Willie Nelson, Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground, and songwriting

“If it’s songwriting in particular that you’re interested in, here’s a bit of what works for me.

In Nashville, we were taught that the shorter you can make a song and still get your point across, the better the chances of airplay.

My bunch of songwriter buddies — like Roger Miller and Kris Kristofferson — were taught to say what you wanted to say in six or nine lines of verse or whatever was gonna fit.  That helped us concentrate on the line we wanted to use and forced us to put more thought into them.  I’d sooner have three great verses than thirty mediocre ones; if nothing else, it makes the song easier to remember. 

Whether short or long, good songs are timeless; you can do ‘em today or a hundred years from now.  They’re still good.

Texas songwriter Ray Wylie Hubbard says that the most important question to ask yourself after you write a song is, “Can I happily sing this song every day for the next thirty years?”

In the seventies, Hubbard wrote, “Up Against the Wall, Red-Neck Mother,” and his crowds have howled for it at every show he’s done since.  Of course, Ray Wylie does admit that going to the mailbox twice a year to get the royalty checks has helped ease the burden of singing it over and over and over…and over…

Different songs often mean different things to different people.

“Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground,” for instance, is one of my favorite songs and its’ one that’s inspired great passion.  Many members of the Hells Angels, for instance, fee certain “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground,” is about one of their members who died.  Now, I’d bee the last person to tell a big group of kick-ass bikers that they’re wrong.  As far as I’m concerned, whatever they feel the song means is just fine.

Theirs is far from the only interpretation of the song, and I make it a point not to disagree with any of the interpretations (as long as you’re not trying to sell your junk foood or your god or your war with my songs).

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. 

“Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground,” is the Tao of Willie.  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.

And if the ride keeps going for a while longer, I man learn more, and thereby cast a bigger reflection.  So keep the wheel turning, I say.  And keep your angels flying high.

The Tao of Willie:  a Guide to the Happiness in Your Heart
Willie Nelson, with Turk Pipkin

One Response to “Willie Nelson, Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground, and songwriting”

  1. Liana says:

    My Dad also told me long ago this song was written for a Hells Angels biker who had died. Something like that! Always liked this song.

Leave a Reply