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Tag Archives: Willie Nelson

Honeysuckle Rose; or Willie is as Willie Does

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As a songwriter, he is without parallel. As a guitarist and vocalist his warmth and eccentricity are instantly recognized. As a public figure, he’s always used his fame to stand up for underdogs and regular folks of all stripes. If there’s one thing Willie Nelson isn’t known for, it’s his acting.

To be fair, expecting Willie Nelson to deliver credible acting performances is like expecting John Wayne to play a good Othello. Their strength as a performer is so rooted in their persona, they can really only add variations and shades of the same character over and over again.

Part of it also that, geez, it’s WILLIE NELSON. You don’t get to write a million timeless songs, record a million albums, tour a million miles and be the closest thing to an actual Uncle Sam AND get to be a good actor too. That’s just gilding the lily.

Willie excels in roles where he basically plays Willie. And he does it best in “Honeysuckle Rose.”

At it’s heart the movie is a Saturday Matinee western, the sort Willie’s heroes Gene Autry or Roy Rogers would star in. Willie is the singing cowboy with a very large and chemically active bunch of sidekicks, roaming the west song by song. The stakes are never particularly high, because we know Willie is the hero and he’s going to win. But it’s fun to watch the hero go through the motions. The villain isn’t particularly evil, because, well, Willie is basically the villain of this movie too.

Willie plays Buck Bonham, country singer, nomad, family man. His old buddy/guitar player Slim Pickens retires and Willie hires Slim’s daughter (Amy Irving) to take her place. Willie and Amy are musically sympatico, and that leads to other more intimate dalliances that shatter his marriage and friendship. Eventually though, Willie is able to make amends, save his marriage, get back on Slim’s good side and put on the big musical jamboree at the end. In Willie’s world, everything begins and ends with songs. Music sends him out on the road, complicates his life, mends it, brings everyone back together.

If you’re looking for something bigger and more complex from Willie, you’ll have to listen to one of his albums. If you wanted to show someone just why Willie is important, why he’s the beloved performer and icon he is today, you show them “Honeysuckle Rose.”

The movie isn’t without it’s faults. It’s soapy and melodramatic. It leans a little too heavily on performances. Willie, for such a laid back guy, is a wooden actor. It’s the joy of performing though, the love of playing music with and for people that sells the movie. Music, and the way Willie engages the world most directly through it, is the real focus of this movie. We get an idea of who Willie, or in this case Buck Bonham, is, but we don’t KNOW who he is until we’ve seen him sing his life to a crowd of strangers.

That’s the central paradox in many performers lives, though. Singers might be strangers to us, and they may guard their private lives or even mislead us with stories, when they’re singing their songs, they’re baring all their vulnerabilities for us. Few people have been doing this longer, or better than Willie Nelson.

(Trivia: “On The Road Again” was written as a throwaway song to accompany travel montages in this movie. Jerry Weintraub, the producer, didn’t think anything of the song. It’s one of the songs most closely identified with Willie Nelson now, and more well known than the movie that birthed it.)


Book Review: The Improbable Rise of Redneck Rock by Jan Reid

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Austin in the 70’s has the same sort of cache as New York at roughly the same time period. It just doesn’t have that special association with as many people. I think it should though.

Jan Reid, who was starting what would be a long career as a writer, happened to be in the right place at the right time to capture the scene as it was starting to blossom. Reading this book in it’s initial publication would have been like reading a guidebook to a fun place to live. Reading it now it’s an interesting historical document, something we’ll inevitably weigh by our knowledge of everything that’s happened since.

B.W. Stevenson and Bobby Bridger get a lot of page time but aren’t the most well known performers today. Willis Allan Ramsey remains the enigma he started out as, with his one legendary album. Willie was still something of an unknown quantity at the time and Jerry Jeff Walker was still, putting it kindly, a train wreck. These two men are now probably most equated with the whole cosmic cowboy thing that happened back then, but at the time of writing they were both testing the limits of the world they inhabited. Willie blew up and became the American icon he was born to be (and probably always was), where Jerry Jeff became more of a regional hero who paved the way, spiritually and logistically, for Texas Music.

