Willie Is Still on the Road and He’s Cool With That: ‘Just Think Positive, and You’ll Feel Better’

If you go to interview Willie Nelson, you better have a lot of questions ready. Because at 86, he’s heard pretty much any question you can think of, he’s not too interested in wasting time on speculation, and by nature he’s a fairly laconic guy.

So a lot of your interview could go something like this.

Do you have favorite places to play—particular concert halls?

“Well, I’m from Texas, so I still like playing there. Close to home. So I can get back on the bus after a show and go home. But as far as audiences are concerned, they’re all good.”

Do you ever worry that mainstream, one-size-fits-all mass culture is going to sand the edges off regional music cultures?

“I never worry about it.”

Do you become more or less philosophical as you get older?

“Oh, I think that requires too much thought.”

As that last answer suggests, Willie hasn’t lost a thing in his upper story, especially in the humor department. He laughs easily, mocks himself, and gently mocks his guest (he was raised right). He’s also courteous and hospitable—you are, after all, a guest on his bus. So if you ask a bullshit question, he’s not going to get ornery. The bat just stays on his shoulder while he waits for a pitch he can hit.

Sitting in his tour bus’s little dinette, with a couple of cups of black coffee and a pack of cards between the two of you, you study that famous face framed by that pair of equally famous braids: a folded and refolded road map whose every line and ridge bespeak a long lifetime of experience and adventure—he’s earned every wrinkle. But what really gets your attention are his eyes: dark, chocolate brown pools as bright as a dime and deep as a well. They are the eyes of a man on whom nothing much has been lost, and the eyes of a child on Christmas morning.

They’re also a poker player’s eyes. They’re not steely but they’re steady, and they don’t give anything away. And that makes the man a little intimidating. I mean, come on, it’s Willie Nelson sitting there, the fellow who wrote “Crazy” and “Nightlife” and “On the Road Again” and cut almost 70 solo studio albums, worked in movies, wrote a couple of autobiographies, helped start Farm Aid and the Outlaw movement in country music. And smoked weed on the roof of the White House—and now has his own weed company. He’s surely one of the most recognizable people on the planet. He’s also one of the few celebrities who’s not smaller than life when you meet them in person. In Willie’s case, quite the opposite.

The only thing that makes the staring match bearable is the twinkle in Willie’s eyes: He may look like Yosemite Sam, but you know inside he’s all Bugs Bunny.

As for how he’s holding up, the answer is: pretty damn well. Still lives his life very much in the present tense. Still has all his marbles (and always had more than most). Still puts out a couple of albums annually. Still tours for a third or more of the year. Cruising through his ninth decade, he’s not going gently into anyone’s good night.

So, yeah, that’s Willie Nelson, sitting right there, not three feet away. Hell.

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