Tag Archive | Willie Nelson

If Loving Willie Nelson Makes Me a Redneck, Then Pass The Canned Meat

Willie Nelson photographed for Rolling Stone, in his main building ... I think they call it the saloon, outside of Austin TX on November 4, 2013 Display or On Page credit: Photograph by LeAnn Mueller CAPITAL 'A' in LeAnn

Willie Nelson photographed for Rolling Stone, in his main building … I think they call it the saloon, outside of Austin TX on November 4, 2013
Display or On Page credit: Photograph by LeAnn Mueller
CAPITAL ‘A’ in LeAnn

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.”



It’s Never Too Late To Become A Fan(atic)

I literally had my whole entire life to stalk him.  He grew up in Abbott, Texas spitting distance from my dad’s home town (Forreston, Texas) and was cresting the height of fame when I was in utero. 

But I didn’t pay one iota of attention to Willie Nelson because I fucking hated his music. I hated almost all country music, making exceptions only for Dolly Parton, and later in college, I made discreet one-off exceptions (like if country song was playing when I made out with a cute Sigma Chi– see Moon Over Georgia).  My dad always had his tapes around– I remember him singing “Turn Out The Lights, The Party’s Over,” when he was trying to get us kids to bed.  It worked, because the song was so lame it made my ears burn so I crawled into bed to SHUT MY DAD UP. 

When I got older, I appreciated Willie’s Farm Aid efforts to raise money for the disappearing American family farm, but I was busy with INXS’s Calling All Nations Tour and memorizing the cast of We Are The World.

Picture #43 of 189 that Outlaw Mama's Mama took during a Willie concert in Texas

Picture #43 of 189 that Outlaw Mama’s Mama took during a Willie concert in Texas

My family members were always on the bandwagon.  One of them has seen Willie in concert more than I have seen the inside of my local Costco.  I get Shutterfly photo albums from my parents that are nothing but pictures of Willie on stage in his signature red bandana.  Sure, it was amusing to see my mother’s 400 pictures of the Red-headed Stranger, but it was nothing to get all ablaze about.

But, then something happened.

Maybe I was ripe for an obsession or it was some nostalgic reflex occasioned by my recent milestone birthday.  No doubt there are Oedipal-Freudian connections that aren’t appropriate for this family friendly blog.  But I’ve caught Willie fever.  And it’s bad. 

I first saw him last October and since then I’ve practically bankrupted my discretionary budget downloading his music. (He’s recorded over 250 albums so I was screwed from the start.)  I’ve read 2.5 biographies about him, 3 chapters of his autobiography, and have conceptualized a novel based on a portion of his life that I find fascinating.  I can’t get through a conversation without bringing him up.   Last night I dreamed he was playing at a casino in Joliet but I missed it.  I woke up tear-stained and clinically depressed.

As a joke Jeff will say, “Name a few facts about Willie Nelson,” and I’ll rattle them off like some savant tot on the Ellen Degeneres show.   But I’m not a tot. I’m a grown ass woman.

And Mr. Nelson started recording back in 1958 (when he was 25 years old), but genius fan over here didn’t bother to become a fan(atic) until he turned 79. My timing is impeccable like that.

To sum up: Now I am stalking an 80-year-old pothead.  It feels really good to be someone my kids can look up to.  I check his website everyday to see where he is and wonder if his daughter Paula has made him eggs yet or if he’s gone on his run.  Is he playing golf?  How many tokes today? Will he ever do an acoustic tour– just him, his guitar, Trigger, and a stool? I joined the fan club so I can get “breaking” news.  I’ve spent therapy time talking about my deep regret that I came to this so late– “He’s 80 years old! How many more concerts could I possibly see? Why didn’t I start sooner? Why did I ignore his genius until now?”

God bless my family who has to live through this with me.  Ever patient with my little enthusiasms, Jeff made me this birthday cake:

Happy Birthday, Outlaw Mama!

