Last man standing

guitar photo by Hilary Schleier.

Want to know the difference between you, me and Willie Nelson? He can laugh about the future, and most of us can’t.

If you and I are talking about friends dying and our own mortality, we’ll figure out a way to make it depressing. Willie makes it funny, wry, insightful and entertaining all at the same time. 

And let’s not forget his ability to add a catchy musical beat to the discussion, too: That’s another difference between you, me and Willie.

My only encounter with Willie happened at Billy Bob’s in Fort Worth years ago. A bunch of us transplants from the North trekked west specifically to hear Willie tell us what Texas was all about. Willie strolled onto the stage and did a song or two, as I recall, then started but couldn’t remember the words to one of his standards, “Whiskey River”. 

And that was about it. My recollection is that he didn’t finish the concert because he couldn’t — probably derailed then by the same things that have waylaid him periodically throughout his life (drugs, alcohol or a combo). I was upset at the time since we had made a long drive just to be disappointed. But time has tempered my willingness to be mad about stuff, and perhaps I have Willie to thank for that.

It has been hard not to follow Willie’s career since then because there’s no one more noticeable — he was pulling Kardashian media stunts before most of them were even born.

Willie braided hair. Willie bio-diesel. Willie pot busts. Willie T-shirts. Willie’s Reserve cannabis products. Willie headbands. Willie guitar string jewelry. 

And, of course, his songs.

His latest hit, “Last Man Standing,” talks about friends and death:

“I don’t wanna be the last man standing

Or wait a minute maybe I do

If you don’t mind I’ll start a new line

And decide after thinking it through…”

I like that song and that sentiment, and then I heard Willie talking about his career, his family, his life and the song on an NPR interview the other day. Doing the talking were Willie, his wife and two of his kids — all of them are together on Willie’s latest tour, with one son sounding eerily like his father on stage.

Part of the discussion revolved around dope-smoking, of course, because that’s what Willie does.

But I guess when you’re 85, famous and contemplating the future, and when you look back on all that you’ve accomplished and screwed up, Willie sounds a lot more like you and me than I thought.

After everything he’s done over the years, he told NPR, he looks back on life in a way that our parents hopefully do and that those of us who are parents hopefully do, too.

“There’s nothing that makes a parent happier,” Willie says, “than having your kids up there doing things with you, especially if they’re good.” 

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