Robert Scheer SI Podcast

[rewind] Willie Nelson: A Long Story (Part I)

In part one of a two-part conversation, the legendary American musician talks about his upbringing during the Great Depression.
Robert Scheer sits down with legendary musician Willie Nelson to talk about what makes him an "American Original."

Willie Nelson‘s recent autobiography It’s a Long Story details the singer-songwriter’s upbringing in Texas and his bumpy musical journey as he rose to fame and ran into trouble with the law. In this first of a two-part conversation at his home in Hawaii, Willie Nelson tells Robert Scheer that he considers his bare bones upbringing by his grandparents in Abbott, Texas during the Depression to be an ideal childhood. Nelson talks about the influence church has had on him personally and on his music. He explains that his run-in with the IRS in the early 1990s actually turned out to be a positive experience, and discusses his well-known appreciation for marijuana. (Listen to Part II Here)

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Willie and his son Micah, with Bob Scheer (C) at Nelson’s home in Hawaii

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Willie Nelson and Bob Scheer

Episode image: Willie Nelson at the Count Basie Theater in New Jersey, 2009 (Bob Jagendorf)Credits

Guest:
Willie Nelson – musician, singer, songwriter and activist – @willienelson

Host:
Robert Scheer

Producers:
Joshua ScheerRebecca Mooney

ROBERT SCHEER: It’s Robert Scheer with another edition of Scheer Intelligence, where the intelligence comes from the person I’m interviewing with; in this case, Willie Nelson. I have spent the last three days reading your book–

WILLIE NELSON: It’s a long story. [Laughs]

SCHEER: –called “The Long Story.” And I also, I got so excited; I teach at USC in the School of Communication and Journalism. And I teach an ethics class that normally begins with Jesus and the tale of the Good Samaritan and the “other,” and you get to heaven because you care about the other. So where do we get ethics from, and how does that relate to communication, entertainment, and does anyone care. And actually, this time I decided I’m going to begin with your book. Go from Jesus to you. Because–

NELSON: That’s a big turn there. [Laughs]

SCHEER: Yeah, and it takes us back to Abbott; takes us back to the early influences on your life. And I’ve found that despite–I mean, you couldn’t, you’re three years older than me and you couldn’t have had a more different background. You know, I was a kid in the Bronx in a tenement and all that, but I was listening to the same Philco radio. So I’m reading this book, and I’m thinking–wait, I’m listening to Arthur Godfrey! And even I got some, I got that Chicago station; you know, because you got these stations wherever you could pick ‘em up. And I thought wait a minute–and then, you know, we were both listening to Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s fireside chat, that’s in your book. And I was thinking, wait a minute; for all of the differences of distance, and that rural town where you got 400 people in your whole town; we probably had 400 in our project, probably had 4,000 in the project area. You know, but I was thinking the influences at that time–in my case, I was born in ‘36, you were born in ‘33, the Depression was on. We both come from kind of dysfunctional, by description dysfunctional families, not the, you know, cookie-cutter family; your mother and father had other things to do, they were separated, my parents weren’t married, they were garment workers. But I remember them as great parents; I remember this great support. So I want to begin with that, because actually, you traced the making of Willie Nelson to a very positive story of your grandparents stepping in. And the book is full of love and affection rather than woe-is-me victimhood. It’s–no! These people did the best job they could. Why don’t we begin with your book?

NELSON: What do you want to know about it?

SCHEER: I want to know about the making of Willie Nelson in this improbable circumstance. In your book you keep getting, you had a Mexican neighbor and you’re familiar with that music; there were Black or Negro people working in the fields; it breaks the stereotype. You’re White, you’re in Texas; Texas now is seen in this last election as a center of reactionaries as opposed to California, as opposed to–but you present people as whole, complex people, whether you talk about your own parents, you talk about Waylon Jennings, you talk about anybody. They all have a story.

NELSON: Well, I found out one thing. I’ve been a lot of places all over the world more than one time, to all kinds of people; Black, White, spotted, you know. And I found out one thing: we’re all the same. We’re all the same life, the same life that’s in you, is in me, is in those birds out there; it’s all one thing. And once you realize that, you realize how small the world really is, and how much you have in common with everybody. And it’s not hard to be positive.

