[Today: Happy 75th birthday to Willie Nelson!]
As the 70’s became the 80’s my brother and I were a couple of snot-nosed kids who loved Spiderman, KISS, the Oregon Ducks, Star Wars, baseball cards, Atari, and almost any sport that involved Nerf™ products. Against this backdrop, it’s hard to imagine Willie Nelson cracking our consciousness, but the man stormed the castle of our young imaginations.
The first time we listened to Red Headed Stranger was when we put it on for a laugh at our dad’s expense. We got our yucks in, but it was also clear to both of us that this album was telling a story (stories were good) that involved lots of gunplay (guns =’d great fun) and murder (awesome!). The back of the LP even featured comic book panels with song lyrics, to drive home the narrative – and the guy doing the killing looked like Willie Nelson! Each successive spin after that the laughter died down a bit more, and we listened as this country version of Mister Rogers told us a tale of infidelity, bloody revenge, and ragin’ black stallions.
Fade out for about 15 years and cut to me post-college, living in San Francisco, and flipping through Amoeba Records’ dollar bin. Whoa, there’s Red Headed Stranger… I haven’t heard that in years… definitely worth a buck. I took it home, expecting a trip down memory lane, and maybe a good laugh, and got hit between the eyes by one of my favorite albums of all time. Not coincidentally, it’s a record filled with many of Willie’s best moments.
Willie Nelson turns 75 years old today, but he’s been a wizened old spirit for decades. Take a look at that album cover – Nelson was 42 years old when he sat for that portrait, but he already looked like a guy who’d been to hell and back. And on Red Headed Stranger he told a story so compelling that it could sink into a couple of kids with their heads in the stars and their feet on the ground in Springfield, OR.
Listen: The Red Headed Stranger
Not an urban myth dept: Here’s evidence that suggests Willie actually did fire up a doobie on the roof of the White House!
Blender Magazine: 33 Things You Should Know About Willie Nelson