Why Fans Love This Man (What’s behind the Willie Nelson charisma?)

[Thanks, Phil Weisman, for sharing this clipping with us.]

Parade Magazine
December 5, 1982
by:  Ben Fong-Torres

Willie Nelson has lived most of his life in rough and tumble style.  It shows in his whiskered face and in the long, braided, hippie-style hair he wears underneath a cowboy hat or a bright red bandanna.  It’s obvious in the guitar he always plays, the one with the hole in it, a victim of Willie’s more rip-roaring tunes.  And it’s spoken in the songs he writes and sings.

That’s the Willie Nelson look; well-worn and down-home, a mix of good ol’ boy, romantic crooner, guru, out-law and pop star.  And this style is also one of the chief reasons why everybody – or so it seems – loves Willie Nelson:  He’s his own man and, at the same time, he’s all things to all people.

“My audiences are usually filled with a lot of old people and a lot of young people, and everybody’s lookin’ at each other a lot the first few minutes of the show, and that’s good,” says Nelson.  “But people are people, regardless of where they are, what nationality or whatever.  They basically have the same emotions, the same things make them laugh, make them cry, and they all fall in and out of love.  So most everyone can relate to the lyrics in the songs I do.”

The people who flock to hear Nelson include Hell’s Angels bikers in jeans, politicians in tuxedos — in 1980, Nelson performed at the White House as the guest of president and Mrs Jimmy Carter — and youngsters young and oldsters who like the way he blends rock n’ roll and country and western music.

Musically, Nelson ranges from good time honky-tonk stompers about drinking and fighting to classic American ballads that he sings in a simple, lean voice using a confident, jazzy phrasing.  The love songs he’s written, usually fueled by bad times at home and good times at the local saloon – such as “Crazy,” “Hello Walls” and “Funny How Time Slips Away” — are poetic, philosophical, confessional and bluesy, but they fall short of the country cliches of hopelessness and despair.

The worst now is over, I’ve stood the rest
It should be easier now.
They say everything happens for the best.
It should be easier now.

It is.  Another reason for Nelson’s popularity is that it took so long before things got easy for him, and be conveys this hard but true fact of life in his songs.  When he was unable to win acceptance as a performer in Nashville, Nelson returned home to Texas in 1972.  That revolt against the country music establishment sparked his “outlaw” image – which took hold when Nelson grew his hair long, stuck on an earring and developed his own sound.  And he hit it big.  In the last 10 years, he has attracted a following of loyal fans who regularly sell out the 250 concerts he does across the country each year.


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