SCHEER: The cynicism didn’t get you. I mean, that’s the persistent thing in this book is it’s kind of Normal Vincent Peale–

NELSON: Norman Vincent Peale, yeah.

SCHEER: Brought to life. I mean, to me, it was always, oh yeah, easy to say: power of positive thinking. And then when I read your life story, you know, including, you got it woven through the book; the IRS is after you, you owe them $32 million. You know, I’ve been audited by the IRS; it’s crazy-making.

NELSON: This story is the power of negative thinking is just as powerful as the power of positive thinking. And if you go one way, negative, you’ll be all the way to the other end before you realize, wait a minute, goddamnit, I’m on the wrong road; I should have been thinking positive instead of negative. But there’s a power in both the positive and negative. So we got to remember that also.

SCHEER: Right. And so when you talk about the origins, though, you pay tribute to that Methodist church; you pay tribute to small-town values–

NELSON: To the Baptist church, to the church of Christ. In Abbott we had five churches, so I didn’t have a chance. [Laughs] I was going to hell from the day I was born.

SCHEER: Yeah, but you pay tribute to the positive qualities of that life.

NELSON: I tried to, because it’s a good town; it showed how people can live together. Like you say, I lived across the street from a Mexican family, a Bohemian family, and we all lived together, picked cotton together, a Black family over there. They had the other side of town; you know, the Blacks lived on one side of town and the Whites, we were very segregated. But they had their own church over there, and they still do; they got a great Black preacher over there that does a great job. So Abbott is kind of a, anything you need or want, you can find it right there in Abbott, Texas.

SCHEER: So what was Abbott like during the Depression?

NELSON: I didn’t know, because I was poor all the time anyway; I didn’t realize there was a Depression at all. We grew our own food, raised our own hogs. So you know, and we had chicken on Sunday. So that was about it; I didn’t know there was a Depression going on.

SCHEER: But there was an issue of survival.

NELSON: But it always had, whether you were, if you got a nice job over there, it really doesn’t matter what’s going on in the rest of the world; you make it OK. But if you’re over here unemployed and hungry, and your family is on welfare and on Social Security and old-age pensions and all that stuff that they depend on, you realize how important it is to think about where your food’s coming from, how much it costs; if you can grow it over here, it’ll be a lot cheaper than buying it in California and shipping it in. So I picked up a lot of little things.

SCHEER: So let me ask you about your relation to this music. Because one of your great contributions, I think, is crossing the lines of gospel to, you know, folk to, you played with the Dallas Symphony at one point. Your sources of music are all, and it requires a real openness, which you said you got from the beginning, and that informed your whole worldview.

NELSON: I felt like music was the common denominator. I felt like it was with me. I would go hear people sing and I would, you know, if I had the money to pay for it I would; if I didn’t I’d try to sneak in somewhere to watch somebody sing. And I’d bellow and shout just like the people do who come to my shows. And I think that’s the reason people get out and go places; because there’s a great exchange of energy out there that takes place. They come to forget about their troubles; you go to forget about yours. You sing to them; they listen, they applaud, there’s–it’s, every night it’s a big show for both of us.SCHEER: So could you just put us there, though? I mean, you’re listening to music on the radio, it’s in the church; your sister, I gather, was a more talented musician–

NELSON: Much more talented.

SCHEER: –piano player, and you get your first guitar. I don’t know, can you just sort of set the stage?

NELSON: Well, she was playing piano a long time before I knew anything about a guitar. I would sit on the stool by her while she played piano, and she could read music and everything. So I would learn songs like “Stardust” and “Moonlight” and “Vermont” back before I realized that, hey, these are great pop classics. At the same time I learned “Your Cheatin’ Heart” and “San Antonio Road” and “Down Yonder” and all those great country songs. So I got a huge education just by listening to her.

SCHEER: And she was encouraged to do this, right?

NELSON: Oh, she loved doing it, yeah. She taught music in Abbott when she was just a teenager.

SCHEER: So, let me go to that a little bit. You present Abbott as a great place to grow up.

NELSON: The best. “A quitter never wins; a winner never quits.” That’s what’s up on our gymnasium basketball goal, so I saw that from the time I first went into there, which was, I was about this tall. So I had that “A winner never quits; a quitter never wins”–it’s the greatest lesson I ever learned.

