Willie Nelson canceled an upcoming concert in April. No explanation was given for the cancellation. Some have speculated that he might not be in stellar health. I can only hope and pray the 88-year-old is okay.
I’m not sure how Willie Nelson got mixed up in my memories, but he is. My brain’s most replayed memories seem to include the music of Willie Hugh Nelson as a soundtrack.
Truthfully, I’m not sure why I liked Willie so much. Maybe it was because I’m a redhead like him. Or maybe it was because he never struck me as a guy who was trying hard to impress you. He was just himself.
I appreciated the meek way he approached music. I loved the gentle touch he had on his Martin N-20. I liked that he used a guitar pick on nylon strings, causing uptight guitar purists to suffer cardiac infarctions. I liked that over the years his pick wore a hole into the spruce top of his instrument.
Moreover, Willie wasn’t a pop star. He is
us. Kenny Rogers and Conway Twitty were great. But they represented were the shiny, star-studded Nashville elite. Willie was like the guy your daddy worked with.
He didn’t have a powerful baritone voice like Jim Reeves. He didn’t wear a bow tie like Ray Price. He sounded like your uncle singing with the VFW band on bingo night.
And Willie’s tunes weren’t anything like the idiocy that passes for modern country music today.
A few days ago, I was in traffic, flipping past songs on the radio when I landed on a new country song by Trace Atkins, featuring Luke Bryant, and rapper Pitbulll. The tune was entitled, “Where the Country Girls At?” I almost wrecked my truck on purpose.
Willie didn’t write stupid songs. He wrote poetry set to music. He wrote sonnets about cowboys, unrequited love, and angels who flew too close to the…
Willie finished the concert by welcoming Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter onto the stage.
Last week, my wife surprised me with tickets to a Willie Nelson concert, saying, "Pack your bags, Miss Daisy."
The next thing I knew, we were sitting four hundred feet away from the redheaded stranger himself.
He played all the classics. One by one. And when he sang, "Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys," I cried. Since my mama decidedly failed in this regard.
Willie finished the concert by welcoming Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter onto the stage. Seven thousand of us rose to our feet and nearly tore the place apart. The ninety-one year-old president hugged the eighty-three-year-old cowboy. I couldn't have been happier if I'd seen Bear
Bryant and Jesus shake hands.
Then, Willie sang, "Amazing Grace."
So did Jimmy and Rosalynn.
So did I.
Seven thousand folks set their beers down—since this is what you do while singing hymns. The woman next to me sat down and just stared into the night sky, listening to all the voices.
Willie sang the second verse.
I closed my eyes.
We sang this song at my grandmama's funeral, at my grandaddy's, my uncle's, my cousin's, father-in-law's, and Daddy's. To people of my pedigree, this song is sacred.…
I finished college by age thirty-something. Also I have seen Willie Nelson in concert. And, not to brag, but I hold the regional record for eating the most consecutive slices of blueberry pie at last year’s Fourth of July dinner on the grounds.
I am fishing. Hogtown Bayou couldn’t be any prettier if it tried. The clouds over this bay are nothing short of American poetry
The air is salty. The crickets are out. The water is calmer than a monk on Miller Lite.
The Choctawhatchee Bay is the best part of my youth. When I was sixteen, I took Wendy Benton to the shores of Hogtown Bayou. It was a poor-man’s date.
Hogtown Bayou resembles Beulah Land. Not that long ago, forests still stretched for miles. You could find longleaf pines with catfaces the turpentiners once carved on them, long before the invention of cable television.
And, if you fished the right spots, you had to carry a baseball bat to swat the fish away.
Wendy was from Mountain Brook. She was repulsed by this place.
“Fishing?” she said. “Gross. You brought me FISHING?”
“No,” I said. “I brought you to see a magnificent sunset.”
“But, you have a fishing pole in your hands.”
“I do? Well, would you look
at that? How’d that get there?”
