Music Memoirs: Willie Nelson’s “It’s a Long Story”

“You found a formula for living that suits you just fine,” Willie Nelson’s mother wrote to him in the ’80s shortly before her death. If any sentence could sum up this, Nelson’s second autobiography, it’s that.

Willie’s formula for living? Enjoying weed, women and music while bucking the status quo.

First, the marijuana. Unless you’re born under a rock, you already know that  Willie Nelson is one of the most  famous marijuana advocates in the world. Luckily, Nelson and ghostwriter David Ritz know that too and this subject receives enough attention for a self-deprecating story about a 2006 pot bust and for him to note how far the legalization movement has come since his advocacy began.

But really, it’s about the women, the music and sticking it to the Man. The music came to him at a young age (8 years old was when he first started writing songs and at 10 he was touring Texas with a bar band), and the women not much later. He married early and often, with a litany of infidelities along the way. Nelson acknowledges his frequent transgressions, not asking for forgiveness, but not shooing them under the carpet either.

As much as Willie loves the ladies, he equally loves songwriting and recording. At the age of 82 he’s churning out new material and still doing it his way. Nelson recounts several times when producers, record labels and Nashville establishment types that tried to ornament his music with lush orchestration or stylistic accoutrements that just didn’t suit his hippie personality and bluesy, honky tonk style.

For a book about an octogenarian called It’s a Long Story, it’s really not. Clocking in at 375 pages, it’s a breezy read that’s more conversational in tone than written tome. Less detail-centric and more story-based, the focus is on the stories behind the songs and the events most known to people – his annual picnic concert and Farm Aid – and famous close friends like Waylon Jennings.

As far as autobiographies go, the bullshit factor is kept to a minimum. Willie doesn’t sugar coat anything and accepts responsibility for his many marriages and troubles with the tax man with both humility and a strong sense of humor. He also maintains a serious level of privacy, something one doesn’t oft see in a memoir. He refuses to discuss his children in any detail and doesn’t discuss his son’s suicide in 1991, referring to it as an accident that brought him great sorrow.

All in all, It’s a Long Story is a fun summer read. It’s not as lurid as say Motley Crue’s tell-all, but it’s fun, funny and engaging from start to finish, something you can’t say about all musicians or their books.

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