Willie Nelson finds the right pitch in memoir

Alan Rosenberg More Content Now

“It’s a Long Story: My Life,” by Willie Nelson with David Ritz, read by Christopher Ryan Grant with an introduction read by Nelson, plus a PDF of photos and an original Nelson song. Unabridged, 9.5 hours. Hachette Audio, $35.

Willie Nelson is a proud musical outlaw. And a steadfast believer in the old-time Southern Christian faith. And a devotee of the teachings of clairvoyant psychic Edgar Cayce.

If your head is spinning, imagine Nelson’s. Maybe that’s why another thing he believes in is the power of the “good herb,” marijuana, which he smokes at every opportunity for its ability to both soothe and heighten. (These days, at age 82, with his lungs not what they used to be, he vapes his pot instead of using traditional joints.)

And after decades of heavy drinking, which seldom ended well, and failed experiments with cocaine and acid, Willie Nelson surely knows what works best for him.

All this is just a small part of Nelson’s memoir, an upbeat look at a life that began in little Abbott, Texas, at the height of the Depression. Nelson soon went in search of bigger stages — a short stint in the Air Force, ending with a medical discharge; work as a tree-trimmer, which nearly killed him; DJing on small-town radio stations; bouncing from town to town looking for a break as a musician and songwriter. Living in poverty with his first of his four wives, and the mother of the first three of his seven children.

It was as a songwriter that Nelson first broke through, writing Patsy Cline’s 1961 hit “Crazy.” His own records didn’t sell well until years later — after he ditched the strings in which his producers had drowned his music, and learned to trust his own instincts on albums like “Shotgun Willie,” “Red-Headed Stranger” and “Stardust.”

It’s a lesson that has carried him through dozens of hit songs — including “Funny How Time Slips Away,” “On the Road Again” (written, amazingly, on demand in the course of a plane trip), and “Always on My Mind” — and a long battle with the IRS, which he recounts in far greater detail than I needed to hear. It’s the lone misstep in a fascinating tale.

Christopher Ryan Grant reads with a mild Texas drawl that nicely evokes Nelson’s style, along with other approaches and accents for agents and friends and other singers. And the audio book contains a pair of bonuses: a PDF of photos from all the stages of Nelson’s life, and an original song titled, along with the book, “It’s a Long Story.”

The song finds Nelson’s voice a little thin, but sounding much better than the often-tuneless performance I heard in 2012 at The Vets. It’s a welcome ending to a story that, really, is still being written.

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