SCHEER: Yeah. And one of the things that happened, you were small for, you know–and it reminded me of somebody we know in common, Dennis Kucinich, who is short. And, but like you, he played football. And I have a picture of Dennis with his whole football team; he looks like the mascot, but he also played quarterback at times.

NELSON: He’s a tough little guy.

SCHEER: And what was that all about? You just thought, it doesn’t matter, I’m this size but I’m going to do it, I’ll do it all.

NELSON: Well, I never thought I couldn’t, you know? No one ever told me I couldn’t. I was always taught to believe I could do anything I wanted to do. So I believed that, and so far I’ve done everything I wanted to do, basically.

SCHEER: You know, in terms of being taught, you have this wonderful portrait of your grandfather, who was a blacksmith, and your mother, grandmother. And I mean, it’s amazing to hear about people like that. I mean, they just stepped in, right?’

NELSON: Oh yeah. My parents divorced, moved off, and so here I was, six months old; my sister was, I think, two or three years old. And my grandparents took us in and raised us. She was a cook in a lunchroom there and made 18 dollars a week, so she supported us, sent us through school. My dad died from pneumonia–I mean my granddad died from pneumonia when I was only six years old, I think it was. So from there on, she raised us, taught us what she thought was right and wrong, and she knew what was right and wrong; she was a stubborn old gal. And all the way ‘til she died, she was a great, great lady.

SCHEER: But she also gave you your freedom.

NELSON: Well, she gave me my freedom because she couldn’t–it didn’t matter whether she gave it to me or not, I was always running away anyhow. You know, first thing I did when I was a kid, I ran away from home; I couldn’t have been over three or four years old. And they found me up on top of an old milk cow down there that we had, and I was sittin’ up there having’ a big time. But I did run away. She finally had to tie me up. She put a rope around me, staked me out like we did the cows, with about a 25-foot rope [Laughs] so she could keep me from running away while she was trying to do washings and ironings and things.

SCHEER: But she encouraged your music, she encouraged your independence.

NELSON: She taught, she was a great music teacher. She knew, like, she taught like, do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do, and she knew all those, how to read those in the books, in the gospel books. And they had in Hillsborough, I think it was Wednesday night, they had a gospel singing. So all the good singers in the county would go in there and they’d sing gospel stuff. And I learned a whole lot from those folks.

SCHEER: You know, you’ve been close to Jimmy Carter, and I remember when he was running in 1976, I went down to Plains and to his house, talked to him very much the way I’m talking to you. And the cynical New Yorker in me, you know, was oh–come on, this is off a movie set or something, here’s the farmer and he’s talking about peanuts and tilling the field and walking and all that. And I must say, you know–and I had my criticisms of Carter as president and so forth, but I think he has been really an incredible role model of how to live a life, and a life of, you know, particularly after he was president–how to handle his fame and channel it into productive activity, caring about the other, caring about poor people, and you know, building houses and so forth. And what it was is, we deal in stereotypes; the reason I like doing these interviews, I want to cut through these stereotypes. And we have a stereotype, OK, we got the religious right, or we got the Baptist church, or we got–and they don’t like other people, or they think they’re, you know, they’re narrow-minded; you know, and some people are. And then you run into Jimmy Carter–no, he taught Sunday school, and he cared about the First Baptist Church in Plains. And yes, it was segregated, but Miss Lillian did care about–even his brother, who got a bad rap, Billy, was actually concerned about what was happening to Negroes in the area, and actually took a stand shucking the peanuts of other people–there was a cooperative farm up the road, Koinonia Farm, and actually Billy was the one who shucked the peanuts of these people who were doing some integration and so forth.

And so, reading your book, it’s really about smashing stereotypes about America. Whether it’s stereotypes about music, and who likes country music, or who likes jazz; or just in your book, the idea that Frank Sinatra, the ultimate big-city, urban, sophisticated singer, would be appealing to a kid in Abbott listening on the radio. You know, and in terms of the church and the political alignment in America, you present a pretty positive view of the role of religion.

