The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 94, July 1990 - April, 1991

Book Revzews

Willie: An Autobiography. By Willie Nelson. (New York: Simon and
Schuster, 1988. Pp. 334. Prologue, illustrations, photographs, in-
dex. $19.95.)
This book joins the growing list of biographies and autobiographies
of American popular musicians and singers. One finds few master-
pieces in this field of literary endeavor, but, collectively, they tell us
much about the entertainment industry that plays such an omnipresent
role in our lives. Country music biographies and autobiographies are
greatly underutilized sources for the history of working-class south-
erners and, indeed, for an understanding of the mind and values of
Middle Americans as a whole. Music has been one of the most effective
means by which plain folk have found identity and expressed them-
selves to the world and, along with sports, it has been one of the few
areas of American life where the sons and daughters of generally anony-
mous working-class Americans have won public acclaim.
Willie Nelson, one of the most remarkably talented children of the
working-class South, is the subject of this autobiography. Produced
with the aid of journalist Bud Shrake, the book is organized unconven-
tionally, with portions being genuinely autobiographical, and much of
it consisting of short statements made by Nelson's friends, relatives,
musicians, producers, business associates, and celebrities like football
coach Darrell Royal. Nelson typically recites a segment of his life, which
is then augmented by a few brief vignettes by an ex-wife, his mother, or
someone else who was intimately associated with him at that particular
phase of his career. The technique is peculiarly effective because it
presents a multilayered and diverse portrait of Nelson. Most of the rec-
ollections, including that of his former wife Martha, tend to be affec-
tionate or at least good-humored. Martha, for example, lays to rest one
hoary country music legend. She did not tie the drunken Willie up in a
bedsheet and then beat the hell out of him; she tied him up in the kids'
jump ropes!
Although the style of this book is impressionistic, anecdotal, and light-
textured, the reader nevertheless will get a general sense of Nelson's
life and career, along with heavy doses of his philosophy-a mixture of
populism, astrology, and a belief in reincarnation. Nelson is often bru-
tally honest in his discussion of his marriages and divorces, drinking
and drug use, the rigors and temptations of life on the road, and the
politics of the music business. Some readers may be disillusioned when
they read about his self-centered relationships with women and about
his cavalier disregard for the marriage contract. Others will merely have
their impressions of show business confirmed. Marriages may end and
families may be broken up, but the show must go on!

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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 94, July 1990 - April, 1991. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101214/. Accessed July 13, 2014.