I caught a one-pound redfish. Wendy swatted mosquitoes. She never returned my calls. I understand she married an attorney and lives in Toledo.
Years later, I took the would-be Mrs. Dietrich to Hogtown Bayou. Her name was Jamie.
Jamie said, “Do you take all your heifers out here?”
The answer was no.
I told her I wanted to live on Hogtown Bayou one day. I wanted to fish here whenever I felt like it. I told her all about myself. She listened.
She caught a fish bigger than the state of Delaware. I asked her to marry me a few weeks later. We bought a small house a stone's throw from Hogtown Bayou.
Tonight, I caught jack squat. A miniature pinfish, one stingray, and one Mountain Dew bottle. My father, had he been alive, would’ve…
I want Willie Nelson to live forever. And I’d like it if the lady who throws my newspaper at three in the morning would inherit a million dollars.
How I got invited to a corporate business convention isn’t the story here. But let’s just say there are lots of people wearing nice suits and finishing sentences with: “Did I already give you a card?”
There is a guest speaker. He is famous. I don’t care for him. His talent: complaining.
He complains about America, religion, the economy, pro-sports. About lukewarm fried eggs.
The people love him. They applaud after each purple-faced rant.
The woman next to me says, “Oh, I watch his show on TV all the time. Don’t you just love him?” She grinned. “By the way, did I already give you a card?”
I do not love him. If you ask me, he needs considerably more fiber in his diet.
I leave the main event and make the long drive back home. The sun is setting. It is a stunning sky.
I don’t know what’s happening to the world. People are angry. TV personalities earn seven-digit incomes by getting peeved.
Well, maybe I am feeling particularly inspired by the guest speaker. Because I have a mind to make a list
of my own complaints.
My first complaint: sunsets.
Sunsets don’t last long enough. They only give a few minutes of sky-painted glory, then it’s goodnight, Gracie.
I know. That’s not a real complaint, but give me time, I’m new to this.
Complaint two: puppies. They grow up too fast. There is nothing half as marvelous as razor-sharp puppy teeth. This, I know.
I’m also complaining that there aren’t more barbecue joints.
I don’t mean the fancy kind where waiters wear all-black and use iPads to email copies of your receipt. I’m talking concrete-block joints with ugly bathrooms, decent service, and food that your doctor warns you about, served in red plastic baskets.
Something else: I wish people gave more compliments for no reason.
Hardback hymnals. I’m not happy about their disappearance. Give me elderly Miss…
She's a little girl with an uncle who looks like me. An uncle who once cried at a Willie Nelson concert when he discovered he had a new niece.
One year ago—Atlanta, Georgia. Willie Nelson stood on stage and sang my childhood. He sang: “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys.”
I rose to my feet in honor of Mama—who expressly failed in this regard.
While Willie played for thousands, my wife handed me her glowing cellphone. There were photos of a pink newborn baby on it.
“That’s your niece!” yelled my wife.
I cried, then smiled for three hundred days.
Though it bears mentioning, life hasn’t always been worth smiling about. Take, for instance, the day we scattered my father’s ashes. That was a particularly bad day.
I had hoped his remains would catch the wind and fly away like angel dust. They dropped like a brick.
That following year, I wore out Daddy’s vinyl record collection, trying to remember him.
One of my favorite records: an album bearing portraits of Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings on the cover.
I listened to “Mama’s Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys” until I half-hated the melody.
But, of course, I never could hate that song. I sang it on my very first gig.
And I was god-awful.
At the end of the night, the owner paid me fifteen bucks and said, “Learn some new songs, kid. If I hear that damn Willie song one more time, I’m gonna go crazy.”
I tried to learn as many new songs as I could. After swinging a hammer during the afternoons, I’d practice music until the wee hours.
I peddled my unimpressive songs to rundown places and earned next-to-nothing for my mediocre performances.
They were joints Mama would’ve been ashamed of, with neon signs in windows and sad people at tables.