NELSON: Well, I hope so, because I think it is a positive message that needs to be put out there. We’re all going to die, you know; and whether you’re in hell or heaven, we probably a lot of us are in hell right now, here on Earth, you know; all over the world, Aleppo, places like that. You can’t scare them with hell, ‘cause they’re going through it right now. So one thing I had kind of against the established religions, Christian religions, is that they–’If you don’t do this, you’re going to hell,’ blah, blah, blah. A lot of people are already in hell. So it didn’t scare them that much. So it didn’t scare me, because you know, I just didn’t quite believe everything. Because I didn’t quite believe that–well, first of all, I was, since I started traveling, on Sundays I was gone so I couldn’t go to church anymore anyway. So I had to go to church in my own temple, in my own body, which everybody still should do or does do.SCHEER: You were traveling because of the music, you mean.

NELSON: And I had the music that kept me in contact with the people, which I felt was the ultimate religion, is music; that transcends everything, goes right to the bone. Whether you know you like it or not, you’re going to start shakin’ and pattin’ your foot. And you can see where music is the common denominator.

SCHEER: So in terms of the music, and growing up in a segregated town in–you know, it’s Texas, but it’s the old South–how did that all register on you? In the book you make some references to it; for instance, the Mexican guy across the street, and his music, and you know, you make–but how did that all hit you at that time?

NELSON: Oh, it was so–I felt like I was living in, you know, I couldn’t ask for anything better. I had music coming to me from every direction, and I was trying to learn to play C and D on the guitar, and I was listening to these great mariachi bands across the street over there play, and listening to them on the radio all night long. There was a Mexican station, XERF I believe it was, that was a border station I listened to all the time. And I heard everything. I heard all kinds of music, and I just couldn’t wait to get out on the road to start doing it and playing it.

SCHEER: And what about the Black community or the Negro community?

NELSON: Well, they had great music, and the best singers. Still got great singers, great gospel singers. And I would sneak over to the Black church on Sundays and listen to those guys and gals sing. And really enjoyed it.

SCHEER: Why didn’t you go to college? It just wasn’t in the cards?

NELSON: I went to Baylor University, did you know that? For six months. And majored in dominoes, I think. [Laughter] I was in the Air Force, and when I got out of the Air Force I had a–

SCHEER: Oh, that’s the GI Bill.

NELSON: you know, I could go to college; and I had like six months’ college paid for. After that I had to leave. But I went to Baylor for six months.

SCHEER: So if I were to ask you, what were the values you got out of that childhood experience that then carried forward? Because the book is really about, your autobiography is really about a struggle for integrity. And I don’t mean in some high-falutin’ sense; you wanted to make money, you wanted to get known, you had a wild life, you loved sex, you loved family; you know, there’s a lot of stuff going on there that’s reality. But through it all, there’s, if I read it correctly, a struggle about integrity. Whether you’re dealing with the record companies, the quality of the sound, what is the music you’re playing. And so as you do in your book, what would you say you got from that place in Abbott? Which, by the way, you returned to; you have a house in Abbott, you bought the house of the doctor that’s there, right? It’s inconvenient sometimes to be there because tourists come by and hassle you. But still, you felt the need to be there, back there, right?

NELSON: Yeah, and like you said, I hate it that I can’t be there more often now, because you know, for all the obvious reasons. One day I may go back there and hang out awhile, I hope so. But the reason is because everything that’s there is things that I grew up with, and it’s all home to me. So it is literally going back home.

SCHEER: So it’s not the sticks, it’s not something you want to get away from.

NELSON: Oh, no. No, it may be the sticks, I don’t know; [Laughs] but it’s definitely not a place I want to leave, get away from; it’s, you know, a lot of people who live there, you couldn’t buy ‘em out and make ‘em leave.

SCHEER: So what is it about it?

NELSON: Well, you’re in charge of your own life there. We don’t have any police. We used to have a little guy named Scotty Hubbard, I think; he was about three foot tall, [Laughs] he couldn’t have done much if he’d have wanted to, but he never even wore a badge, I don’t think. All the doors in town, you know, I’ve never checked ‘em, but I don’t imagine they were all locked, you know. Everybody trusted people there, and for good reason; there was no thefts there that I remember, no huge scandals or murders or all those things. It always was a very special, nice, little religious town. Like I say, there’s five churches there. I played in a Bohemian polka band when I was like, started out when I was nine or ten years old.

