Willie Nelson is known to some as Booger Red. But why? The genesis of this nickname is hinted at in his new memoir, Roll Me Up And Smoke Me When I Die, which Willie excerpted Monday on his Facebook page. On page one of the book, Willie recalls his introduction to gospel music, as a five-year-old performing in church for the first time.
“I start to recite a poem my grandmother taught me,” Willie wrote, “but I have been picking my nose, which now starts to bleed. I hold my nose with one finger and while blood runs all over my little white sailor suit I recite my poem.”
What are you looking at me for?
I ain’t got nothin’ to say
If you don’t likes the looks of me
Just look the other way
This is one of the many stops readers will take on Willie’s stroll down memory lane. The others in the excerpt are of a blacksmith shop, where Willie’s grandfather is shoeing a horse; of the Sunday “bumblebee fights” that would leave Willie’s eyes swollen shut from stings; and of the prank Willie and his childhood pals would pull on drivers headed down Texas Highway 81, in his hometown of Abbott.
The excerpt also includes an illustration of a cow and a little boy, done by Willie’s son Micah, who is known to paint during shows played by his father or brother, Lukas. The image represents Willie and Reddy, the brown milk cow Willie called his first “horse.” When the cow was in heat, it was Willie’s job to take her to a bull about a mile away. “Reddy was always ready!” Willie wrote.
Finally, we are brought to the cotton field where Willie sees the passing Cadillac that changes his life forever.
“There was something about that scene that made me start thinking more about playing a guitar,” Willie wrote. “Here I was picking cotton in the heat and thinking, There’s a better way to make a dollar, and a living, than picking cotton.”
According to the press materials, Roll Me Up And Smoke Me When I Die–also a song with Snoop Dogg, er, Lion–includes Willie riffing on “music, wives, Texas, politics, horses, religion, marijuana, children, the environment, poker, hogs, Nashville, karma, and more.” The book was written with Kinky Friedman, the musician, jokester, and former Texas gubernatorial candidate, whose forward is included in the excerpt. Friedman chatted with Capital New York about the collaboration.
Friedman said Willie wrote “voluminously,” but with a heavy heart in the wake of the passing of both Bee Spears, his bassist, and Poodie Locke, his stage manager. Said Friedman:
The point is: The first half of Willie’s life, people were telling him what to do and how to do it, like Chet Atkins at the record company. They were convinced the guy couldn’t sing. He was a songwriter, they said, not a singer. But those same people couldn’t hear the biggest single of the year: ‘Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.’ Red Headed Stranger didn’t catch on until it got to the D.J. level. Too many told him, ‘Do wear a turtleneck,’ ‘Don’t wear a turtleneck.’ That’s where the ‘outlaw’ Willie came from. He wasn’t going to let the record companies hand-pick the songs, the musicians, the clothing anymore. That spirit lives on in this book.