Willie Nelson’s ‘back to the land’ message for America
The 75-year-old ‘outlaw’ country singer looks to some home-grown solutions to help President Obama fix the economic crisis
Willie Nelson has some advice for President Obama on how to fix the mess America has got itself into, and, just like the lyrics the grizzled old 'outlaw' country singer has been penning for half a century, it is nice and simple.
"Put a million farmers back on the land," he says. "Everybody needs to eat, and I’ve always seen growing food as the base of a good economy. Do something useful."
Well, yes. But there is more to Nelson’s plan than that, and it is worth remembering that the 75-year-old with the cascading wrinkles, and a braid of silvery hair reaching to the small of his back, once studied agriculture at Baylor University in his home state of Texas.
If we grow our own fuel, we don’t need to run around the world starting wars
"We can grow food," he goes on, "but we can also grow fuel." Ah. Now the Willie Nelson rescue plan is deepening.
"And if we grow our own fuel, we don’t need to go running around the world starting wars, do we?"
At least there is no way that Nelson can be accused of failing to practise what he preaches. He has arrived in the heart of Manhattan in a full-sized coach, decorated with murals of weary Indian warriors slumped over their ponies at the end of the trail, and with impenetrable black windows for privacy. It is his tour-mobile, and it racks up 135,000 miles a year on an exclusive diet of bio-diesel.
Not only is Nelson the founder and leading light of Farm Aid and a devoted environmentalist, but he has put a lot of his own money into a bio-diesel production company with pumps in service stations all over the South West.
The old-timer, on the road with a guitar called Trigger and a songbook going back to the 1950s when he wrote Crazy for the legendary Patsy Cline, is sounding positively futuristic. And he’s from Texas?
"Me and Dubya Bush; I know," he says with an East Texas drawl. "But anything and everything can come out of Texas. It's about being an individual, to the Texas way of thinking. To me, it means doing it absolutely my own way."
The bio-diesel leaves a smell of old chip-pan oil lingering around the engine at the back of the bus. It is parked, with permission from the Mayor's office because Nelson is a star who prefers to avoid hotels, by the stage door to Jazz at Lincoln Center in the shimmering glass towers of the Time Warner skyscraper, where he is to play classic blues with modern jazz maestro Wynton Marsalis and his orchestra, no less.
There another scent, too, this one seeping from the air vents: weed. Nelson, named "the World's Mellowest Man" by Rolling Stone magazine, is a devoted supporter of NORML, the marijuana legalisation campaign, and sees no reason to quit smoking now.
There is a new Willie Nelson story going around: so much smoke from the bus got into the ventilation system of the Italian restaurant on the other side of the pavement that the manager searched the bathrooms for diners breaking the city's smoking ban.
America’s been living too high off the hog, and now we’re going to suffer
Nelson's devotion to doing things his way, and no other, has seen three marriages and steep ups-and-down in his career, a nearly-ruinous run-in over more than $1m in unpaid taxes, and numerous close scrapes over marijuana.
But as the bubble of America's boom years bursts, Nelson suddenly finds himself with the status of national treasure. There is nostalgia involved: a Willie Nelson show can take an aging Baby Boomer facing the loss of his pension back to the glory days of the 1970s when Nelson toured with Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings in the Highwaymen, and everyone could be a rebel riding a motorcycle through Monument Valley with a joint in his mouth.
He represents a sort of wisdom too. Nelson is old enough to remember the Depression and picking cotton, and a different kind of America.
"There used to be 8m farmers," he says. "Now there are 2m. Politics and price fixing, corporations, drove them off the land and changed our way of life and our values. America's been living too high off the hog, and now we’re going to suffer."
It is a message from an eccentric old troubadour, but it is one that is playing better than ever. ·
Comments are now closed on this article