Last month I was at a swanky luncheon for a birthday party. Never very good at small talk, I leaned over to a virtual stranger and posed this question: “Does having an obsession with Willie Nelson make me white trash?” To her credit, she blinked only once and gave me an emphatic, ” ‘Fraid so.” She wasn’t kidding. She’s also ten years my junior and a thousand times hipper (like I’m pretty sure she doesn’t drive a mini-van or turn in at 9:30 at night), so I know she was telling the truth. I shouldn’t have been surprised. My friend Robert has been referring for years to the “redneck Willie Nelson thing” I do.
At summer camp one year we had a white trash day (is that racist? tasteless?) and I remember lots of jokes about canned meat, like Vienna sausages, and marrying family members with no teeth. If that’s what people think of when they think of Willie and his music, well, I can’t stop ’em.
But let me say this:
It’s not easy being a fan of an 82-year-old country music legend.
First, people assume I like country music. For the record, I hate country music. Hate. It. I’m serious. As a genre it ranks just after Gregorian chant and only slightly above Yo Gabba Gabba. I really only like Willie. I can tolerate Johnny Cash. Waylon Jennings is alright. I enjoy Kris Kristofferson, but he’s a Rhodes scholar who studied literature at Oxford, and he has a gorgeous head of hair to boot. There’s nothing trash about that.
But contemporary country. Yuck. I have no opinion on Miranda Lambert and that tall guy she’s married to. Or Eric Church. I’ll cop to a soft spot for all Texas-born musicians, which is roughly 4/5 of them, but I don’t want to listen to them. I will also declare my undying devotion to Lyle Lovett and Nanci Griffith, but they’re not country. They’re “singer songwriters.”
Wait. I know what you’re thinking. Yes, I’m a Dolly Parton fan, but that’s technically blue grass, so fuck off.
My point is that 99% of country music can go have a cocktail with Bill Cosby for all I care.
Second, and way worse than being mistaken for a country music fan (*shudder*), is that octogenarians who tour sometimes have to cancel their shows. Like last Friday, when Willie’s undisclosed health issue forced him to cancel a show in Hammon, Indiana. I had second row (center) seats for that show at the Horseshoe Casino. (Classy, thy name is Christie.)
I got the email about the cancellation in the middle of the work day. I pounded on my desk so hard and let out a barbaric yawp so loud and pathetic that my next-door neighbor coworker ran into my office to check on me.
It’s pretty amazing to tell someone who thinks you just erased a day’s worth of work or blew a court-ordered deadline that, no, you’re just having a conniption fit because Willie Nelson canceled his show. (God, just writing that sentence makes me well up.)
“Hi, coworker who is still trying to decide if I’m cool, don’t mind me having a complete episode of decompensation over the status of Willie Nelson’s health. Move along.”
I moped around all night, then crawled into bed to read his just-released memoir It’s A Long Story. I find comfort where I can get it.
There is hope: the show’s been rescheduled to September. I’m saying the rosary every night that Willie is healthy and strong enough to play that night. In the meantime, I’m picking up the pieces and moving on the best I can, but not eating potted meats or listening to twangy, Nashville country “music.”