There are times—like every day ending in ‘y’ and if they invented a new day that somehow didn’t end in y, probably that one too—when I need to chill out. Relative to the stability I see in others, I’m wired just a bit too tightly, the kind of person who has day-nightmares about burglars and apartment fires, and spends her evenings compiling color-coordinated To Do lists. It was only in the last few years—despite a lifelong affinity for Fern Gully—that I stopped rewriting notes every time I had to cross a word out. I mean, even my Post-its have Post-its.
Given my propensity for worry, I have always seen Willie Nelson as something of an ideal, a man so simultaneously successful and laid back that one finds it hard to believe he’s aware of his own fame. Indeed, the music legend’s latest book, a short compendium of lyrics, essays and random thought bubbles called Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die, cedes both space and heart to many members of Nelson’s large family, and those who have been with him throughout his career. Roll Me Up is as much a massive Acknowledgments section as it is a standalone title, and the correlation between Nelson’s placid exterior and the size of his support network is hard to ignore.
Like the quintessential grandfather at the Thanksgiving table, Nelson recalls in short, digestible anecdotes years of touring all over the country. He talks about childhood summers spent picking cotton, and how it shaped his current views on the plight of the small family farmer. He reminisces about playing with his own idols, and watching his kids grow up to love music as much as he does. It’s almost easy to forget—as Nelson describes his marriage, his sons’ accomplishments, his feelings on golf—that Nelson is Willie Nelson, American icon. But then he drops amazing little bombs, like “sometimes Woody Harrelson and Owen Wilson play poker with us,” or “I met [Obama] when he … came to the bus and we became friends.” Outside of his own myriad accomplishments, Nelson’s day-to-day life is an admirable exercise in work/life balance: He’s probably the only 80-year-old to spend his off-hours playing Wii, watching his kids’ videos on YouTube and recording music (among other things) with pal Snoop Dogg. And as role models go, Nelson is all-ages appropriate. He’s insanely accomplished, cool as hell, and does more in an afternoon that I get around to all month.
Roll Me Up is also full of charming (and equally grandpa-ish) nuggets of advice, punchlines honed over the years into pearls of wisdom that Nelson’s grandchildren can recite on cue. Page 11: If it ain’t broke, break it! Page 159: If you’re scared to do something, do it anyway. Do it because you are afraid. And my personal favorite, Page 38: If at first you don’t succeed…fuck it!
Nelson also has some thoughtful musings on headier subjects: Occupy Wall Street, Farm Aid, politics, equality and—of course—pot. My favorite story in the whole book is probably his about quitting smoking, a decision he kick-starts by dumping out of a fresh pack of cigarettes and re-packing it with 20 joints. (Truly, if there’s any argument against the supposed evils of marijuana, it’s Willie Nelson, an active and intelligent longtime smoker who’s healthier than the average 40-year-old and whose biggest run-in with the law was over unpaid taxes.)
More than anything, Nelson comes across as a man deeply in love with his family, and more enamored of the bond music has fostered between them than he is of his own notoriety. He seems genuinely humble, and it’s just endearing enough to overshadow Roll Me Up’s haphazard organization and lack of wow factor (Nelson is always entertaining, but there are some tedious filler entries about weather and road conditions). Mostly the book just makes you want to spend a night on the tour bus, playing Wii golf, listening to guitar jam sessions, and ….not..smoking anything.
“Our family will always be fine because if anything gets too heavy, one of us cracks a joke, and every one of us appreciates the humor,” writes Annie Nelson, Willie’s wife of more than two decades. “I highly recommend humor for relationship longevity. It’s hard to stay made when you’re laughing your ass off.”
TITLE: Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die: Musings from the Road
AUTHOR: Willie Nelson
PAGES: 175 (in hardcover)
ALSO WROTE: Like a billion songs
SORTA LIKE: Your famous grandfather’s diary
FIRST LINE: “I’m flashing back to my first memories; they are of a blacksmith shop in Abbott, Texas.”