10 August 2009

What Would Willie Do?

As we struggle to endure the woes of the economy, one might consider looking to Willie Nelson for guidance. The Red Headed Stranger has, after all, lived quite a life and made it through all kinds of trials--from being born during the Great Depression to several divorces, from service in the Air Force to founding Farm Aid and from being sued by the I.R.S. to being a public proponent for the legalization of marijuana. And yet, when I ask myself, "What would Willie do?" I see an obvious answer that isn't necessarily applicable to everyone else:

Keep working.

No one in modern music comes close to Willie's output. Just through the end of this month alone, Willie will have released five albums. In February, he released a collaboration with Asleep at the Wheel. That was followed in March by a collection of live recordings from the "Last of the Breed" Tour with the Wheel, Merle Haggard and Ray Price, as well as a stripped-down re-issue of several of his vintage RCA recordings. Tomorrow, Lost Highway releases a 17 song compilation of cuts from Willie's releases for the label and two weeks from now he will make his label debut for Blue Note Records with American Classics, a spiritual successor to 1978's iconic Stardust.

Sure, you might say, the live cuts were just taken from a tour he was doing anyway and the Naked Willie album was nothing more than un-editing thirty year old recordings. And the Lost Highway compilation just collects previously issued songs (with three previously unissued tracks for good measure). Maybe, but who else would even bother with such releases?

More importantly, perhaps that's the lesson. So many artists spend years crafting a 10-14 song album, mixing and re-mixing, tinkering and re-writing, and then if the sales aren't overwhelming the project is dismissed as a failure. Are any of Willie's albums multi-platinum blockbusters? No; those days are over, it appears. And yet, when one considers his legacy, one cannot avoid the ever-expanding discography. New fans can be forgiven for being overwhelmed; even if you managed to screen out the off-label collections of his recordings, it's daunting to find a starting point. Willie seems to be well past the point of even caring if his fans even know about his latest release, much less worrying whether its sales are high.

Instead, he simply keeps turning them in every few months and leaving it to the critics, fans and history to determine what was and what wasn't a standout entry in his discography. Perhaps then, we as a society should take a page from Willie's playbook and stop trying to perfect everything we do. Maybe we should just take our ideas and run with them, and let what works work and what doesn't, fall away.

No comments:

Post a Comment