In one such…
Tomorrow is the birthday of a friend. He looks pretty good for his age. He’ll be turning 187. Which makes him almost as old as Willie Nelson.
Samuel Langhorne Clemens was born in Florida, Missouri, in 1835. It was late November, and colder than a witch’s underwire. His mother was not expecting him. She wasn’t even close to being ready, so she tried to squeeze him back in. But it didn't work. So out he came.
During childlabor, Halley’s comet was passing overhead, visible from the sky. The comet was a natural phenomenon that frightened a lot of people, causing many to either pray in tongues or drink whiskey. Sam’s mother did both during childbirth.
No, not really. I’m only kidding. Although, she had reason to drink. Because Sam was a lot of trouble.
For one thing, he was sickly. Nobody thought he would make it past infancy. Three of his siblings died. Being born premature in 1830s was no cakewalk. His body was puny. His complexion made Elmer’s glue look colorful.
I first saw him, I could see no promise in him,” his mother recalled.
Even so, he was whip smart. Lightning in a jar. He could memorize things. He and he could talk the paint off a wagon wheel. And lie. Hoo boy.
Sam could lie like it was his profession. The kid was such a good liar, he received annual Christmas cards from Satan.
He got into trouble, of course. The best humans always do. Nobody changes the world by being well-behaved. History doesn’t care if you were president of your chess club or class treasurer. History favors the kids who lived in detention.
Sam was that kid. He started smoking when he was still in elementary school. He could out-cuss a grown man before he was potty trained. He skipped school so often that his teachers sent flowers to his mother and asked when the…
Today is National Redhead Day. I’ll bet you didn’t know we redheads have our own holiday, but we do. And it’s an important day.
Because countless redheads throughout history fought so that we, as a nation, could observe this holiday in freedom. Our ginger ancestors died protecting precious rights that many of us redheads enjoy today.
Such as the right to wear orange or burgundy; the right to be cast as the little orphan Annie in the school musical production of “Annie”; and the right to get free beer on Saint Patrick’s Day.
You probably know a redhead in your life. And speaking as a genetic minority, we ruddy complected persons could use your support right now.
Because redheads are disappearing.
That’s right. Modern research shows that the number of those carrying the recessive gene causing red hair are declining.
The percentage of redheads has dropped steeply within the last few years. At one time, the earth’s population of redheads was about 19 percent. Today it’s down to 2 percent. That’s barely enough to
form a jayvee basketball team.
We are diminishing in huge numbers each year. And each time we die, we take our genetics with us.
If this trend continues, by the year 2100 there will be approximately 3 redheads left including Willie Nelson.
I am a longtime redhead. My hair turned strawberry in my teens, but I was born with hair the color of Ronald McDonald.
I was also a jaundice baby, which means my skin was the color of sickly urine. My mother said I was also born with a pointy head. “You looked like a No. 2 pencil,” my mother recalls.
My mop of hair, however, was the main attraction in the delivery room. The first words of the nurse who delivered me were, “You know what they say about redheads and preachers…”
Unfortunately, nobody ever learned what they say about redheads and preachers because…
A no-name beer joint. Just off the highway. Somewhere outside Atlanta. Glowing Coors signs. Unlevel pool tables. I had been driving for several hours. I’d just hit town and my throat was dry.
I stepped into the dark room and made my way to the bar alongside the other hands. There was a kid playing music on a plywood stage. He had tattoos, a trendy mullet haircut and he wore his ballcap backward. He looked like a frat boy. He was singing what passes for country music in today’s melodically deprived America.
Then the kid started “country rapping.”
“Country music is dead,” said my bartender, who was pushing 70. Or maybe he was pulling it.
“The real cowboy singers have disappeared,” he went on. “I miss Willie Nelson, every day.”
He brought me a cold Pabst and asked what I wanted to eat.
“A burger,” said I.
