Rant ‘N’ Roll: The Wisdom Of Willie
—by Mike Greenblatt, February 27, 2013
Roll Me Up And Smoke Me When I Die: Musings From The Road (William Morrow), by Willie Nelson, with a foreword by Texas Jewboy Kinky Friedman, can be read in one sitting. Consider it dessert to the much more substantial main course of Joe Nick Patoski’s Willie Nelson: An Epic Life. Willie, who hits 80 in a few weeks, is still vital. His current album, Heroes, is terrific and his new album, Let’s Face The Music And Dance, due this spring, will have new originals and covers in the Willie way of Irving Berlin, Carl Perkins, and most surprisingly, Spade Cooley. Cooley (1910-1969) has fallen out of favor ever since he murdered his wife who had an affair with cowboy movie star Roy Rogers.
“It’s already been proven that taxing and regulating marijuana makes more sense than sending young people to prison for smoking a God-given herb that has never proven fatal to anybody,” writes Willie, who also writes “the greatest musician, singer, writer and entertainer that I have ever seen or heard is Leon Russell” and “the best country singer of all time was, and still is, Ray Price.”
Willie’s also a big fan of the three-fingered gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt (1910-1953), whose “Nuages” he covers on the upcoming album. I saw Willie at Farm Aid last year. His guitar playing is extraordinary. He came on to jam with Neil Young and his timing was so jazz it was thrilling. Neil did all he could do to keep up with him. He sings the same way, a bit behind the beat. Drives musicians crazy. New cats find it hard to deal. His band seems to stay put. They know his predilections. Harmonica player Mickey Raphael says, “When I started this gig, I was 21 and I’m 60 now. I learned so much from watching Willie play, and his unique phrasing has given me a musical education I would have received nowhere else.” The book features other testimonials including his sister, his fourth wife, Annie, and some of his six children and seven grandchildren (but none of his eight great-grandchildren).
Willie is as comfortable playing with jazz trumpet legend Wynton Marsalis as he is playing reggae, blues or standards. Screw Rod Stewart’s five albums of American standards. They’re all garbage. When Willie Willie-izes the great American songbook, everything old sounds new again.
“Annie and I have oral sex all the time,” he writes.
He admits to having been beaten up a few times in his life. Even had a gunfight once when he kicked off his property the abusive husband of his daughter and the wife-beater came back shooting. Luckily, everybody missed.
Greatest songwriters? Willie lists Billy Joe Shaver, Roger Miller, Kris Kristofferson, Hank Williams, Merle Haggard and Vern Gosdin.
“I’m so opinionated that I can give you my opinion on anything, anytime, and I’m glad to do so because I’m just an asshole,” he writes.
He tells a few jokes and gives out with one Major League piece of advice: “If you want to be a star, you should start acting like one now, so that when you become one, you will already know how to behave, and maybe you won’t blow it. For instance, I don’t know anybody who is better drunk than sober. You might get by awhile, but sooner than later it will take you down. I know. I tried it.”
There was a period in his band with two drummers and two bassists, and the music got harder and wilder like The Allman Brothers: “Everything was great until we all got on different drugs,” he writes, “then it sounded a lot like a cluster-fuck and a catfight going on at the same time, but we had fun.”