SCHEER: By “Bohemian,” I think people might not know there was a Czech–

NELSON: Czechoslovakian and Bohemian–

SCHEER: –Czechoslovak community in that part of Texas.

NELSON: Yeah, yeah. A lot of Bohemians, Czechoslovakians, farmers. Great blackland farmers there. And I worked on a lot of their farms.

SCHEER: And you were a Future Farmer of America. When you did all the farm aid stuff and everything–you know, it’s like oh, country singer, and he’s doing farming–but you were actually a farmer.

NELSON: I started out in the Future Farmers of America, and I, you know, I grew–and I didn’t have a big field, hundred acres or nothing, but we grew what we needed to eat and everything. So we farmed in our own small way, and I worked on all the farms around there to make school money. So I felt like I was a farmer.

SCHEER: They’re, everybody deals in these images, you know; I’m not going to drag you, I don’t want this to be a particularly political interview, because I want it to be evergreen and really deal with an American original. But politics gets mixed up with images of “make America great,” or when was it great, or our lost innocence, or so forth. And in your book, you do find a greatness in America, but it’s not Donald Trump’s greatness; it’s a world of trouble, of confusion, of some suffering, of people have to work hard, not everything is attended to. And there’s a suspicion in the book throughout that some people are not carrying their weight because they have undue power or influence. If I were to think of a theme, it’s what Roosevelt was, if you think about those fireside chats, it was concern for the ordinary person; the greatness of the ordinary person; the need for the ordinary person to have a chance. And that if I were to, I don’t want to impose an idea on the book, but it seems to me to be a celebration of every man in that respect.

NELSON: I think so, and it goes beyond politics. It goes beyond republicans and democrats, or you know, any individual personality; it’s bigger than that.

SCHEER: Well for instance your grandfather, I think you were six when he died? Yeah, and he was a blacksmith, right? And you know, he is a hero in your book.

NELSON: Absolutely. He raised me as best he could; he taught me what he knew. He tried to discipline me when I needed it. I helped him out in the blacksmith shop. I watched him shoe horses, I’d help him turn the bellows there that he used to shoe the horses, to cool off the shoes. And he got kicked one time, and had a, he was ruptured; and he wore one of those rupture belts practically the last 20, 30 years of his life. But I realized how hard a worker he was, and how he really took care of us.

SCHEER: But he wasn’t judgmental. I mean, he accepted–NELSON: Oh yeah, no, he was not. He was–

SCHEER: About your parents, for instance, he accepted–

NELSON: Yeah, he accepted all that. And he was glad to be there to help out. He wanted to help out. Him and my grandmother both were just there for me and my sisters.

SCHEER: I mean, for people who don’t know the story, basically your parents separated and you were dropped off with the grandparents. Now, I mean, I think–because one of the reasons I keep bringing this up, my parents were on welfare during the Depression. And my parents, as they say, they weren’t married, and my father had another family. And so his money had to go to the other family, and we lived off my garment-worker mother’s family. And you know–

NELSON: Things happen, yeah.

SCHEER: Yeah, different part of the country, but I remember them as saintly, saintly people, making do the best they could in that circumstance. I didn’t judge them, and so forth. And reading your book, it really registered with me. Because the last thing I expected would be to find my own story in this book, you know. I mean, what the hell do I know about a small town in Texas? You know, but there was the respect. You show in the book respect for your mother, who had a hard life; complex, you know, woman. You present a complex portrait of this women, complex portrait of your father. Right? But there’s respect, there’s love, and there isn’t anger. Were they?

NELSON: No, there wasn’t, even back then when I didn’t really understand what was going on. But the older I got and the more I lived, the more I realized and understood that they did what they had to do. And I made it OK; they left me with some good folks.

SCHEER: We have an idea, somehow we fall into an idea of “throwaway people,” no-account people, or they could have made it but they didn’t, so welfare is bad, or you don’t want to give them a break, or something. And what your book is an assertion–I think; I don’t want to put my cast on your book–but it says, no; there’s value in all these people. Give ‘em a shot, give ‘em a chance. And you actually populate your book with people, on yeah, this guy was great at dominoes; he didn’t quite work out that way; or even the guy who, yeah, he swindled me but he was an interesting swindler. And I’ve always liked swindlers anyway; they got character, you know. [Laughter] And they’re really, even the people who really screw you over are given, like, a second chance somehow. Or, you know–

NELSON:Oh, I learned from them. And you know, if they screwed me over one time, that’s cool; if they screwed me over twice, that ain’t cool.

