“He’s an interesting guy, but just about impossible to pin down.” That’s Jonathan Yardley on the now 75-year-old Willie Nelson. Yardley reviewed the new Nelson biography by Joe Nick Patoski in the Washington Post last weekend and found the book, if not Nelson, lacking.
It’s possible that someday a true biography of him will be written, one that discriminates between what is and is not important in his life, that resists the temptations of list-making and tries to dig into the innermost core of this admittedly highly elusive man. Patoski’s book will be an invaluable resource for the person who writes that biography, and not merely because it contains so much ill-digested information. Patoski knows a lot about Nelson’s music and writes about it with sympathy and understanding. If he doesn’t discriminate among factoids, he does discriminate among Nelson’s songs and recordings, and at times his insights are keen. Certainly he is right to pinpoint “Spirit,” Nelson’s superb album of 1996, as a “dramatic shift” in Nelson’s career, taking him back to the simple roots of country music and emphasizing his remarkable guitar playing as well as the “distinctive” piano of his sister Bobbie. “Spirit” is nothing less than a small American masterpiece.
Boy, do I agree about Spirit. Here’s a taste.
And here’s one of my all-time favorites, a tribute to Nelson that treats him as he deserves to be treated: as a messiah.
IMAGE: Willie Nelson, Luck Ranch, Spicewood, Texas, 2001 by Annie Leibovitz