Willie Nelson: The Facts of Life (and other Dirty Jokes)

The Facts of Life and Other Dirty Jokes
by Willie Nelson
Published by Random House in January 2002

They say writing the first line of a book is the hardest part. Thank God that’s over. Roger Miller said it must be true that the longer you live with your pet, the more you look alike. My neighbor came over this morning and chewed my ass out for shitting in his front yard. Thank you, Roger. I also have you to thank for the opening of my last book-“I didn’t come here and I ain’t leaving.”

My daughter Lana just asked me if I wanted a couple of ibuprofen. I said no, I save my pain for the show. We are in Tulsa, Oklahoma, for a concert at Cains Ballroom, where Bob Wills and countless other great bands have performed in the last fifty years. The last time we were here, we had to move it to a larger place because of ticket sales, so we decided to do two days at Cains this time.

Lana, Kinky Friedman, and I are responsible for the contents of this endeavor, which is to be one-part song lyrics, one-part photographs, and ten-parts bullshit. That’s where I come in. I seem to be doing very well. I have ripped off my friend Roger twice already, bragged about how well we draw in Tulsa, and exposed my daughter Lana for offering me drugs before the show. How do you like me so far?

“You do know why you’re here?”

“Yes. There’s great confusion on earth, and the Power that is has concluded the following: Perfect man has visited earth already, and his voice was heard. The voice of imperfect man must now be made manifest, and I have been selected as the most likely candidate.”

“The time is april, therefore you, a taurus, must go. to be born under the same sign twice adds strength. this strength, combined with wisdom and love, is the key.”

Where’s the Show?/Let Me Be a Man
Explain to me again, Lord, why I’m here
I don’t know
I don’t know
The setting for the stage is still not clear
Where’s the show?
Where’s the show?
Let it begin, let it begin
I am born
Can you use me?
What would you have me do, Lord?
Shall I sing them a song?
I could tell them about you, Lord
I could sing of the loves I have known
I’ll work in their cotton and corn field
I promise I’ll do all I can
I’ll laugh and I’ll cry
I’ll live and I’ll die
Lord let me be a man
Please, Lord, let me be a man
And I’ll give it all that I can
If I’m needed in this distant land
Please, Lord, let me hold to your hand
Dear Lord, let me be a man
And I’ll give it all that I can
If I’m needed in this distant land
Please Lord, let me be a man

Lana, David Anderson, sister Bobbie, L.G., and Gates are regulars along with me on the bus, Honeysuckle Rose III. Ben Dorcy is not with us. Ben is now being preserved for trips in the near Austin area. At seventy-six-years young, he is cutting his world tours considerably. But for all the millions of Ben Dorcy fans, Ben is alive and well. Well, alive anyway. Thank you, Ben, for many years of faithful service and wisdom-“If you need a friend, buy a dog.” We’ll see you in Austin.

Cains Ballroom was good tonight. The crowd was loud, which I like. The girls were pretty, which I like, and the guys were friendly. I forgot the words to “Crazy” and that’s a first. Sammi Smith came by and sang “Help Me Make It Through the Night.” Her son, Waylon, and Waylon’s dad, Jody Payne, joined in on “Hey, Good Lookin’ ” and “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.” Sammi’s still singing like an angel.

On the Road Again
On the road again
I just can’t wait to get on the road again
The life I love is makin’ music with my friends
And I can’t wait to get on the road again
On the road again
Goin’ places that I’ve never been
Seein’ things that I may never see again
I can’t wait to get on the road again
On the road again
Like a band of gypsies
We go down the highway
We’re the best of friends
Insisting that the world keep turnin’ our way
And our way
Is on the road again
I just can’t wait to get on the road again
The life I love is makin’ music with my friends
And I can’t wait to get on the road again

I wrote this song on an airplane with Sydney Pollack and Jerry Shatzberg. We were talking about needing a song for the movie Honeysuckle Rose. Sydney was the producer and Jerry was the director. So I said, “What do you want the song to say?”

Sydney says, “Something about being on the road.”

“You mean something like, ‘On the road again, on the road again, I just can’t wait to be on the road again? The life I love is making music with my friends, I can’t wait to be on the road again?’ ” I said the words kinda bland I guess, maybe without any feeling or emotion.

Sydney and Jerry kinda stared at each other, and Sydney said, “But what about a melody?” I said, “I’ll come up with one before we get to the studio.”

At the time they were not that knocked out with the song. Of course they couldn’t hear the whole song like I could. They were very gentlemanly about the whole thing, not wanting to hurt my feelings and trying to act like they weren’t worried.

I think the more I talk about my hometown, Abbott, Texas, the better. Not only is it the only hometown I have, it is by far the most educational spot on the planet. I honestly believe I learned more in my first six years in Abbott than I’ve learned since. Smoking, drinking, and cussing are definitely three subjects in which I excelled.

