Weeks ago, before Mom got so sick, I was drinking a little wine and listening to a little Willie Nelson, feeling a little melancholy and thinking about my Daddy and Grammy. (Man, that sounds like way more activity than it actually was. All those gerunds!) This naturally led to me listening to the saddest Willie songs I could find, and I turned to this duet with Janis Ian that BFF turned me onto on a mix CD of songs about Memphis.*
While this easily qualifies as one of the Saddest Song I Have Ever Heard, it evokes the place so beautifully it just makes me want to go there even more. It is one of the holy pilgrimages for Rock fans. This song paints such a sweetly sorrowful portrait of a place that time and economics may have passed by, but which holds such magic. I’m sure if I ever get there, it’ll be a lot like many other cities, with tourist traps and Starbucks on every other corner; with parts that are so run down they’re almost ruins; with suburbs and parks and schools and churches. But this is where Sam Phillips and Sun Records made their mark on the world, where so many greats were launched. And it’s home to a lot of people, something this song reminds us. “If you could see Memphis the way that I do, she would look different to you. The Queen of the Delta, tip your tiara, to Memphis the Belle of the Blues.”
*We used to talk about making a list of all the great songs about Memphis and playing it on a road trip there. BFF finally gathered a bunch of them, many that I’d never heard before, and gave me the CD for Christmas one year, I think.
Just listening to Willie, thinking about my daddy and my grammy.
I got a call from the partner of one of my Dad’s oldest friends over the weekend. Eddie drifted out of Dad’s life a few years before he died. It seems he got kind of weird and cut himself off from all his friends. Daddy always kind of thought Eddie went back to the reservation (he’s Native American, although I can’t remember what tribe). We hadn’t heard from him in so long, I kind of thought Eddie was already gone by the time Daddy died, and I wasn’t sure how to get a hold of him anyway. Well, Eddie’s still around, but his partner (can’t remember if they got married) says he’s probably not long for this world. He was asking for my dad. And I wish to whatever god might be listening that I could deliver him.
The Indian was a hard-drinking, hard living son of a bitch. He rode a motorcycle until he wiped out and messed up his leg; always walked with a limp after that. He told even taller tales than my old man did–that’s why they called him True Story, because he’d always claim it was a “true story” no matter how ridiculous it was. One of Dad’s favorite stories about him was how they went into a local bar that turned out to be a cop bar, and Eddie got into a fight with a few of the cops and got them banned. But he was funny and generous; Eddie would give you the shirt off his back and never ask for anything in return. Eddie was one of a kind, and it breaks my heart to know that he’s dying without the one friend he was asking for.
The news about Eddie has got me thinking about Dad a lot. I sent a message out into the universe for him to go see Eddie, and I hope he listens. And I hope when Eddie gets there, they go out drinking and lie to the waitresses and get into a couple of fights.
Today is my lovely mother’s birthday. I’ve got nothing to say about it but “Yay!” So here’s one of her favorite songs. She used to play the soundtrack to Songwriter in the car constantly, and this song was on a loop for her. (Of course, back then, you had to rewind the cassette to go back to the beginning of a song.) But I defy anyone not to love it.
Besides, who wouldn’t want to fool around with Kris Kristofferson?
One of my favorite people in the Universe turns 80 today. I know it’s impractical, but I kind of think we should all just stop whatever we’re doing and pay tribute to the natural wonder, the force of nature that is Willie Nelson.
Even if you don’t think much of his music, you’ve got to respect the man. Willie refuses to be contained. He still tours the country in buses that run on biodiesel fuel. He still plays at the annual Farm Aid benefit for family farmers. He still challenges himself musically and artistically, even though he could just coast on his musical laurels. And he still gets pulled over and charged with possession. I don’t use anything stronger than a glass of wine once in a while, but I respect a guy who sticks to his guns about marijuana the way Willie has. (Paul McCartney already wussed out and admitted he doesn’t toke up anymore, so Willie and Tom Petty are among the few mainstream rebels I can think of that still stand by pot. And I’m not so sure about TP these days. Politically, I’m all for legalizing pot; there are proven and suspected medicinal benefits, and the tax revenue would be really helpful.) There has never been anyone like Willie Nelson, and there are very few musicians with such broad appeal. When he was forced to auction off his property and memorabilia to pay the IRS, his fans came to the auction to buy his stuff, just so they could give it back to him. Just about everyone likes something about the man and his work.
My own personal favorite is his collaboration with Wynton Marsalis from a few years ago. They got on stage at Lincoln Center with a full jazz orchestra, and played a concert of standards. It is one of those amazing, essential albums. I heard it, and knew that my life would not be complete unless I owned it. Not my music collection. My life. This is music that feeds the soul. I love it. And I’d like to thank trumpet00617 for posting this concert to YouTube. I hope y’all enjoy it as much as I do.
Pay special attention to the battered guitar that Willie plays. He said in an interview once that he would retire when it finally became unplayable. So light a candle, burn some incense, and pray to whatever gods you think might be listening that that old guitar holds it together forever.