Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Willie Nelson's 80th

Monday was the 80th birthday of Texas music legend, Willie Nelson.

I am aware that some people lump all country into one huge pile and say they do not care for the genre.  And, growing up as a suburban kid on the edge of shit-kicker Texas, I can understand the urge to want to put on the blinders when it comes to pop country.  I have been exposed to it since 1979.  Much of it it is not to my taste.

But I am not speaking of Country Music Awards winning, flavor of the year, country guy.  I'm is Willie Nelson.

And I will punch you in the jaw if you say anything bad about the man.

Willie holds a unique place among Texans.  In an often socially conservative state, he's a much beloved dope-smoking liberal who has a bronze statue of his full-sized likeness on one of Austin's major streets.  And, in many ways, he's the dichotomy of Texas.  Steeped in country and gospel, he's beloved by rockers and country-folk alike.  His politics are sacrosanct in favor of his massive catalog of music. He's written songs covered by others to fame (Patsy Cline on "Crazy"), and he's played others' songs that most people probably assume are his own (several tunes by Texas music martyr Townes Van Zandt).  He might cover "Stardust", or he might play any tune off Teatro, and folks will accept it as Willie.  He's from the small town of Abbott and loved by folks both rural and urban, and because of his long and still strong career, by folks of every age.  He's famous for tunes off the soundtrack for Honeysuckle Rose, but he's got dozens and dozens of albums, putting out one a year or so over the span of his career.

He's a solo with a huge back-up band, he plays duets with anyone who is up for it and plays in a band or two, and is loosely identified with a few different genres of country, be it Outlaw or covering jazz standards.

He has a large and sprawling family, a bit of his own spread out there somewhere.  Plays golf.  Gets arrested for possession from time to time.  And plays around the world but locally a shocking amount.

The two times I've had tickets to see him, fate has thwarted my efforts.  We won't get into that here, but it's still a bucket list item.

I can't really sell you on Willie Nelson if you are set against the finest American songwriting and performance of the past 70 years.  Nor can I sell you on much of what makes the contradictions of Texas part of what makes the art that comes out of this place sometimes resonate with a global audience, and sometimes I wonder how on earth anyone outside of Texas understands (I will never understand how King of the Hill made any sense to any of you outside of Texas).

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