Willie Nelson: An Epic Life | Why I wrote this book
Willie Nelson's 75th birthday
The realization Texans are different from everybody else hit me about an hour after I'd first set foot on Texas soil. I was only two years old but I distinctly remember my father picking up my mother, my sister and me at the Greater Fort Worth International Airport and driving us to our new home in Fort Worth, stopping along the way at the Big Apple Barbecue on Highway 183. The waitresses talked funny and the smoked beef brisket covered in barbecue sauce we were served tasted like nothing I'd experienced, vaguely familiar and strange and exotic all once. Even as the hot spices set fire to my lips and the inside of my mouth, I immediately wanted more.
I've been trying to figure out Texas and Texans ever since. Fifty two years later, I realized the answer had been right in front of me for most of my life. There were vague memories of the smiling friendly face flickering on Channel 11 singing songs live from Panther Hall on the Cowtown Jamboree and on Ernest Tubb's show in a voice that could have only come from Texas. I grew familiar with the songs by listening KCUL, the Country & Western radio station, although versions of "Hello Walls" and "Crazy" by other people were Top 40 hits in Fort Worth. The first interview came in 1973 for Zoo World magazine. After thirty five years of writing about him and many others, I can now safely say no single public person living in the 20th or 21st century defines Texas or Texans better than Willie Hugh Nelson.
Texans by nature are independent, free-thinkers, open, outgoing and friendly. Iconoclasts, they respect tradition but are not beholden to it. Whether it's God or sin, they tend to embrace excess. The good ones have a whole lot of heart. They are creatures of geography, exuding a sense of place. They reflect their climate and sometimes are a little crazy from the heat. They are wanderers and explorers, keen to improvise, curious enough to discover They are loud and boisterous when they need to be. They seem to go out of their way to make friends with strangers. They are great storytellers and some of the most distinctive music makers on earth. You know Texas music when you hear it, just like you know Willie's music.
A certain red headed stranger was once said to say, "Don't let the truth get in the way of a good story." I tried my best to ignore that sage advice once I took on this project. On the back side, all I can say is that getting all the facts straight while piecing together the history of a culture considered too low, too sordid, and too wild to be worth documenting in print was no sure thing. Many characters were too busy living life to the fullest, sometimes under the influence of alcohol, nicotine, Dexedrine, Black Mollies, marijuana, boredom, and being caught up in the adage, "If you can remember the sixties, you weren't there" to remember the trivial details of time and place. Then there were those who were inclined to con for the pure sport of it.
Fortunately, my subject was accommodating and open - exactly the person I've always thought him to be. He's the story. I'm just the teller.
Copyright © 2008 Joe Nick Patoski
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