SCHEER: Yeah, but you still present them as total people. OK? They’re coming from somewhere, they’re struggling with something; they didn’t make it, they didn’t take the right path, but there’s redemption there, or something; there’s, even the IRS ends up giving a break. The first guy you talk to, well, he’s a good ol’ boy from your hometown, right? I mean, you’re freaked out–

NELSON: Yeah, we had a big meeting there in Austin at a big long table, and we sit there, and all those guys were, yeah, very nice. They were just telling me I owe $32 million; what do you want to do about it? [Laughs] I said, well, let me sell you a song here. And so I made them an album, IRS Tapes, and it was songs that I had recorded on different nights that I went over to the studio, just me and my guitar, and put out on demos. And I had 40, 50, 60, I don’t know. But I put ‘em all on one little IRS Tape, and I let them have it, and I think they made some money off of it. And we got together, we understood each other; we wasn’t trying to hurt nobody, they realized that I was where I was because I’d got a lot of bad information from a lot of lawyers and accountants that I’d listened to for a while; they knew that. They knew that the accounting company that I had been working with didn’t do everything exactly right. So everybody had to pay up, and eventually, I got back even again.

SCHEER: Well, you had to pay ‘em six million or something.

NELSON: Whatever it was.

SCHEER: Yeah. But what I got out of that–because I’ve been audited; a lot of people get audited; it freaks you out. You know, the power of the state is just there, you know. And how did you justify this dinner, or how do you justify–you claim you took the airplane to go to Maui to interview Willie Nelson, but then you really also swim. [Laughter] Then you also have a good time, you know, are you really going to write off this trip, right. And so forth. And they got the power; they say no, you can’t write that off. And so forth, and it’s an intimidating thing.

NELSON: Can be, yes.

SCHEER: Can be, and yet in your book, you even cut them slack. You even say, well, at the end of the day they’re doing their job, and at the end of the day some of them saw reason.

NELSON: I don’t mind paying taxes, I never have minded paying one dollar of the taxes that I’ve paid. Because if you don’t make money you don’t pay taxes, so I was glad to pay the taxes; I was making the money.

SCHEER: Yeah.

NELSON: I didn’t have any complaints about that.

SCHEER: And when you were being hounded by the IRS, as I recall from the book, two nights later after your grueling session, they put you through two days of interviews and so forth–you were sleeping in the Lincoln bedroom.

NELSON: Yeah.

SCHEER: Well, that must have been a mind warp.

NELSON: That was nice, you know. [Laughter]

SCHEER: No, but I mean, here you are in this incredibly vulnerable position; you’re famous, but you know, they can break you, some of the media is describing you as washed up and finished and everything, and the power of the state is aimed at you. And the next thing you know you’re there in the White House, and actually go up on the roof, I forget–or upstairs, I don’t know if it was with Jody Powell or Hamilton Jordan or somebody, somebody who was working there, and you’re actually smoking a joint.

NELSON: Another funny story is I was in the, went down to Mexico and got busted down there. They found some pot in my bag or something, so they deported me. And on the way out of the jail, I jumped off the steps and broke my ankle, and then from there, I was flying to Washington to see President Carter. So when I saw him, I was standing there in crutches [Laughs] and we were laughing about it, because you know, he’s a pretty broad-minded guy.

SCHEER: But you’re making it now, OK, I had a little trouble in Mexico, but in your book you describe it as a harrowing experience. They could have held you there.NELSON: Well, they could have. They told me never to come back.

SCHEER: Yeah. And so let’s talk a little bit about pot. [Laughs] Because it runs through your book. I can one-up you–you came to be disillusioned with alcohol, and I consider myself an alcoholic who hasn’t had a drink in 20 years or something, and struggle with it. So I always did take the knee-jerk position, yeah, pot’s better than alcohol, but I really don’t like pot either; I don’t, you know. And yet your book, in many ways, is a tribute to pot. You say it mellowed you out, it was constructive, it was–you just really give it a lot of credit.

