Willie Nelson Interview: Country Rhythms (6/1983) (part 2)

Country Rhythms
June 1983
Willie Nelson Interview
by Frederick Burger
Part 2
(read part 1 at http://stillisstillmoving.com/?p=2017)

A giant among the greats of country music, Willie Nelson, 50, granted this rare and extraordinary interview to journalist Frederick Burger of the Miami Herald last December while touring Florida.  The first part of the Willie Nelson interview appeared last month, in the May issue of Country Rhythms.

Country Rhythms:  You started writing poems when you were five years old.  I’ve always wondered why?

Willie Nelson:  I think the reason I wrote poems was because I didn’t know how to play melodies.  I hadn’t learned the chords on a guitar.  They were just songs without melody.  On the other hand, I’ve felt that a lot of my songs may have been poems with melodies.  So I’m not sure whether I’m a poet or a songwriter.  I think probably more of a songwriter, because most poems I heard were more beautifully phrased.  The language, the wording is a little more flowery than what I write.  But I do think the first poems I wrote would have turned out to be songs had I known how to play a guitar and put a melody to them.

CR:  By the time you were five years old you were wanting to be a songwriter.

WN:  Yeah, and wanting a guitar real bad.  I got one when I was six.  It was a Sears & Roebuck Stella.  I think it cost $5 or $10.

I think it goes back to my belief in reincarnation.  I think the fact that I was born into a family of music teachers and was surrounded from birth by music.  I believe a person in a lot of cases chooses his own parents, chooses the environment that he feels like he’s supposed to be in for his next lifetime.  I’m sure I chose mine.  I’m not sure why I chose Abbott, Texas, and the parents I did choose, except that it all worked out and turned out to be a good combination, to be able to come from that environment.  I wouldn’t change a bit of it.  I’m glad I was born in Abbott, Texas, and grew up around farmers.  I learned a great deal coming from that place.

CR:  You were essentially raised by your grandparents.  Your grandfather was a blacksmith, but he also studied music.

WN:  That’s right.  He and my grandmother received a degree in music from the Chicago Musical Institute, or something through the mail.  They would study their music every night.  My sister would watch them.  We didn’t have electricity, so they would read under the kerosene lamp up into the wee hours.  They’d study and study and do their lessons and send them back through the mail.  They sang all the time.

In Hillsboro, 10 miles away from Abbott, each Wednesday night there was a gathering of all the good singers in the area, who would sing gospel songs out of the old Stamps Quartet books.  I loved to go to that.  There was a piano player and a room of 25 or 30 singers, all very good singers singing in harmony.  These people had the ability to sight read and sing.  It was some of the most beautiful singing I ever heard.  This was a regular Wednesday night thing, aside from Church on Sunday morning and the other church functions.  The singers got together and knocked each other out on Wednesday night.

CR:  You consider yourself a religious man.

WN:  I consider myself a very religious man.  Whether other people do or not, I don’t know.  I try to live by what I believe.  I think that’s what religion is.  A man has his own way of life that he’s chosen and that’s his religion.  I evolved from a born-again Christian when I was a child to, as I’ve heard some of my friends call it, a beer-drinking Christian.  I found out those people do exist.  When I was young, I was under the impression that anyone who drank beer went straight to hell, you know, do not pass “Go,” do not collect $200.  But I’ve found out since then that’s not exactly true.  I’ve found out there’s a lot of beer drinking Christians.  There are a lot of people like me who believe in reincarnation, who believe this can’t be all there is.

All my philosophy and my music is built around what I think the whole point is, which is you do the best you can this time.  If you don’t get it right, you get to come back and do it a little better the next time.  You come back knowing what you knew before and add to it.  But, no, I’ve never had any revelations of what I was before or what I’ll be next time.  I’m more concerned with how I’ll handle this one.

CR:  Your belief in reincarnation.  I’m not a student of the Bible.  You obviously are.  People tell me reincarnation isn’t a Christian concept.

WN:  They say that it’s not in the Bible.  However, there’s constant talk all through the Bible of being born again.  The mainstream Protestant Christian religions look on that as being only a spiritual rebirth, not as a physical rebirth. But that’s a very debatable thing.  I know it’s a spiritual rebirth, but I know also it’s possible to be a physical rebirth.  I believe everything that’s in the existing Bible that we have plus a little more that’s not in there.

The Bible was put together by human beings, who were capable of putting in things and taking out things.  Reincarnation is not necessarily a desirable belief for fundamental religions, because if a person knows that he will have another opportunity to come back and live again, then it takes away the urgency of belonging and believing now, today.

CR:  Johnny Gimble says that if you believe in reincarnation, there’ s no reason to fear death.

WN:  Yeah, this is true.  And there is no reason to be afraid of death.  But the organized relations are based and financed on people being afraid of death.  Their survival depends on it almost.  That’s why reincarnation is not readily accepted.  They can’t really afford to adopt that train of thought, because a lot of people might say, “Well, I don’t think I’ll go to church this Sunday, and I don’t think I’ll give you a quarter this year, pal!”  Even though that person, in my belief, will pay for whatever he does, whatever he thinks, he’s responsible for all his actions and deeds, still that doesn’t help the budget of the First Baptist Church this month.

CR:  It sounds like you think organized religion is almost a con.

WN:  No, I believe those people are sincere in their beliefs, most of them.  Sure, for some of them it is a con, because all preachers are human beings, too, and so are all church members.  I’m sure church funds are confiscated daily (laughing).  Embezzlement takes place everywhere.  I think basically most organized religions really believe, but people were taught by their parents and they were raised to believe and never question.

I think that’s the whole key:  They were taught to accept by faith that whatever they were taught was right and not question any of it at all.  Me being who I am, I always question everything, and I hope I always do.  I can’t accept anything on face value without being a little skeptical. I know how I am and other people aren’t that much different, and I’m capable of making mistakes.

CR:  When you were a kid writing poems, were the people who really affected you songwriters or book writers?

WN:  In those early years before I could read, really, I was writing.  So it had to be coming from inside rather than any outside influence I’d had up to that point.  When you’re five years old you haven’t had a lot of experience.  yet I was writing songs that called for experience.  That experience had to come from earlier times.

CR:  That explains how you were writing songs so young about such things as broken marriages.

WN:  Sure, because I couldn’t have possibly known in this lifetime about things I was writing about.  No way.  Even though I had come from a broken home — my parents divorced when I was six-months old and my grandparents raised me — I was still raised in a very loving home, with loving grandparents, who spoiled me rotten.  I could do no wrong.  So I couldn’t be writing about an unhappy home that I was experiencing, because I definltey wasn’t experiencing one.  Yet, I was writing about the sadness of broken relationships.

CR:  So that’s probably the single reason you believe in reincarnation.

WN:  Yeah, just from first-hand experience.  It’s something I innately know.

(There’s much more of this interview, I’ll put it up here soon. — LL)

2 Responses to “Willie Nelson Interview: Country Rhythms (6/1983) (part 2)”

  1. js says:

    Great Interview! Willie sure can make sense.

  2. Susan Chunn says:

    “What does it profit a man if he gains the world and loses his own soul?”

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