Reclaiming Willie Nelson

I feel like cursing right now. I know that can be offensive, so I am giving you this warning so you can avert your eyes.

When did I get so fucking courteous?  I am sure it won’t last.

But I am sufficiently emotionally scrambled from the Willie Nelson concert I attended the other night. Let me tell you, the Red-Headed Stranger (FN 1) fucked me up.  Not only am I listening to his music non-stop now (you try running a few miles to To All The Girls I Loved Before”), but I am flooded with memories from my childhood in Texas.  Willie Nelson’s music is the soundtrack of my youth.  When it was time to go to bed, my dad would sing, “Turn Out The Lights, the Party’s Over,” and I remember where I was sitting in our living room when he explained to me that Willie Nelson penned the Patsy Cline signature hit, “Crazy.”

Willie Nelson at Farm Aid 2009 (image credit: Wikipedia)

Willie Nelson at Farm Aid 2009 (image credit: Wikipedia)

But here’s the thing, since I left Texas in 1995, I purposefully left certain things behind.  I am not sure why exactly.  Maybe it was a normal part of individuation and coming of age, but going to the Willie Nelson three days ago was like stepping back to my past and grabbing a piece of the old stuff for myself.

It feels so fucking weird.

For all these years, I divided the world into things that belonged to me, and those that belonged to my past and my family back home in Bush country.  The things for me included Chicago, therapy, and liberal politics. The things I left behind included the Catholic Church, college football, and Tex-Mex food.  While I have had some success sharing parts of myself with them, I haven’t been as successful at joining them with the things I consider “theirs.”

Until Thursday night.

Willie Nelson took the stage and started with my mother’s favorite song: “Whiskey River.”  I felt my heart lurch along with the steel guitar.  I didn’t see anyone else there welling up during “On the Road Again,” but I was.  I could see the allure of Willie– he’s irreverent, talented, and his “I don’t give a fuck” attitude is charming in an expected way.  Half way through his show– around the time he dipped into his gospel tunes– I realized I wanted a piece of him for myself.  I wanted to share Willie Nelson, and all he stands for in my own history, with my family.

Me? Wanting to share? It’s unheard of.

I will note that Willie Nelson’s obsession with getting drunk and high is a tad bit distracting for me, but his talent is larger than all that.  And, OHMYGOD, he’s 79 years old and still going on tour to sing the classics that his fans want to hear.  There is plenty to admire in Mr. Willie Nelson, just like there’s plenty to admire in some of the things I left behind (even the Catholic Church, I suspect).

To say that the concert was a trip down memory lane is an understatement and a cliche.  More precisely, it was chance to look backwards and reclaim a forsaken part of myself and my history so it can live and come with me into my future.

The best part of it all was that I bought myself a red bandana and decided who I was going to be for Halloween.

Look for me next to the Tootsie Rolls singing “On the Road Again.”


FN 1: Nickname for Willie Nelson? The Red-headed stranger.


18 thoughts on “Reclaiming Willie Nelson

  1. Love it! You articulated how I feel about georing up in Texas and now living in new York! My youth there seems like such a contradiction to the life I live now. Love the blog! Glad I found it

  2. The soundtrack of my youth was country music, and I’ve forsaken it for many years. You’ve encouraged me to tune into KYSN (Kissin’) Country, our local station :o)

  3. Oh how I can relate to this post (and not just as a former Texan). For me, it’s gospel music that tears me up. I am atheist now, yet the sound of old fashioned gospel music (think lively choir, steel guitar, clapping, and a bangin’ piano) gives me chills and makes me incredibly nostalgic. Maybe it just makes me wish I could be the young, naive, blissfully unaware believer that I was as a child.

    • Kelly, before we are too old to do it, let’s take a trip to Texas together and visit Tomball and Waxahachie and all the old familiar places. Gospel music gets me too, but not like George Jones or Willie and Waylon. The nostalgia gets so much more poignant as I get older. It almost hurts my body.

  4. Oh to be an ex-pat. I guess I’m just a pat. My dad LOVED Willie until the day he died. He’s from freakin’ Alabama and came to a party in Texas just to meet him. I live in Texas and you have to threaten me with water torture to get me to listen to country. I’m more of a Sammy Hagar and Rush girl myself. Soundtracks of my childhood are Rush, Kiss and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

  5. Ooh, I just read this…so good! Love Willie! There is a very cool new statue of him in Austin outside the new theater they built for the Austin City Limits tv show. Funny, even though I’ve lived in Texas my entire life, and will probably never leave, I don’t feel that it has defined me or restrained me. My older sister was the one who took off for NY after college and never came back. Moving from Dallas to Houston was as much culture shock as my little brain could handle!

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