"He thought Nashville was the roughest"
March 25, 2015 10:03 AM   Subscribe

On the Road Again: Mapping All the Cities in Willie Nelson's Songs
Over the course of his career—a five-decade ramblin' run that spans recordings as far back as 1962 and as recent as last year—Willie has written endlessly about his affection for (and occasional vexation with) cities across the land. These are all of those places. Well, a whole hell of a lot of them, anyway.
posted by Lexica (15 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
My mother came to visit when I lived in Austin, and we were having coffee in the Little City on Congress Ave, right by the Capitol building, and I said "mom, I don't want to alarm you, but Willie Nelson is riding a horse outside the window." He was shooting a video, it seemed, and the two of us sat and watched him ride a horse in a genial manner up and down the street for about 20 minutes.

It's not much of a Willie Nelson story, but it's what I've got.
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:13 AM on March 25, 2015 [9 favorites]

This is great. When I was younger a friend and I seriously contemplated going on an epic road trip to all the places mentioned in Willie's songs. We got only about halfway through compiling a list that we realized it was an undertaking that we couldn't afford. I still regret not doing it.
posted by barchan at 10:33 AM on March 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

It seems Willie Nelson has never driven a truck from Tucson to Tucumcari nor from Tehachapi to Tonepaw, nor stood a corner in Winslow Arizona, nor seen the bluest skies ever in Seattle, nor buried his heart in San Francisco, nor taken the A-Train, nor chased the bloody British where a rabbit couldn't go, nor come over for tea with the Missus and Me on a lazy Sunday afternoon in nineteen hundred and three.

Maybe he'll get around to it.
posted by Herodios at 10:38 AM on March 25, 2015 [3 favorites]

If it was Huey Lewis, there'd be like 50 cities, but just one song.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 11:04 AM on March 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

Yeah, but I'll bet he never shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 11:13 AM on March 25, 2015

If it was Huey Lewis, there'd be like 50 15 cities, but just one song.

If it was Hank Snow, there'd be like 90 cities, but just one song.

2[!mention] Nat 'King' Cole, Martha Reeves, Chuck Berry, or the Beach Boys.
posted by Herodios at 11:21 AM on March 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yeah, but I'll bet he never shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die.

Naw, that was the other guy . . . Johnny something. Johnny Quest? Johnny Cougar? Johnny Cypherindimensionzero?
posted by Herodios at 11:23 AM on March 25, 2015

I have tickets to see Willie Nelson and Alison Krauss in July and I am giddy about it. I don't really even like going to concerts anymore, but this one can't come soon enough.
posted by mudpuppie at 11:30 AM on March 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

Great stuff. I once spent two hours talking to Willie (and yes, doing that other {inhales} thing one does when hanging with the great man {exhales}) on his bus, which was a real highlight experience.

Who is left who compares to Willie? Merle Haggard, Dylan, Al Green, Aretha, Loretta, Dolly, Ralph Stanley, B.B. King....All equals but none his superior.

What I learned from Willie, anyway, is that the suggestion that you don't leave nothin in your clothes back at the motel is good advice anywhere.

My favorite Willie quote of the last few years was when Larry King asked him if he was high during their interview, and Willie replied "Well, sure I am, Larry."

He needs to live forever.
posted by spitbull at 11:41 AM on March 25, 2015 [9 favorites]

Scroll about a third of the way down here for the fun story of how Robert Earl Keen met Willie as well as got a photo for the cover of his album Picnic.
posted by TedW at 12:46 PM on March 25, 2015

Nashville still only mentions Willie (when he's mentioned at all, unlike some other living legends like Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton) with grudging respect, the kind you reserve for someone you know is awesome but who gives you the middle finger every time you see them (and yet you know you deserve it). Same is true of Kris Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings -- without those three guys, none of the current crop of "country" dudes, from Blake Shelton to Frankie Ballard, would be anything other than footnotes.

That's a lot of what's awesome about Willie in a nutshell.
posted by blucevalo at 2:51 PM on March 25, 2015

Related (previously)
posted by tonycpsu at 3:29 PM on March 25, 2015

Willie got so much bigger than Nashville or country music long ago, certainly by Stardust Memories. He can actually reach down and pat Nashville on its furry little head if he feels like it. His fan base cuts much wider than Nashville country. Loretta, Praise Be Upon Her, never really transcended country music, even via Coal Miner's Daughter. Musically, she never got far out from where she started. The Van Lear Rose project made that abundantly clear. She's a great country artist and songwriter, but her range as a musician is limited. (I say that as someone who would crawl across hot asphalt in a bunny suit to kiss that woman's thumb. She's only country, but she's as country as it gets.) One could really say the same for Merle, I feel, although he has a much wider musical range than Loretta and more consciously explored the musical boundaries of the genre than she ever did. Kristofferson, well, the man is a great, great songwriter, arguably as good as anyone ever was (I mean, "For the Good Times," " Help Me Make It" and "Me and Bobbie McGee" alone should get him into the songwriting pantheon between Hank Williams and Bob Dylan). But he is a wooden, inexpressive singer at his best and lacked the performance charisma of Willie or Loretta or Dolly or Merle. Again, don't get me wrong, I admire Kristofferson's writing more than I could express. Dolly is the closest thing to Willie in being a global figure whose work has crossed genre boundaries and generational audiences with ease and who is an absolute master of the crafts s/he practices *both* as a writer and a performer. The world will mourn when those two pass in a way it won't for Merle or Loretta, I feel. (I will mourn each of them, if Merle doesn't fucking outlive us all.) Johnny Cash was the other figure who transcended. His absence is really noticeable now, I feel.

But there is something so special about Willie. It's the sense that -- in a manner complementary to his artistic genius and persona -- he's just a completely down to earth human being, in no way distanced as a star, that I think makes him so beloved and his music so accessible. I can say that having met him a couple of times and spoken at length with him once, I had the impression many others report. He was completely present, manifestly humble, vigorously interested in conversation, utterly ingenuous, deeply thoughtful, and exceedingly gentle. There's other sides to him too, and one can be critical of his history with women in particular.

I think of him as a poet on the level of Yeats (and a truer heir to Woody Guthrie than Dylan in many ways), as well as a musician on the level of, really, someone like Louis Armstrong, and a performer on the level of almost no one else. (Maybe Armstrong again, if historical accounts of his performances are to be believed.) His body of work is now vast and very diverse. It repays deep study, and never fails to provide simple pleasure. I've seen him live twice, and both were just memorable experiences of spontaneous community, the best kind of collective live musical experience (weirdly, the closest comparison I can name was seeing Fela Kuti in like 1989).
posted by spitbull at 3:44 PM on March 25, 2015 [7 favorites]

Willie's been a lot of places, but he hasn't been everywhere. Gotta hand it to Hank Snow (YouTube), and then later, Johnny Cash (YouTube) -- but mostly Hank Snow.
posted by saintjoe at 4:08 PM on March 25, 2015

"I've been everywhere" references proliferate upthread.
posted by spitbull at 4:27 AM on April 24, 2015

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