Nelson (Willie Nelson’s Letters to America) shares in this irresistible outing the origins of songs from across his more than 60-year music career. Writing that the “energy driving my words remains a mystery to me,” Nelson is coy about his songwriting skills—when a producer told him he’d composed a weird hymn filled with metaphors (1970’s “Laying My Burdens Down”), he protested that he didn’t even know how to spell metaphor, let alone understand the concept. But his intelligence and wisdom shine through, not just in his familiarity with the ideas of Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, and Kahlil Gibran, but in his easy ownership of his faults (reflecting on the “black widow-type... woman who does a man dirty” in 1961’s “Funny How Time Slips Away,” he muses that “if anything, it’s been the other way around” in his life) and comfort with his spiritual side (“Creativity flows from a higher source filled with love,” he writes of 1962’s “Kneel at the Feet of Jesus”). The weakest points are where Nelson seems most certain, including generalizations about the sexes that feel like throwbacks to a different era (“Men have a tough time getting over their cowboy fantasies”). Still, fans will relish these insights into the singer-songwriter’s many avatars: the kid growing up poor with close ties to his church and family; the political activist who wrote “Vote ‘Em Out” for Beto O’Rourke’s 2018 senatorial campaign; and the enigmatic, sui generis artist. This is a treasure. Photos. (Oct.)
From the Publisher
"[An] irresistible outing . . [Nelson's] intelligence and wisdom shine through . . . Fans will relish these insights into the singer-songwriter's many avatars: the kid growing up poor with close ties to his church and family; the political activist who wrote “Vote ‘Em Out” for Beto O’Rourke’s 2018 senatorial campaign; and the enigmatic, sui generis artist. This is a treasure." — Publishers Weekly
"In a wry narrative shot through with a loopy, stoner spiritualism, the great songwriter and outlaw country artist takes a ramble through his back pages. . . . A lively accompaniment to Nelson's sprawling, genre-crossing, delightful catalog of recordings." — Kirkus Reviews
"[Willie Nelson's] songwriting has consistently been indicative of a born storyteller. It’s fun and, at times, illuminating to read about where some of those stories stemmed from. The photos are great too. . . . A sweet and intimate retrospective of a long and prolific career. This book will make readers feel like they’ve sat down with Nelson, who has just regaled them with tales." — Library Journal
"Throughout this lovely act of looking back and moving forward, Nelson wears his well-worn heart on his sleeve. . . . Willie Nelson's many admirers cross myriad lines, and they will eagerly pursue this chance to get close to their idol." — Booklist
"[R]eflective and thoughtful . . . [Nelson's] commentary is clear, introspective, patient and wise—showing how his 90 years have funneled into a new perspective on his lyricism and canon. The stories read like Willie himself is sitting across the dinner table from you, regaling you of his best stories from years past." — The Tennessean
Prolific singer/songwriter Nelson, with coauthors David Ritz (The God Groove) and Nelson's longtime harmonica player, Mickey Raphael, fill this book with stories and reflections, although it's not entirely a memoir. The lyrics in each chapter are thematically linked with accompanying commentary, autobiography, and late-night philosophy. Some of the chapters are album titles, and some link together Nelson songs that feature similar characters or themes—love and heartbreak feature heavily. Some are more conceptual or abstract, such as "Lonely Places" or "Abandoned Houses." Nelson writes, "If there are rules for storytelling, I never learned them," but his songwriting has consistently been indicative of a born storyteller. It's fun and, at times, illuminating to read about where some of those stories stemmed from. The photos are great too. VERDICT A sweet and intimate retrospective of a long and prolific career. This book will make readers feel like they've sat down with Nelson, who has just regaled them with tales.—Genevieve Williams
JANUARY 2024 - AudioFile
As he narrates Willie Nelson's thoughts on 160 or so of his songs, listeners could forget they're listening to actor Ethan Hawke. With a gruff voice and a touch of a Texas twang, Hawke recounts the story of the poker game that inspired "Good Hearted Woman" and the sudden debut of "Wake Me When It's Over." Nelson's lyrics are narrated by Hawke, rather than sung, but listeners will still hear a bluesy vibe in "Yesterday's Wine." It might take one or two songs narrated in Hawke's voice for listeners to get into the rhythm of Nelson's audiobook, in which each song's lyrics are followed by the singer-songwriter's thoughts about the words. But even casual fans will appreciate the anecdotes Nelson shares about his songs and his life. J.A.S. © AudioFile 2024, Portland, Maine
In a wry narrative shot through with a loopy, stoner spiritualism, the great songwriter and outlaw country artist takes a ramble through his back pages.
“I’m dumb enough to think everything I write is going to be a hit.” So Nelson remarked to Faron Young, who turned the musician’s “Hello Walls” into an early chartbuster. It didn’t always work out that way, however. For years, the record companies wrestled with Nelson’s sometimes impenetrable lyrics—as he reveals, he sometimes speaks to various parts of houses and makes songs of what they tell him—while trying to turn him into a conventional star. “After struggling in Nashville,” he writes, “I returned to Texas in 1970, not as a conquering hero but as just another singer with a band looking to survive.” As one of his songs puts it, “Nobody said it was going to be easy,” but Nelson found himself with just the right people, from his celebrated drummer and best friend Paul English to the hard-living Waylon Jennings, whose album Wanted! The Outlaws, containing a co-written Nelson tune, was “the first country album to sell over a million copies.” That helped the coffers, but, as the lyrics assembled here, richly illustrated with photographs, suggest, Nelson’s prime motivation is less money than the good life. Much of his commentary on his lyrics concerns spiritual lessons. “Because I’m into my ninetieth year,” he writes, “a lot of people want to know my strategy for survival.” Faith in something that may or may not be God is one element; smoking righteous quantities of marijuana has a part, and as does kneeling in gratitude. Essential are humility and service, as with this memorable comment paired with the song “Heartland,” co-written with Bob Dylan in 1990: “To give voice to the voiceless is a priceless privilege that comes with being a writer.”
A lively accompaniment to Nelson’s sprawling, genre-crossing, delightful catalog of recordings.