.  He looked out at the crowd for a moment or two longer and then let the curtain drop from his hand, sending us back into twilight. “That’s why they play the jukebox,” he said.

Kinky Friedman
September 1997
Texas Monthly

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