Willie’s excellent reflection on a life well lived: God’s Problem Child

by:  Lee Zimmerman

You would think that at the ripe old age of 84 — an age that would find most people taking full advantage of retirement and the security of home and hearth — Willie Nelson would see fit to rest comfortably on his laurels and focus entirely on his golf game. Indeed, given his prodigious output — over 60 studio albums, scores of standards, films, books, touring and activism — there might be ample reason to believe his creative wellspring had been dried of inspiration as well as any ambition.

Yet, here he is back with another superb studio effort, one that measures up to the high bar set early on with Red Headed Stranger, Shotgun Willie, Stardust and the countless other albums that set the standard, not only for his contemporaries but for generations of country crossover artists who followed in his wake. “As we get older It gets easier to say not today,” Willie remarks in “It Gets Easier,” a song that describes the reluctance and resignation that confronts so many people as they ease into the sunset of their later lives.

Fortunately then, as evidenced by the baker’s dozen songs that inhabit God’ s Problem Child, Willie has no intention of giving in to concession or defeat. He makes a mockery of his own mortality on “Still Not Dead” and parodies his eccentric image on the title track. “I’m a lot like ol’ Ripley On believe it or not,” he sings on “I Made a Mistake,” belying the fact that he’s obviously doing everything right to be doing what he’s doing at this age.

In truth, God’ s Problem Child could be seen as a reflection on a life well spent (“You had your run and it’s been a good one” he sings on the otherwise weary “Old Timer”), but with plenty of frayed edges to ruminate on as well. While “He Won’t Ever Be Gone” is obviously intended as eulogy to friends long gone — Cash, Jennings, Ray Price and the like — it could also be seen as a living testament to Nelson himself. Happily, he’s still with us, but there’s no doubt that when that day comes when he’s called away to that great touring bus in the sky, his remarkable legacy will continue to live on. We should all be as fortunate.

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