I have to say, the profile that intrigued me most was Michael Martin Murphey. I grew up knowing¬†cowboy singing, family values, folk music Michael Martin Murphey. Hippie Murphey the Cosmic Cowboy was a surprise (even though I have a bunch of his old pre-Western records). Despite all the hippie lingo being thrown around and talk about drugs and politics, there’s a very clear and surprising intellectual consistency in his words in actions. Michael Martin Murphey, the hippie getting burnt out on counter-culture and Michael Martin Murphey the hardcore cowboy are the same guy, the same line of thought played out to it’s logical conclusion. This is a guy who never took his eyes off the ball and followed his muse all the way.

Kinky Friedman gets a bad rap in the book for being unabashedly careerist in his attitude toward his music. In that milieu, it’s understandable, maaaaaaaan. In today’s economy though, where everyone has a side gig, or a blog (ahem) or both, it just seems natural. Kinky, is of course, still out hustling, writing books and running for office, somehow managing to seem both more and less ambitious than ever.

The hippie talk can get kinda thick and incomprehensible, but then again, twenty years from now the hip hop argot of say, Kendrick Lamar, might be equally dense. Our culture moves at such a quick pace that pop culture works like this tend to date themselves quickly. It’s also interesting to see everyone try and figure out how to build the infrastructure to make Austin a musical capital like Nashville. Now it seems like a foregone conclusion that Austin is going to be the Live Music Capital of the World, but at the time of writing the Armadillo was barely hanging on and there was only one recording studio of note in the city.

I’m biased towards thinking this is all fascinating and awesome, but I think there’s a broader interest here in seeing a lot of the culture than eventually becomes part and parcel of the Austin brand in its nascent stage. You also get the pleasure of people complaining that “Armadillo Homesick Blues” (the ACL theme song) is a one note joke and nothing special. Ideally, this would come with a soundtrack so you wouldn’t have to dig through your records to compile the whole thing. Reading about Austin’s musical past is fun, but like the saying goes, it’s sorta like dancing about architecture. But what architecture, and what dancing.


Tumblr Tuesday 7-29-14

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This ad is from 1986. Willie doesn’t age much. The cowboys (and cowgirl) below him are dressed pretty timelessly too. All in all, a good case for keeping it classic.

Tumbler Tuesday

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Me: This picture is what I want to look like when I’m old.

Wife: Growing up in the Southwest has really warped you.

Album Review- Willie Nelson “Band of Brothers”

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Willie Nelson, in all ways, is like Texas. His albums are especially like Texas weather. If you don’t like it, wait a minute, something new is coming soon. “Band of Brothers” is one in what appears to be a series of autumnal looking records packaged as somber reminders that Willie Nelson is really old and a piece of American history. Like the Johnny Cash American Recordings. Unlike those records, Willie shows no signs of loosening the reins. He’s still as full of piss and vinegar as ever, and that’s how we like him.

Exhibit A for Nelson, Willie, Hugh being irrepressible as ever is “Wives and Girlfriends” which manages to make a breezy, fun song out of one of Willie’s corny old man jokes. Exhibit B for Willie “Booger Red” Nelson still being a formidable songwriter is the karate combo of “The Wall” and “Guitar In The Corner.”

It’s weird saying this, but I feel like we won’t know if Willie is still writing classics like “Crazy” because he hasn’t stopped writing and because the sort of interpretive singing where a Patsy Cline or a Ray Price takes a song and makes it such a deep and lasting part of their persona is mostly gone. It’s the same way with Dylan and rock bands. Any chimp could sing a Thomas Rhett or Imagine Dragons song. We’re having a hard time gauging the quality of these all-time champs work because no one else is blowing it up like they used to. Not that a Dylan or a Willie needs the help.

More or less to that end, John Anderson stops by to join in on the “The Songwriters” and Jamey Johnson swaps verses on “From The Git Go.” If they insist on bringing back The Highwayman can we please have Josh Turner and Jamey Johnson filling in for Johnny and Waylon? Both serve admirably in their roles, but Johnson takes the prize for the steely menace in his delivery.

After 48-ish full on albums, what is there to say about a Willie Nelson record? Mickey Raphael’s harmonica gets more sympathetically, gorgeously creaky sounding next to Willie’s ever more patina’d voice and guitar. There’s a Jesus song, a cheating song, an outlaw song, a song about being on the road. You’ve heard a lot of these before, and if you’re listening, you want to hear more of them. If “Spirit” found Willie looking back at life almost 20 years ago and finding love, mystery, and faith the latest Willie records find him as an octogenarian looking back at life and finding it full of badass friends, family, and hustle. Like they say; It’s Willie’s world, friends, and we’re all just living in it.