(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/CMT.com Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)
Nelson‘s new memoir is largely episodic, made up of random Musings From the Road, as the book’s subtitle reads.
In many ways, it reads like cloudy memories and sudden observations churned up during a dreamy, long, twilight reverie fueled
by thick clouds of fragrant ganja smoke.
The fully-titled Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die also includes
many photographs from over the years. Many of these are also dreamlike images and have never been published before.
book itself is slim and modest, perhaps 6 by 9 inches, even in hardback, and — at only 175 pages long — is almost the size
of a prayer book. I’m sort of surprised that this book wasn’t published on special rolling papers bound into a deluxe hemp
It is best read episodically, a tiny bit at a time, rather than being absorbed in one rapid gulp. Small bites
are good, like nibbles of popcorn during a leisurely, slow-paced movie.
By now, so many decades into his fabled life
and career, Willie fans pretty much know what to expect from him. And he does not let his readers down with his Musings
From the Road.
Kinky Friedman’s foreword to the book also does not disappoint. In summing up Willie’s abandonment
of Nashville for Texas, he writes, “Willie told the Nashville music establishment the same words Davy Crockett had told the
Tennessee political establishment: ‘Y’all can go to hell — I’m going to Texas.'”
Willie’s voice in the book is that
of a gentle and knowing, but aging wise-ass. With a sense of humor. Here’s one of his jokes I can repeat here:
drunk fell out of a second-floor window. A guy came running up and asked, ‘What happened?’ The drunk said, ‘I don’t know.
I just got here.'”
This amounts to a surprisingly succinct account of Willie’s life and career, told through his remembrances
and sections told by his wife, children, other relatives, his band and many of his friends. And also many of the lyrics to
his songs. It amounts to a scrapbook summary of his childhood, his adulthood, his family, his band and his life in music.
He begins with memories of a happy childhood in Abbott, Texas, where he and sister Bobbie were raised by their grandparents
after their parents more or less went their own way. They grew up in an atmosphere of love, the church and music. Bobbie is
still in Willie’s band and cooks for him on the bus. They return to Abbott as often as possible.
Willie recalls he
began drinking and smoking at age 6. He would gather a dozen eggs, take them to the grocery store and trade them for a pack
of Camel cigarettes. He preferred Camels, because he liked the picture of the camel on the pack. “After all, I was only 6.
They were marketing directly to me!”
He became addicted to both cigarettes and drinking and finally kicked both habits
— especially after his lungs began hurting — and traded them for a life of weed. After he was busted in Texas for weed,
he formed the Teapot Party, which advocates legalization and he writes quite a bit about that in the book. He has, he writes,
lost many friends and relatives to cigarettes and alcohol, but he knows of no marijuana fatalities.
He is happiest
now, he writes, in his house’s hideout room on Maui, which his brother-in-law named “Django’s Orchid Lounge.” The “Orchid
Lounge” part, of course, is obvious, from the Nashville beer joint where Willie got his Nashville start. “Django” is from
the great gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt, whom Willie feels is the greatest guitarist of all time. Ray
Price, by the way, is Willie’s choice for the greatest country singer of all time.
Willie loves to sit in his Django’s
Orchid Lounge and play dominoes and poker and chess with many of his Maui friends and such visitors as Ziggy Marley and Woody
Harrelson while wife Annie cooks for everyone.
In addition to the photographs, Willie’s son, Micah, contributes several
Since the book is episodic, I can be, too. Here is my favorite self-description by Willie: “I have been
called a troublemaker a time or two. What the hell is a troublemaker? you ask. Well, it’s someone who makes trouble; that’s
what he came here to do, and that’s what he does, by God. Like it or not, love it or not, he will stir it up. Why? Because
it needs stirring up! If someone doesn’t do it, it won’t get done, and you know you love to stir it up. … I know I do.”
carefully to the music and the words of Willie. He is one of the few true giants to inhabit country music, and — when he
and his few remaining fellow giants are gone — there’ll be no live artists remaining to remind the world of the true truth
and majesty of great country music.