Happy Birthday, Outlaw Mama!

That’s love, people.  My love for Willie, Jeff’s love for me and an obsession I can’t shake, that should have started decades ago.

I find refuge in Uncle Willie’s lyrics:

“Time will take care of itself so leave time alone / And pick up the tempo just a little and take it on home.”

Texan Heads East

If you grew up in Texas (and so did your Daddy and his Daddy and all of their kinfolk), you don’t have much use for other states, especially those far away on the eastern seaboard.  All those little jumbled up states that are so full of themselves with their blue blood and sacred battlegrounds– they don’t mean much to a Texan once you pass your fourth grade geography of the United States test.

Image credit: blogs.wsj.com

Image credit: blogs.wsj.com

However, in a burst of (unwarranted) academic arrogance, I made a few feeble attempts to muster support for my idea of an eastern destination for college.  No one took that seriously.  Where was I gonna go? Somewhere in Connecticut? Not a chance with my SAT score (decent verbal and squarely below average math) and my pedigree.  I may have been minor royalty in the late 1970s on a three-mile stretch of route 4 in Forreston, Texas by virtue of my Grandmother’s benevolence and my father’s charisma, but none of that mattered across the county line.  It sure wouldn’t open any ivy-covered doors.

Putting Dartmouth, Princeton, and their ilk out of my brain, I made my way through a large (aren’t they all?) Texas state university, where a decent academic record became a passport out of the greatest state in the nation.  (Full disclosure: the lowest grade on my college transcript is the unsightly B during my junior year.  The course? Texas History.  For shame.)

My subsequent bids for ivy education in both English and law were thwarted, though I at least received courteous rejection letters on paper bearing a fancy school seal– they all cited the “high volume of well-qualified candidates.” 

I settled in a city that makes as much sense for a Texan as any other foreign locale.  Chicago history boasts of stockyards and cowboys and bravado of its own.  Its temperature is all midwestern, but its mentality has enough western lawlessness to remind me of home.   Most importantly, Chicago doesn’t spend too much time gazing to the east or the west; it likes the view out its own window, thankyouverymuch.

But then one February afternoon, my California-born husband took my two kids to Costco without me.  Before the garage door closed behind them, I’d hatched a plan.  A summer writing program read my Google search.  Links stared back at me.  One of them was over there– way, way over there in ivy country in a single-syllable university that was the home to lots of presidents, and it accepted the actress who played Blossom to join its ranks.  (Mayim Bialik).  Most notably, it was the school that Rory Gilmore set her sights on in Gilmore Girls.

Folks, I’m so tempted to joke that its standards are slipping. But I won’t.  For three more seconds, I am going to refrain from undermining my own process and say that it feels scary as hell to be packing for a summer writing course at . . .  that place. I can’t even say it.

It feels like a betrayal of my Texas roots to succumb to the East’s siren song.  I haven’t even lived in Texas since I was 22 years old.  But for almost 2 decades I’ve remained aligned with Texas in some fundamental ways, if not with my property taxes.  I can’t explain this.  So, I won’t.  Even to myself. 

So please don’t tell Texas where I am going next week. I don’t want it to excommunicate me forever.  It’s still recovering from the news that I bought a pair of cowboy boots at Target last year.

My plan is to load my iPod with hundreds of Willie songs and a coupla Bob Wills classics and head out to see what all the fuss is about out East.  Then, I’ll learn all I can about writing because I have this great idea for a book about a young girl grappling with the meaning of home and memory and music and . . .  TEXAS.

Bedtime For Bonzos

We turn out the main light and flip on the closet light, signaling the start of our bedtime routine. Then, I tell two stories– one must feature bubble gum and one must be a super-special extra surprise story that she has never heard ever in her whole life.

photo (22)

I do my best to make up enchanting bubble gum tales and then I fumble around piecing together a story that has an original, age-appropriate narrative arc. I avoid Disneyesque themes and steer clear of a physical description of my heroine other than to say she is brave, kind-hearted, strong, and hilarious.

