In a lively Q&A, living legend reacts to new drug policy, recalls playing for Trump
It’s the day before Willie Nelson’s 84th birthday, but he’s keeping his plans modest. “I’m just going to try and be here,” he says with a laugh from his tour bus, the Honeysuckle Rose, currently parked in Laughlin, Nevada, another stop on Nelson’s furious two-weeks-on, two-weeks-off touring schedule. “I’m still enjoying it,” he says. “It’s the two weeks off that gets kind of long.” This summer, Nelson will tour with the Outlaw Music Festival, which includes dates with Bob Dylan, Sheryl Crow, Jason Isbell and Nelson’s sons Lukas and Micah. Nelson is looking forward to breaking out songs from his excellent new album, God’s Problem Child. “It’ll be a great chance to run into a lot of old friends,” says Nelson, who, after thousands of gigs, has his own ways of keeping the show interesting: “I won’t intentionally try to throw the band off, but I do things that they don’t know. And sometimes, there’s a magic that happens.”
Your new single “Still Not Dead” is hilarious. What was the inspiration?
Well, many years ago, when I wrote “On the Road Again,” that’s the first time I heard that I was dead. Somebody said, “Willie was singing ‘On the Road Again,’ and a bus hit him.” That was funny for a few years. Then I heard these, what do you call them, “alternative facts”: I got up two or three times in the past couple of years and read I’d passed away. I just wanted to let ’em know that’s a lot of horseshit.
This summer you’ll reunite with Dylan. What’s it like when you two hang out?
I don’t think that’s ever happened much. We play music together more than we talk, and that’s probably good. [In 2004] my son Lukas and Dylan hit it off really good; he’d sit in with him and play guitar, and they jammed a lot on those tours. That was fun.
Who’s your favorite live act?
Leon Russell was one of the greatest entertainers out there. First time I saw him, he was playing for about 40,000 people in New Mexico. It’s the first time I saw anybody throw their hat into the audience. That’s where I stole that idea.
Jeff Sessions recently said that pot is “only slightly less awful” than heroin.
I wonder if he’s tried both of them. I don’t think you can really make a statement like that unless you tried it all. So I’d like to suggest to Jeff to try it and then let me know later if he thinks he’s still telling the truth!
What do you make of the Trump presidency so far?
Well, I knew him back when he owned some casinos, and I worked for him. He always paid me. I had no problems at all. I think he’s stepped into a different world. Like he said this morning, “I had no idea this job was going to be this hard.” It’s easy when you can just go bankrupt anytime you want to and say, “I’ll check you later.” But that’s hard to do when you’re president of the United States.
You sell “Willie Nelson for President” bumper stickers. Do a lot of people tell you to run for office?
Oh, yeah, which makes me even more glad that I didn’t. I came close a couple times. And then I sobered up.
So Trump hasn’t made you want to step in.
I think you can do more with music than you can with arguments and politics. I think a song will reach more people than any other thing. There’s a reason that it’s called “harmony”: When you play a show, there’s an energy exchange with the people that is unimaginable. It’s the reason I go out there. I get something out of it too.
What rules did you impose on your kids growing up?
My wife has one, and it’s three rules: “Don’t be an asshole, don’t be an asshole, and don’t be a goddamn asshole.” Mine has always been, “Don’t start no shit and there won’t be no shit.”
You’ve been married to your wife, Annie, for 25 years. What have you learned about marriage?
Well, it’s kind of like Donald was saying about being president: There’s nothing easy about it. Every day is hard work. It ain’t for everybody. I’ve been married a few times.
What has golf taught you about life?
Not a damn thing. Somebody said you’re ruining a nice walk, golfing. But I love to play. I went out and played the other day with my sons. I had an eagle on a par-four hole, so I was happy.
Are you still exercising every day?
Yeah, I’ll ride a horse, swim or run. Cussin’ is good exercise – I do that too.
What’s your favorite curse word?
I tell everybody when I get to be president, “fuck it” is going to be one word.
You’ve launched your own marijuana company, Willie’s Reserve. How’s that going?
Going good. I have other people kind of doing it for me. Annie is on the edible side, and she’s a great chef, and she’s been working in Colorado and all those places where it’s legal.
Is there any downside to smoking pot every day?
I haven’t run into any yet. I guess if you go somewhere where it’s illegal, that’s a pretty good downside.