The first time nine-year-old Booger Red got drunk on beer, he decided, “I had already fucked up more ways than God was going to put up with . . . so I had in mind, the sky’s the limit from here on, I mean I can’t go to hell twice.” Sixty-six years later, veteran Texas journalist Joe Nick Patoski offers Willie Nelson: An Epic Life as a 576-page testament to that Abbott youngster’s journey from badass country boy to besainted one-name legend. Fans who’ve come to believe that Willie-ness is next to godliness may be surprised by the coarser reality of his life, from cotton-picking poverty through an eternity on the road—not to mention the raging lunacy of his Fourth of July picnics and his (well-documented) affinity for smoking dope and rough-edged pistol-packing associates. Patoski declines to judge or analyze, merely chronicling Nelson’s story through the eyes and ears of those who have lived it. Some events could stand more-thorough treatment, particularly the genesis and creation of Red Headed Stranger, those almost 34 minutes of unvarnished country that in 1975 turned the record industry on its ear. But in the end, the biographer’s message is simple and true: Willie does what Willie wants to do, and he does it with a hard-won smile. Little, Brown, $27.99