Aug 5, 2011 - Albums of Our Lives: Willie Nelson's Shotgun Willie. By Anne Boyer. Without those first few bars of funk there would be no Willie Nelson. Only after he becomes. Red Headed Stranger.
By August 5th, 2011 I refused to listen to the B-side. This was, I guess, an extension or reflection of the poverty of those years after leaving my marriage and buying the 10 Willie Nelson records at a small town Goodwill store for 10 cents each– a kind of hoarding of every meager resource, like the unopened cans of beans, moved from kitchen to kitchen, state to state. It was the A-side, for years, on repeat, or exactly the years from which my daughter was 5 years old to 11, and I was just trying to keep us together however I could while also trying to keep writing. I often bragged about refusing the B-side, which was also part of me thinking that I would maybe brag about how tough I was, how much of any temptation I could resist for any greater good. I imagined the neighbors in their apartments above and below and beside me, maybe praying for me to flip the album over, but I wouldn’t and wouldn’t and would just put the A-side on repeat there in the $425 apartment where my daughter and I had only one bed, two chairs, some books and a record player which often played only the A-side of Shotgun Willie, but mostly just when I was alone.
Mostly, just when I was alone, Willie posed my essential questions, but they weren’t exactly questions. Just problems, like how you can’t make a record if you ain’t got nothing to say.
But Willie writes in his 1988 autobiography Willie: “the landlord didn’t give a shit if the well was dry.” Music would have to be made. Just what would that record sound like that was made out of nothing? And what happens if you have fallen apart, and are sitting in your underwear, and biting a bullet from pain, and if you are, even then, still tied to the earth by bonds of love and relation and landlords, etc., and also by some strange necessity called art when it is clear whatever you had has abandoned you? If you got nothing, from what, then, is the music to be born? What a relief that John T.
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Ford, that industrious family-values racist, enters the picture. What a relief that there is at least some kind of slightly larger picture of the murky America of profit and racial pathology in all of Willie’s underwear-clad failure. Things were at risk of becoming self-indulgent. And also how smoky, how funky, how I would, during the days and nights of listening to Shotgun Willie, crack the window of the old brick apartment building and smoke a cigarette on the sly, holding it in the crack, watching my neighbors, mostly refugees from another hemisphere, navigate through the cruel and unfamiliar drifts of snow. A perceptive friend regularly advises: “Your country is also your funk.” In order to somehow survive and thrive as something other than a John T. Ford America of pure-racist-profit we must access that country core of oneself, like some sort of stockpile of salvation or authenticity.