Adam Ash

Your daily entertainment scout. Whatever is happening out there, you'll find the best writing about it in here.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Bookplanet: Willie Nelson writes a self-help book (it's probably the only one worth reading, coming from a man who never gave up smoking marijuana)

Everybody needs this Willie
Review of THE TAO OF WILLIE: A Guide to the Happiness in Your Heart by Willie Nelson with Turk Pipkin
Willie Nelson’s songs have brought comfort to millions, but do we really need a self-help book from the former wild man of music? Why not, Bel Mooney says
By Bel Mooney/Sunday Times UK

WILLIE SAYS: “MY LONG-TERM ambitions are to make the show tomorrow night and the night after that, plus I’d like to finish this book and have a chance to hear whether people think I’ve given them something that might help a bit in their lives, or whether I’m just full of shit.”

As I write, he is singing Help Me Make it Through the Night on iTunes, and will go on to Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground ,Crazy and the rest, so I’m wondering why he needs to help people more than his 2,500 or so songs and 50 million record sales have done. He even has a road named after him in his native Texas; what more does he want?

That Willie Nelson is an international treasure will be accepted without question by all right-thinking folk, but Willie as self-help guru may be more of a surprise. But he never was one to see a bandwagon riding by without jumping on to ride the rails, guitar slung on his back. That’s the definition of a survivor.

A great-grandfather now, still in braids and bandana, he offers in The Tao of Willie his life experience, cracker-barrel jokes, golf talk and thoughts about the Tao (which can be translated “Way”) of Lao Tzu: “The Tao connects the personal with the universal. It is the link between you and other people . . . between you and the natural world, the link between you and the universe.

“And that ain’t all. The Tao is a way of life, a science and an art. It is the natural order, and a path that leads to peace and freedom. The Tao is the deepest well of the purest water, but you cannot see it or hear it or touch it. You also cannot use it up.”

Willie is smart enough to cover his own ass, as they say in Texas: “If you read this book distilled from my view of life, love and laughter, then find yourself wanting more, you will have missed the essence of the Tao, which relies not in wanting more but in needing less.”

Over the past 50 years, a whole section of the publishing industry has offered hundreds of books promising new ways of living our lives, succeeding at our jobs, conducting our relationships. Some became so famous that the titles trip off the tongue even if you haven’t read them: How To Win Friends and Influence People , for example, Dale Carnegie’s 1936 classic.

Dale would approve of Willie. The former wild man of music offers the same blend of the homespun, obvious and nononsense, down-home sensible — a dish served with one of those smiles that Carnegie advocated as oiling the wheels of business and of life.

Which is not to mock. At a time when even teabags promise to heal your psyche, and no self-respecting beautician gives a facial without New Age music in the background, spiritual self-help is the latest selling opportunity and if it cheers people up and/ or calms them down, that’s fine with me. Books advising people how to calm down or perk up sell because so many people are miserable.

Willie’s co-author and friend, the splendidly-named Turk Pipkin, sees Nelson as a force for good who has “changed the lives of thousands of people” and you can open this book at any page and find a nugget that might spread a little peace and love: “In time . . . my music will fade away to a soft distant song, and then it will be no more. Ultimately, all of our achievements will fade away, which is why the point of our lives is not to become famous or even to produce lasting work.” Right on, Willie.

Willie Nelson’s country music is grounded in sorrow and struggle, like the blues. I see no reason not to look for guidance from the singers who provides a soundtrack to our lives.

Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell don’t need to write self-help books because their songs do the job. When Janis Joplin played at the Fillmore West in June 1968 she said: “Those kids out there, after they see me, maybe they’ll have a second thought that they can be themselves and win” — one version of Willie’s injunction to “live your life in accordance with your own essential nature”, even if it didn’t help poor Janis herself.

Writers such as Greil Marcus and Ruth Padel have explored the philosophical and cultural meanings of popular music, Marcus proclaiming: “I am not capable of mulling over Elvis without thinking of Herman Melville.”

Why be snobbish about the fact that people, growing older with the music that they love are more likely to seek solace in the musings of the likes of Willie than in the pages of Marcus Aurelius?

The subtitle of this book, A Guide to the Happiness in Your Heart, is revealing. Willie clearly believes that the “happiness” is there already, lurking within the old yearning tattoo of the heart, like the rhythm in a new drum not yet struck. Go find it, he says, try this way . . .

Yes, in some ways he is “full of shit”. But I tell you what — it’s good shit. So a lot of people will smoke it.

Willie’s wisdom – quotes:
ON POSITIVITY Life is not about how fast you run or how high you climb, but how well you bounce.
ON THE ROAD You’ve got to slow down and smell the flowers. Or in my case, smoke the flowers.
ON MUSIC A song in your heart will take you far.
ON ADVICE Because something works for me doesn’t mean it will for you, especially in large doses.
ON LOVE Ninety-nine per cent of the world’s lovers are not with their first choice. That’s what makes the jukebox play.
ON MARRIAGE Keep your words sweet. You may have to eat them.
ON WATER Piss more; you’ll live longer.
ON GOLF Wives come and go, but a golf pro is for ever.
ON SPEAKING OUT There’s nothing wrong with saying what you believe ... unless you believe some pretty weird shit, in which case, you may want to keep your trap shut.
ON EMPATHY Before you say something bad about someone, you should first walk a mile in their shoes. That way, if they get pissed off, you’ll be a mile away and you’ll have their shoes.
ON AGEING All of us are just angels flying close to the ground.


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