He leaned onto his elbows. “We got vegan burgers, black bean burgers and chicken burgers.”
“Vegan burgers? I thought this was a beer joint.”
“But, I want a beef patty that’s
bleeding so badly it needs Band-Aids.”
The bartender sighed. “Don’t we all.”
The barman looked like a real cowpoke. He had smoker’s teeth. His skin was crepe paper. He wore a tan so rich he looked as though he’d been born in the Mojave.
His hands were veiny and rough. I know this because we actually shook hands. Just the way real guys used to do before the “fist bump” made us all look like schoolgirls playing Patty Cake at recess.
The kid strumming the guitar was still rapping. It was hard to watch.
The bartender looked at me. “They call it redneck rap. It’s all over the radio these days. Kids eat it up.”
“But it ain’t music,” said the guy next to me. He was wearing a crumpled suit. He looked like Fred Mertz after a long day.…
I was a kid. The “Grand Ole Opry” had recently moved to Opryland. My old man was working in Spring Hill, Tennessee, building the GM plant. We were living nearby. It was a July evening and my father was young. Younger than I am now.
My father came home from work one evening, covered in soot and sweat. His red hair was a mess from wearing a welding helmet all day. He had raccoon eyes and the artificial sunburn that come from wearing goggles and holding an oxyacetylene torch.
He announced that we were going to the Opry. Just me and him. To see Ernest Tubb.
Mama dressed me in red Dennis-the-Menace overalls, a Willie Nelson T-shirt, and teeny Converse Chuck Taylors. Then she combed my hair with one of those black nylon hairbrushes that shredded your scalp and gave you a subdural hematoma.
We piled into my father’s truck. It was an F-100, forest green, with a welding-machine trailer attached to the back.
It was a 40-minute drive into Nashville
proper. We entered the city. It was magnificent. The lights. The people wearing cowboy hats. The scent of French fries and pork fat in the air.
My father took me to get ice cream before the show. We sat outside on the curb and I spilled my vanilla on my Willie shirt. So he took my shirt off. I was bare chested beneath my little red overalls.
We pulled into the Opryland parking lot before showtime. We were walking into the building when a man approached my father. He had white hair. He was dressed in rags. He asked my father for money.
My old man never carried much money, for his own protection. Not protection against thieves, but protection against himself. “If I have money I’ll spend it,” he always said.
So he never carried much more than a few tens. He was a notorious tightwad. He was…
I have been going through a hard time since losing my mom and don’t know what I believe anymore. I’m not sure whether I believe in God or any of that stuff. I’m so lost. What do you believe in?
You’ll have to pardon me. I’m writing this from my sickbed. Currently, I am sidelined with COVID and my body feels as though it has recently been assaulted with the wrong side of a pool cue.
As far as my beliefs, for starters, I am now a big believer in washing one’s hands thoroughly.
Also, I believe in fried chicken. The kind made by every granny you’ve ever known. The kind fried in black iron skillets.
I believe it is powerful stuff. Which is probably why you see it at funeral receptions, baby showers, and church socials.
I also believe in hand-rolled biscuits made from flour, fat, salt, baking powder, and buttermilk. To add additional ingredients to this mix would be like drawing a mustache on the Mona Lisa.
I believe in teaching young men to
clean fish. I believe in kids who ask too many questions. And I believe in girls who are gutsy enough to be themselves.
I believe girls have it harder than boys. And I’m sorry for that.
I believe in giving money to the homeless—not once or twice, but every time I see someone down on their luck. Every single time. I believe in giving more than I should.
I believe in old-time country dances. Long ago, before TV’s, smartphones, and twenty-four-hour news channels, I believe people threw more parties.
I believe in bowing heads to say grace. I believe in crickets, loud frogs, and places where you cannot hear busy highways.
I believe in magic tricks. And in teenagers who haven’t found themselves yet. I believe in all golden retrievers, Labs, bloodhounds, some Jack Russels. And marriage.