by J. Freedom du Lac and David Malitz
Willie Nelson called for a brief interview, and all you got was this lousy 550-word Q&A. (Space considerations and all.)
So now, for the rest of the story: The Willie Nelson Q&A (Writer’s Cut).
Iconoclastic country star Willie Nelson never wants for work. In between rounds of golf, he stays busy touring, acting, advocating, writing and recording. “Moment of Forever” (out Tuesday) is his third new album in just 15 months. It was co-produced by Kenny Chesney, who also sings with Willie. Nelson called from the road. Again.
Moi: Kinky Friedman once wrote: “When Willie’s not playing golf, he’s mystical almost to the point of autism, which is not particularly helpful if you’re trying to interview him.” Is this interview going to be a disaster?
Willie:Which disaster are you talking about?
Moi: You tell me.
Willie: I don’t know. There’s been a chain of those. (Laughs.)
Moi: I can’t even imagine what the backstage conversations were like when you and Dylan toured together. What did you guys talk about?
Willie: We didn’t really get a chance to hang out a lot. But he came on the bus a couple of times. Once, I was doing an interview with High Times magazine and he exited fairly quickly.
Moi: Can you hold a conversation with him?
Willie: I guess so. He’s kind of like me, though. He’s not a long conversationalist. But I’ve always found him to be intelligent, and he’s engaged and interested as long as he wants to be.
(Read more after the jump.)
Moi: What was your last conversation with Johnny Cash about?
Willie: John would always call me when he needed a laugh, because I was always telling him jokes. He called me just after June had died and we talked about how hard that was for him. I miss him and all the guys who have moved on.
Moi: If an old, gnarled oak tree could sing, it would sound like Johnny. What kind of tree would your voice would be?
Willie: Oh, probably one of them old Spanish oaks.
Moi: When you perform live, your against-the-meter phrasing makes it impossible to sing along. Do you do that so you don’t have to hear your fans singing?
Willie: I like to watch them singing with me. But I trick ‘em with the phrasing. I enjoy watching ‘em stumble through a line that was supposed to go one way but went another.
Moi: And that keeps it interesting for you?
Willie: Yeah, that’s the big show. There’s just five or six of us on stage; but there’s a bunch of them out there putting on a huge show for us.
Moi: If you had to give up either golf or music, which one would you quit?
Willie: Since I don’t have to really do anything I don’t want to do anymore, I don’t have to answer that question. No offense.
Moi: Is it true that you bought your golf course so you could play without minding the rules?
Willie: It’s a lot easier if you own the golf course to make up your own rules. Like no more than 12 in a foursome. No breaking wind in the tee box. If you have a bad lie, you never have to tell a bad lie. I like that one. And par is whatever you want it to be — depending on what the bet is.
Moi: Maybe you should buy an island, too, and move there. Get yourself some sovereignty.
Willie: Well, I do live on Maui a lot of the time. It’s a lot like that there.
Moi: When’s the last time you felt like The Man was trying to keep you down?
Willie: You have to say which man. I used to say of all the people that don’t like me, just think of the millions that’s never heard of me. But I know a lot of people out there are tying to make a name for themselves. I’m not naive enough to think one of them guys isn’t trying to get his name in the paper. So we try to dodge those folks.
Moi: You’re not always successful, though.
Willie: No, not always. (Laughs.)
Moi: Do you name your golf clubs like you named your guitar and your bus?
Willie: I rename ‘em after each shot.
Moi: Like what? “You SOB”?
Willie: Yeah, things like that. I have a wall at the place in Maui with a bunch of golf clubs that are defective — the ones that wouldn’t work. It’s a big wall with a lot of clubs.
Moi: What sort of insurance policy do you have for your guitar, Trigger?
Willie: I don’t take my eyes off him. That’s the best policy. There’s no reason to try to put a value on Trigger because unless it’s the will of God or something, nothing is gonna happen to him. So I don’t have him insured.
Moi: How’d you learn to play like that, anyway?
Willie: I listened to a lot of different guitar players when I was growing up. I started listening to blues and jazz – Billy Bird and Django Reinhardt – and Bob Wills’s band. When I play, I just put together all the things I’ve borrowed and what I’ve managed to come up with on my own.
Moi: Are there any contemporary guitarists whose work you admire?
Willie: Derek Trucks – you know him? He’s a real good friend of mine; just visited with him not too long ago and jammed. Had a big time. He’s one of the best guitar players out there.
Moi: What’s an old outlaw like you doing with Kenny Chesney?
Willie: It turns out we have a lot in common and like a lot of the same things. He’s a good writer and good singer, and he’s good in the studio. He has a real good ear. I can see why he’s successful.
Moi: He’s no Jessica Simpson.
Willie: No, he’s not. (Laughs.) But he is who he is.
Moi: Is “Crazy” the greatest song you ever wrote?
Willie: It might be. I hate to compare ‘em, but “Crazy” would definitely be up there.
Moi: If you’d written “Cowboys Are Frequently, Secretly (Fond of Each Other),” that might get some write-in votes.
Willie: Ned Sublette wrote that song. Another one that I just wrote is “Brokeback Mountain.” It’s probably not something you want to go around singing, though.
Moi: You’ve been pretty prolific lately. Shouldn’t you be slowing down as you approach your 75th birthday?
Willie: I don’t think that’s a good idea. What’s the old saying? Don’t look back; somebody might be catching up. Well, don’t even slow down, much less look back.
Moi: It’s like Ben Franklin said: “In this world, nothing is certain but death, taxes and at least one new Willie album every year.” Though maybe not the taxes.
Willie: I think those are optional. But it’s mandatory that you get a record of mine every year; we’ll just put in on your phone bill.
Moi: You cut a new song, “You Don’t Think I’m Funny Anymore.” I think you’re pretty funny, though obviously that song is not about me.
Willie: It’s not. But the video, with Johnny Knoxville, is really hilarious. He’ll be going on MTV to talk about it when it comes out.
Moi: If this music thing didn’t work out, you could have had a career in stand-up.
Willie: More like fall-down comedy.
Moi: Kinky was wrong. You’re making a lot of sense today.
Willie: Well, it’s difficult for Kinky to really know when someone is making sense or not. With all due respect — which isn’t much.
Moi: Complete this sentence: If elected President of the United States of America, I, Willie Hugh Nelson…
Willie: Will stop the [expletive] war!
By the by, you must watch this video of Chesney performing “Stay A Little Longer” with Willie and Toby Keith. Chesney absolutely butchers his verse, then has the temerity to say: “I love that song!”
Sure, Kenny. Sure. You. Do.