The beloved outlaw country icon rolls a fat one for his fans and sits down on the porch to spin a few yarns.
Those fat ones are legion in this book, whether in the company of the superbly suave Julio Iglesias or out on the road taking it to The Man. Still, Nelson (Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die, 2012, etc.) opens on an oddly dark note, first conjuring up and analyzing T.S. Eliot and then brooding on his infamous woes with the IRS a quarter-century ago. The author has much more to brood about besides that sorry episode, from the life course–transforming death of family early on to the demise of nearly all of his contemporaries. Yet he’s nothing if not a survivor, accustomed to dusting himself off and going back into battle: “Because I was small, I got the shit kicked out of me. Wound up with a broken nose and busted collarbone, but nothing stopped me….The minute I healed up, I was back out there.” Those battles, too, are many and storied, involving not just the IRS but also the whole of the Nashville establishment; Nelson has found allies in the likes of Ernest Tubb, Johnny Cash, and Chet Atkins. The last counseled, “Be patient, Willie, and you’ll get the mainstream audience you’ve been looking for”—and so Willie was, and so he did. The narrative is sometimes choppy, with staccato one-sentence paragraphs going on for long stretches like an endless jam on “Whiskey River,” and it’s often repetitive, as if—well, as if Nelson maybe rolled one too many before hitting the typewriter. Still, if the stories are familiar, and if we’ve heard them before, he still has much new to say on issues such as privacy, the changing music scene, and, of course, legalization (“I owe marijuana a lot”).
Amiable but with an edge, and good reading for Nelson’s legion of followers.