I had the greatest time hanging out with Willie Nelson the last two weeks.* I could listen to that man tell stories ‘til the cows come home…and I feel like I had that opportunity with It’s a Long Story – My Life, Willie Nelson’s autobiography.
Why was this book so enjoyable? Well, I’ll start by saying I love Willie’s songs. So that probably makes for a sure-bet for loving his book. They, as was the book, are clear, honest, straightforward, from the heart, and usually full of emotion. As he describes in the book’s preface, “A song is a short story…I see them as little stories that fall out of our lives and imaginations. If I have to struggle to write a song, I stop before I start. I figure if it don’t flow easy, it’s not meant to be. The truth should flow easy. Same for songs and stories…what you’re holding in your hands is something more than a simple song or a short story. It’s a Long Story is the name of this enterprise.”
Yes, it was a long story/book. But I loved hearing it. It rang clear and true, sometimes painful, sometimes exhilarating. I most liked the start of the book, (call me nostalgic), where Willie described growing up in Abbot, Texas with sister, Bobbie, and grandparents, Momma and Daddy Nelson. From the start, he was surrounded by music, and soaked it in from the mountains and streams around him.
Songwriting came naturally to him…and it’s fun to go along for the ride as he explains the process and events leading up to the songs we all know and love.
I love Willie’s persona. And it’s good to know, that the man is who he appears to be. I didn’t know much about his upbringing or career path before reading this book. It contains lots of stories from that childhood in Abbot, and on, through the slow and steady build and ebb and flow of a hard-working American. It traces a career in that good old sense of ‘the American dream,’ (albeit with alcohol, pot, and life on the road) that’s hard if not impossible to duplicate today, especially in the music industry as it is now. Willie stands true to the music and his need to write and perform. And it’s clear, he’s as cool, genuine and authentic as you would imagine.
And I love that he’s been around forever – and the fact that still, at the age of 82, he’s making music as fruitfully as he has throughout his long career. As he notes, “…By the time you read this, I’ll be eighty-two. I’m pleased to tell you that since turning eighty, I’ve written a couple of dozen new songs, recorded five new albums, and performed over three hundred live concerts. I don’t say that to boast but only to reassert my belief that the essence of my work as a songwriter, singer, and performer is based on the simple task of telling stories. Telling those stories has kept me alive…Eight long decades of successes and failures, heartbreaks and breakthroughs, miracles and mind fucks….(It’s a Long Story: My Life) is just the story of a picker from Hill County Texas, who got more good breaks than bad and managed to keep from going crazy by staying close to the music of in his heart.”
No one tells this tale better than Willie. Maybe you’ll bring him into your living room to sit for a spell. *I actually listened to this book in my car as an audio CD. (It is read with a Texas accent by Christopher Ryan Grant, who sounds a lot like Willie.) It truly brightened my commute, and made me yearn for the next Willie tour.