Willie Nelson’s Long Encore ~ NYT

By Jody Rosen

  • Aug. 17, 2022

Listen 54:07 

Willie Nelson has a long history of tempting, and cheating, death. In 1969, when his home in Ridgetop, Tenn., caught fire, he raced into the burning house to save two prized possessions, his guitar and a pound of “Colombian grass.” He has emphysema, the consequence of a near-lifetime of chain smoking that began in childhood, when he puffed on cedar bark and grapevines, before turning to cigarettes and then — famously, prodigiously — to marijuana. In 1981, he was taken to a hospital in Hawaii after his left lung collapsed while he was swimming. He underwent a voluntary stem-cell procedure in 2015, in an effort to repair his damaged lungs. Smoking has endangered his life, but it also, he thinks, saved it: He has often said that he would have died long ago had he not taken up weed and laid off drinking, which made him rowdy and self-destructive. Now, in his late 80s, he has reached the age where getting out of bed each morning can be construed as a feat of survival. “Last night I had a dream that I died twice yesterday,” he sang in 2017, “But I woke up still not dead again today.”

Still, some close calls are closer than others. One evening in early March 2020, the singer and his wife, Annie, were sitting outside the sprawling log cabin residence at their ranch in Spicewood, Texas, in the Hill Country about 30 miles northwest of Austin. It was warm and clear. The sun was going down. “We were watching the sunset,” Annie recalled not long ago. “And these little lights started to zip across the sky. The first one kind of flashed past in the distance. Then there was a second, which went by a little closer. All of a sudden, the light went right past us — like, two feet over Will’s head.”

The couple scrambled into the house and got down on the floor. According to Annie, the neighbors were “having another one of their gun parties. Apparently they got drunk and left a bunch of kids with semiautomatic rifles.” The police, she said, explained that the lights came from tracer bullets. “I said, ‘Are those even legal?’ But of course, nuclear weapons are legal in Texas. I told the police to please just pass along this message: ‘Dude, you don’t want to be the one that kills Willie Nelson. Especially in Texas.’” 

~~~ CONTINUE READING NYT ~~~

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