It’s a Long Story: My Life by Willie Nelson. Copyright 2015.
This month, country super star Willie Nelson received a prestigious award from the Library of Congress along with Paul McCartney, Paul Simon, and Stevie Wonder. I thought it would be a good time to read his memoir.
He starts by talking about his early life growing up in Abbott, Texas, where he and his older sister Bobbi were raised by their grandparents because their parents, who were also musicians, did a lot of traveling. Willie took an interest in music at an early age. He describes how he felt after his grandfather died when he was about five or six. Soon after that, his grandmother made him sing a song at a church revival meeting. He was apparently so nervous that he picked his nose constantly before the performance, and by the time he got on the stage, blood was pouring out of his nostrils and onto his clean, white sailor suit. That earned him the nickname Booger Red.
As a teen-ager, he played in various bands that performed in bars and dance halls in the area. He curbed his grandmother’s disapproval of this by giving her the money he earned. His sister Bobbi became proficient at the piano while he played the guitar, and they often played together, even as adults.
After graduating from high school, Willie went to work trimming trees but gave up on that when he fell out of one. He then entered the Air Force in the hope of being a pilot in the Korean War but washed out a year or so later.
After returning home, he married the first of four wives, a waitress at a drive-in restaurant. She gave birth to three children, and the family traveled around Texas, California, and Oregon where Willie worked as a disc jockey and at other odd jobs and performed in various night clubs. Eventually, they settled in Nashville, Tennessee, where he got a job as a songwriter at a local music publishing house. That was when his career took off.
He then describes the next five decades of his career: what inspired him to write and record many of his songs and albums, associating with Waylon Jennings, Chris Christofferson, Johnny Cash, and others, the purchase of a myriad of properties in Tennessee, Texas, Colorado, and Hawaii, and his movie career. He describes his divorce from his first wife and his marriages to and divorces from two other wives before finally settling down with a make-up artist at one of the locations where he was filming in the 1990’s. He talks about giving up alcohol in 1971 after releasing “Whiskey River” and his continued use of marijuana. He explains how he wormed his way out of scrapes with the law as a result of his drug use and avoided many unhappy returns from the IRS by giving them all the proceeds from some of his concerts.
In the end, he talks about pot and his opinion of the music industry. He believes marijuana should be legalized and isn’t bothered by the fact that nowadays, with the use of music subscription services online, record sales are down. He never depended on royalties from the sale of his records but on the sale of tickets to his concerts. If people listen to his music on computers or smart phones, and that inspires them to hear him in person, that makes him happy.
The recording of this book I downloaded was produced by Hachette Audio. Although Willie doesn’t read the entire book in this recording, he narrates the introduction at the beginning, and at the end, there’s a recording of him singing one of his songs, “It’s a Long Story: My Life,” the same title as the memoir. To me, this isn’t as good as his other songs such as “Pauncho and Lefty,” “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before,” and all the songs from Stardust, my favorite Willie Nelson album which I still have on cassette.
On April 29th, 2015, Willie Nelson turned 82. One thing he loves to do is travel so here’s a song that illustrates this. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dBN86y30Ufc . Willie Nelson is still on the road.
Simple Dreams: A Musical Memoir by Linda Ronstadt. Copyright 2013.
Linda Ronstadt details her life from her birth and childhood in Tucson, Arizona, to her life as a singer in Los Angeles and New York, to her retirement. She talks about her childhood in Arizona: receiving her first pony at the age of five, her mother becoming paralyzed from the waist down, attending a parochial school, making music with her family, and how her music was influenced by her Mexican heritage and such artists as Frank Sinatra. When she decided to move to Los Angeles after graduating from high school in the 1960’s, her father presented her with his guitar and pointed out that as long as she had an instrument, she wouldn’t be hungry.
She then goes on to talk about her career over the next few decades until her last performance in 2009. She explains how her first band, The Stone Ponies, was formed and then describes how she performed with the Eagles and then a myriad of other artists including Emmie Lou Harris and Dolly Parton. She explains how her style evolved from country and rock to old standards and Mexican music.
There are a couple of things I didn’t like about the book. First of all, Linda tells her story mostly as a narrative with little dialog. Although I found her experiences fascinating, it would have been nice if she did more showing and less telling. Also, at the end of the book, she says that she lives in Tucson, Arizona, with her two children who are transitioning from being teen-agers to adulthood. I would like to have known if these children were her own or if she adopted them. If they were her own, who was their father?
The book also includes a discography that lists all the albums she recorded through the years. As a teen-ager, I listened to many of these albums on eight-track tape including Heart Like a Wheel and Prisoner in Disguise. In the 1980’s, I had a cassette recording of What’s New, her first album of old standards. Today, I still have on CD her first trio album with Dolly Parton and Emmie Lou Harris and Cansiones de Mis Padres, her first recording of Mexican songs.
My favorite Linda Ronstadt tune is “Heart Like a Wheel.” In the book, she describes how she fell in love with the song. I can see why. It touched me when I was thirteen, and today, it reminds me of my love for my late husband Bill and how I lost him. To hear it, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1OABmOJdMoU .
Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author
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