NELSON: There’s cannabinoids in the human body, which require cannabis in order to get all the healing and all the positive and all the things going. I believe that. Some people can’t smoke marijuana, some people have edibles; there’s candies and there’s chocolates or whatever. But I don’t like the edibles. Every now and then, I like to take a couple of hits off a joint. It smoothes me out, it relaxes me and I don’t want to kill nobody.

SCHEER: And you actually have a product now.

NELSON: I have a product called Willie’s Reserve, and it’s, you know, going pretty good. We had a meeting about it this morning with the folks in Colorado, Oregon, Washington, California.

SCHEER: It is a persistent theme. You think this is a positive–

NELSON: Absolutely positive, and there’s people all over the world, since the Charlotte’s Web thing came out and they found out how many medicinal values there are in cannabis. They’ve done two or three huge TV shows, I don’t know whether you saw this Dr. Sanjay Gupta doing his shows on the Charlotte’s Web thing. More people are realizing that it’s not the devil drug that we were taught to believe.

SCHEER: But it’s interesting, because your whole thing is about balance. This helps you find balance. And the other big thing is that power of the state should not be used to intimidate people, I gather. And so there’s some, you know, poignant scenes in your book; you’re in a car and you’re tired and you pull off the highway to get rest, and the next thing you know there’s a–

NELSON: I’m in jail, yeah.

SCHEER: –state trooper or somebody shining a light in your face. And suddenly you’re in another world; you weren’t bothering anybody, you weren’t doing anything, and now even though you’re famous you’re going to have trouble here. Right? And the book is really an appeal for individual freedom or respect.

NELSON: Yeah, and even though that was unnerving as all that was, it still had a positive ending, because the sheriff in that county got up and made a positive speech about me, that he and I were good friends, and how he knew me not to be a liar; if I said this was there or that was there, then I was telling the truth. And it all worked out.

SCHEER: So you’re not afraid of America in any way.

NELSON: No. Or nothing else.

SCHEER: You think that we basically are–

NELSON: You can’t be, you have have fear.

SCHEER: Yeah. But you think we’re basically solidly–I gather, from the book–a solidly rooted people, and these spurts of meanness and violence and divisiveness are kind of, that come out from getting wrong ideas or wrong impulses, or–

NELSON: Negative thinking.

SCHEER: Yeah. I mean, that’s basically your world view. The raw material is here.

NELSON: The raw material?

SCHEER: Yeah, of who we are as a people, how we got to be here.

NELSON: Yeah.

SCHEER: And it gets distorted.

NELSON: Well, yeah, it can be.

SCHEER: You know, it’s interesting. People put down eBooks, but I got it on my iPhone and that’s how I read it; I’m here in Maui, and I’m by the beach, by the ocean and I’m reading it. And it’s compelling. So I do want to endorse, and so anybody who finds any of this interesting, they’d better get the book, and it’s really easy to get. It’s not the only one; in the intro I mentioned all the other wonderful things that you’ve done. But it really moved me, and it moved me particularly because Donald Trump [Laughs] got elected president. And it’s a moment where a lot of us are questioning, what is this country? What is it all about? You know, people are using some pretty frightening images of fascism and–

NELSON: I wrote a new song that you’d be interested in hearing. It’s called “Delete and Fast Forward,” “Delete and Fast Forward Again.”

SCHEER: How does it go?

NELSON: “Delete and fast forward, my son; the wars are all over and nobody won. But don’t worry too much about it, you’ll just go crazy again; just delete and fast forward, my friend. Delete and fast forward, my son; the elections are all over and nobody won.” [Cut to music]

SCHEER: This has been Scheer Intelligence, Part One of my interview with legendary musician Willie Nelson, recorded at his home in Maui, Hawaii. Check out Part Two next week, where we talk about the music industry, family, and more. The producers of Scheer Intelligence are Rebecca Mooney and Josh Scheer. Technical assistance provided by Kat Yore and Mario Diaz at KCRW. And we’ve had a special assist on these programs from Micah Nelson, Willie Nelson’s musician son, who deserves a lot of credit in his own right, but is a terrific engineer; want to thank him; and Sebastian Grubaugh at USC.

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