Miss Brissler, our next-door neighbor, and my grandmother, Mama Nelson (who raised me and sister Bobbie from the time I was six months old), had already told us that if we drank beer, smoked cigarettes, and cussed, we were hell bound. At six years old I was well on my way. However, the first songs I remember singing were gospel songs. “Amazing Grace” was the first song I learned.

My first public appearance was in Brooken, Texas. We were at the annual Brooken Homecoming, with all-day singing and dinner on the ground. I was five years old. My poem was given to me by Mama Nelson to recite at the singing and performing part of “singing and dinner on the ground.” I guess I was nervous, because I started picking my nose until it started bleeding all over my little white sailor suit, trimmed in red. I did my poem . . .

What are you looking at me for?
I ain’t got nothing to say.
If you don’t like the looks of me
You can look the other way!
I have never had stage fright since.

There was always music in our home. My grandparents, Alfred and Nancy Nelson, were both musicians. They took music courses through the mail from the Chicago Music Institute. I could hear them at night practicing their music lessons. My grandfather, Daddy Nelson, was a voice teacher at one time, and they both knew a lot about music. We lived in a little house on the edge of Abbott, and I could hear every note they sang. I could also see the stars through the holes in the roof of that house. It was all very beautiful!

Soon after that time, I was given my first guitar. Up until then I had only written a few poems. Now I was able to learn to play guitar and write songs. It was a Sears and Roebuck Stella guitar. The strings were very high off the neck, so my fingers bled a lot. But they eventually got tough. Kinda like life . . .

My granddad used to sing:
Show me the way to go home
I’m tired and I want to go to bed
I had a little drink about an hour ago
And it went right to my head
Wherever I may go, and wherever I may roam
You’ll always hear me singing this song
Show me the way to go home

As you can see, I was getting a broad education.

Daddy Nelson was the kindest, wisest man I’ve ever known, unless it would be my dad, Ira. He never criticized a crazy thing I did. If my dad was ever mad at me, I never knew it. He would give me anything he had; money when he had it, advice anytime, plus he always kept my cars running like a clock. He was the best damn Ford mechanic that ever lived. Amen.

Me and sister Bobbie and some of the rest of the kids around Abbott, the Harwells and the Rajecks, we’d smoke anything that burned. We tried corn silks, cedar bark, coffee grounds, and grapevines before graduating to Bull Durham roll-your-own tobacco, and we did. That’s where I learned to roll and why I can roll a joint faster than any living person. And then along came ready-rolls. No wonder I’m short. As much as I smoked, I should have been four feet tall. Thank God I quit cigarettes before I got lung cancer. Unfortunately, a lot of my friends and loved ones kept smoking. My mother, dad, stepmother, stepdad, and one father-in-law all died of lung cancer caused by tobacco. No one knew just how bad smoking was for you back then. If I had known, I would have quit at that time. But we thought it looked cool, smart, hip. Everybody did it. All the movie stars, sports stars (well, not all, but some), were always seen with a cigarette hanging out of their mouths. I love sports, and think I would have done a lot better if I hadn’t been smoking cigarettes so early on in life, or not started at all.

As far as drinking is concerned, I had only tasted beer when I was six years old, but according to what I’d been taught, that was enough to send me straight to hell unless I repented and asked forgiveness. So I did, every Sunday, for a long time. The preacher asked those of us who wanted forgiveness to walk down the aisle. I went down morning and night for years. I took no chances. Amen.

I believe we need all of the words we have. So cursing, or “cussing” as we used to call it in Abbott, was part of carrying on a conversation. Of course not in my home, but all over everywhere else. We told jokes, and we recited limericks.

There once was a man from Boston
Who owned an American Austin
He had room for his ass and a gallon of gas
But his balls fell out and he lost them

Abbott humor was somewhere between white trash and redneck. All words were important to us. We believed in laughter above everything. We laughed at ourselves mostly.

We also loved to fight bumblebees in the summer months. The farmers down the road in Abbott would look for bumblebee nests while they were plowing and working in their fields. When they came into town, they would stop by Popps grocery store and leave word where we could find the nests. We would make our bumblebee paddles out of apple boxes. They looked like Ping-Pong paddles with holes in them to let the air through and to swing smooth. Many Sundays I would come home with both eyes swollen shut from the bee stings. Boy what fun!

By the way, if you’re ever stung by a bee, rub tobacco juice on it immediately. The pain goes away and it’ll heal much sooner. However, you’re still blind for a few days.

Another pastime in Abbott on Sundays, after bumblebee season, was placing an empty woman’s purse on the highway that ran between Waco and Dallas. We would tie a string to the purse, then drop the purse on the road and run to hide behind a billboard. A car would come by, the driver would see the purse and slide to a stop. We’d pull the string, retrieving the purse before the driver in the car could get back to it. They were most always real pissed.

This made our Sundays special.

We still have a home in Abbott. We bought the house Dr. Simms used to live in. He’s the doctor who delivered sister Bobbie and me. The house is about a quarter of a mile from where I was born. I go there when I can, and run and bike the same places again and again. They say you can’t go back. Maybe they can’t, but I can. Thank you, Abbott, for never changing.

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