Monday, January 14, 2013

Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die by Willie Nelson

Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die: Musings From The Road
by Willie Nelson (forward by Kinky Friedman, illustrations by Micah Nelson)

When I was younger, the first books in a store that I would peruse were in the music section, mostly the biographies. During the vacations that my family would take, my dad and I would seek out whatever bookstores were in the area. This was in the 90s, so we probably had more options to choose from then, even if we were in a Florida suburb. The best selection of music books that I can remember from those trips were in the Tattered Cover in Denver, Colorado. I would pretty much camp out in that corner of the store while my dad looked at books on An-/Arctic exploration or lighthouses or bear attacks — bear attacks being a surprisingly prolific nature-writing sub-genre.

Though my music bios no longer make up the bulk of my reading, I am still very much interested in them, especially if it's about an artist I've always meant to study more. Musicians, I find fascinating because, while I've played cello and viola, the process of writing a song is still somewhat foreign to me.

When Willie Nelson's newest book Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die became available, I was reminded of the conversation I had with a musician friend about the song "Crazy." He'd covered it during one of his gigs, and when I told him, "Well done on the Patsy tune," he pretended to be offended and said, "You mean Willie Nelson." Somehow, I'd never known that he'd written it. Willie Nelson is definitely someone I've always meant to know more about, especially since he's been so influential for, well, decades. Several of his records sit in my inherited collection, and now I'm more motivated to play them.

Part travelogue, part family tribute, and with bits of collected lyrics and observations, Roll Me Up is written by Nelson and several close friends and relatives. There are old photos and it's made very clear that it was Nelson's wife, Annie, who helped collect everything for the book. In that way, it's like a hardback scrapbook, which I think would feel lacking with most other musicians (or other types of performers, for that matter), but Nelson and company make it interesting. He's a funny guy, a relatively calm person, and very much committed to the people and causes in his life. He is fond of smoking, as we know, playing poker at his Hawaii home, and telling stupid jokes. I love stupid jokes when they acknowledge how silly/bad they are. Bad jokes that think they're clever are just... bad. But this made me laugh:

Thought for the Day: Sometimes I think, Well … then again I don't know, but when you get right down to it, there it is.

I'm not familiar with Nelson's other books, but he has, I think, five others. This one includes a little bit of his personal history, including his childhood. He and his sister, Bobbie, were raised in Abbott, Texas, by their grandparents, William Alfred and Nancy Nelson, after their parents split. He and "Sister Bobbie" have always played music together, and she continues to be in his band. Many of his band members have been there for decades, and several of his children are musicians or artists on their own. I like that everyone is extraordinarily proud of each other's accomplishments. It's really not a book about hardship, but a celebration.

Annie Nelson: We all love, laugh, cry, and are moved by the common language of music together. I am so grateful that I chose the husband I did, so that our children would be children of the world and contributors to the common good.

It is amazing to see those little kids who grew up on the road, now all playing music together. A couple of months ago, John Carter Cash, June and Johnny Cash's son and part of the "HighwayKid Posse," produced a Johnny Cash birthday concert. The whole show was so emotional for me. Many of the musicians on stage were also musicians on some of the Highwaymen tours. When they started playing the song "The Highwayman," that was it; I lost it! Onstage were Willie, Kris, Shooter Jennings (standing up for his father), and Jamey Johnson. When Willie and Kris stated into their parts of the song, it was as if twenty-five years simply melted away. It was a moment that took me back, and I could see the four of them singing together and cracking each other up.

When the kids were little, they would be on the side of the stage, always dancing and singing along with their dads. […] The times they do change, but the road maybe does go on forever, and the party just may never end!

For me, the most interesting parts are the excerpted song lyrics. His writing style is almost conversational, but with an incredible amount of insight to both love and loss.

The music stopped the crowd is thinning now
One phase of night has reached an ending now
But nothing, nothing lasts forever
Except forever
And you my love
And so will you my love, my love
  • from "And So Will You My Love"

Frequently, Nelson reminds us, "there is only now," and while the past is certainly worth reflecting upon, it should serve to better ourselves in the now.

I don't know that I would recommend Roll Me Up to readers who don't already have at least a small interest in Willie Nelson. There's not exactly an overarching story where one could become interested in him in the same way one could become interested in a novel's character that they didn't previously know. However, if the interest is there, however minutely, it's a quick and entertaining read. Music bio enthusiasts will likely get a kick out of it, and I'm so very glad that I read it.

Full Disclosure: William Morrow sent me this book. I thank them for the gesture, and I will continue to be fair with my reviews.

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