Book review: It's a Long Story by Willie Nelson with David Ritz

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 09 May, 2015, 10:37pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 09 May, 2015, 10:37pm


It's a Long Story: My Life
by Willie Nelson with David Ritz
Little, Brown and Co

With dozens of books already written about the life and music of Willie Hugh Nelson, is another one truly necessary?

Nelson himself has already had a hand in one autobiography - 1988's Willie, co-written with the late, great Bud Shrake - alongside a handful of philosophical writings (2006's The Tao of Willie or 2012's Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die), all of which have further refined the mythology surrounding Abbott, Texas', favourite son.

Now comes the briskly paced It's a Long Story: My Life, which is co-written with A-list music biographer David Ritz, and retraces the familiar contours of Nelson's colourful existence. This autobiography carries with it the weight of years (almost 30 years have elapsed since Willie; Nelson turned 82 on April 29), suggesting Nelson is taking one more stab at his story.

If Long Story aspired to give some insight to the keen songwriting mind behind such country classics as Crazy or Hello, Walls (whose banal genesis is detailed in the book), it would be a rewarding read.

Instead, too much of this 360-page endeavour skims the surface, shying away from any genuine revelations, despite assertions to the contrary: "This book is the history of my heart," Nelson writes early on, "and especially the ways in which my heart has been shaped by music."

Such sentiment is touching but doesn't give the reader a sense of what animates Nelson as an artist, which is Long Story's largest weakness. Nelson may live for many more years, but time grows short for him to speak definitively about his life's work.

His laundry list of influences - everyone from country singer-songwriter Lefty Frizzell to guitarist Django Reinhardt is lovingly singled out - is familiar to his fans, just as his tales of transience (selling encyclopedias door to door; working as a disc jockey in various Texas cities) are likewise well-known, and without any especially revelatory details added here.

That said, if you're hungering to know Nelson's stance on, say, gay rights or the changes technology has wrought in the music business, you're in luck.

So if Long Story purports to be the "history of his heart", what did Nelson most cherish: writing songs, stirring up trouble, chasing women and living life as a touring musician?

The prose is simple and direct, and much like the lyrics he sings, the lines don't appear to say much but provide a surprising cumulative impact. His closing vignette inside the church on his Luck property is particularly moving.

Still, you may be left feeling that listening to Willie Nelson's songs will give you a better sense of the man than any autobiography ever could.

Tribune News Service