Why I love Willie Nelson

Published 10:00 pm Thursday, October 27, 2016

To the editor:

First, Willie’s ugly. While this might seem offensive, even socially incorrect to many, I’m not sure that he knows or that it matters to him.  In Willie’s case, what you see is what you get, no tanning booths, no Botox, no combed over hair, no stylist, and assuredly not a dresser.  In a Kardashian reality dominated by Foxy news anchors and scruffy Brad Pitt look-alikes, Willie comes across as a timeless back cover for Easy Riders or Billy Bob Thornton’s better relative.   

Willie’s also ageless.  In fact, he’s like Brad Pitt’s body double in The Curious Life of Benjamin Button only he was born old and stayed that way.  Willie once hitchhiked to Portland, Oregon, but, unlike Tryon’s Jim Jackson, no one ever picked him up.  A kind-hearted trucker finally bought him a meal and a ticket to Portland.  Along the way he began a lifetime habit of sleeping at rest stops and in ditches, surely part of the inspiration for his song, “On the Road Again.” 

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Like many of us, Willie’s worked every job imaginable and some worse just to make ends meet.  He trimmed both trees in west Texas, got beat up as a bouncer at a local roadhouse where he also picked a tune or two, sang, and danced with too many ladies for quarters, sold auto parts he cannibalized from a junkyard, made saddles with too-short stirrups, worked in Texas but not Louisiana oilfields, hawked vacuum cleaners he couldn’t work and Bibles he did read, sold some of his best hits like “Hello Walls” and “Crazy” for a song, around $25 in his day, and became one of the most successful outlaws of all time.  

Willie possesses perhaps the best everyday, homespun voice imaginable, one that allows him to sing duets with everyone from Dolly Parton to Ray Charles.  He made all sound better except me.  He once belted out a duet with Rosalynn Carter in the White House and, afterward, studied Bible verses with her husband, President Jimmy Carter.  You know they both taught Sunday School classes.  A playful yet invented story had Willie offering the President a joint if he would explain Revelations to him. 

As a youngster I once met Willie Nelson in Pasadena, Texas, introduced by my cousin, Smokey Stover, a disk jockey and country and western singer who led an equally immoderate life.  Cousin Smokey called Willie an “Injun,” curious to me since Willie had red hair, a few freckles, and only knew two words of Cherokee, “Kemo Sabe.”  In the end, Cousin Smokey never left Pasadena for greater fame while Willie made it all the way to the Austin city limits with his Indian headband. 

Today Willie spends his time on his hardscrabble Texas ranch or else at his self-sustaining community in Hawaii with close neighbors and fellow Texans, Kris Kristofferson, Woody Harrelson, and Owen Wilson.  They have great block parties.  Willie still plucks his guitar named “Trigger,” rides his favorite horse called “Giddy up,” and drives his old “buggy,” a VW convertible, on his own biodiesel fuel.  Like “Willie’s Reserve,” it has a secret power ingredient.         

Why all this about Willie Nelson?  Tryon and the foothills seem to have more than their share of ageless, equally adventurous and charitable, Sunday School teaching, and likely better-looking Willies, only their lives might be less Technicolored.  They have names like Hub, Jim, “Boat,” Bill, Seth, Paul, and Walter, and they live in places like Green Creek, Mill Spring, Tryon Estates, Laurelhurst, White Oak, and around Markham Road.  Some can even sing better.  We should love and treasure them all.       

~ Milton Ready, Tryon, N.C