I like to play with my daughter’s curls as they fan out over her pillow.  If she’s wide awake, she’ll bat my hand away.  “No, Mama,” in the tone that suggest that her teenage years will drive me to lots of extra therapy.  If she is spent from a day of planning her birthday party or listing her favorite colors, she’ll let me twist the curly ends around my finger as I sing her a song.

Her latest request is that I sing her songs that, like the stories I tell, she’s never heard.  I’ve run through every church song, the Willie Nelson canon (which took weeks), and the soundtracks of Grease, Sound of Music and Wizard of Oz.  I’ve taken to making up songs which sound like really bad junior high poetry set to the tune of a tone-deaf beginning grammar school band, which is all awful, but they seem to lull her to sleep.

When her blinks lengthen into closed eyes, I move into my spoken word segment.  It’s my favorite part, and it always makes me cry.

I’m grateful you are my daughter.  I’m so blessed to be your Mama.

Sometimes she stirs, and I fall silent.

You did a great job being you today.  Everything you did today counts.  You’re loved beyond your own comprehension.  You are going to outgrow this world and create new ones. 

You are full of color and life and gratitude.

You have gifts to share with this world. 

She may remember this one day and think I was talking to her.  And I am.  But I am also talking to myself, hoping we can learn together.

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.

My Husband Doesn’t Know I Am Posting Our Texts: The Willie Nelson Edition

This is a post for all my male readers.

Here’s the deal, Gents: When you take your sweet time answering the texts or phone calls or emails wherein we ask you a question, we will start to make up fascinating little storylines in our heads.  Your silence is a blank slate on which we will fingerpaint with our neurosis.

You  might have thought that dynamic ended with dating, and if you married an emotionally stable woman, you might be right.  But for guys like Jeff who married women like me, there is serious danger in letting inquiries go unanswered.

EXHIBIT A: (My texts appear in green and blue. FN 1)

Exhibit A

Exhibit A

I discovered that the legendary Willie Nelson was playing a concert in Chicago and decided I wanted to go.  Really badly.  Jeff was out of town at the time, so I sent him a text at 2:15 PM to open a conversation about getting tickets.  Initially, I wanted him to know I would never think of forcing him to attend.  (Is there anything worse than going to a concert with someone who doesn’t want to be there?)

My opening salvo was of the breezy “don’t worry, you are off the hook for this, but put it on your calendar because I am going out that night; oh, and also, the tickets are on the pricey side so don’t flip out” variety.


When I didn’t immediately hear from Jeff, who has the gall to be busy doing his job when I was texting about MY social calendar, I had a chance to think.

That usually gets us all in trouble.

Wait. I have never seen Willie Nelson in concert.  Willie’s kind of a big deal for my Texas and familial history, and he provided the early soundtrack of my life.  Maybe it’s wrong to let Jeff off the hook.  Maybe it’s important to experience this with Jeff.  OH MY GOD, I am blocking intimacy with Jeff by excluding him from this.  I am a terrible wife. I am going to fix this.

So, that’s how I ended up sending the second text 19 minutes later.  That’s the text that hints I was doing some deep thinking about history and intimacy.

No wonder Jeff wanted to give this whole thing some breathing room. (Also, he was busy at his job.)

Then, hours went by.  Kids were fed and bathed.  Books were read.  Compulsive text-checking ensued.  No word from Jeff for almost 5 hours.  Naturally, I assumed he was either dead or furious that I would invite him to a country music concert.


I suppose if Jeff wants to avoid an invitation, he should simply wait me out, because I will probably do this routine every single time. (Points for consistency?)  On the other hand, if I ever invite him to something he would like to attend, he better answer my texts in less than 5.5 hours.

FN 1: Why do some of my texts appear in blue and some in green?  AT&T, are you reading? What’s up with that?  I would prefer one or the other for aesthetic purposes.  I have a blog to run, you know.