Rumors of Willie Nelson’s demise—or at least his imminent death—have been greatly exaggerated. After he canceled a series of show due to illness, rumors circulated and gossip sites ran with headlines like “Tragic Willie Nelson Fighting To Breathe!” in mid-March. He was breathing just fine onstage at the Houston Rodeo a few days later, and on his forthcoming record, God’s Problem Child, he addresses all of the pearl clutching head-on. (On the song “Still Not Dead,” in classic wry Willie form, he sings, “The Internet said I had passed away/But you can’t believe a damn thing that they say.”)
Still, Nelson will turn 84 next month, which means that he’s closer to the end than the beginning. He seems to be processing it though, in the video for new song “Old Timer.” Any song that opens with a line like “You had your run/And it’s been a good one/Seems like the world is passing you by” is going to be emotional when sung in the voice of a man in his eighties.
The video’s imagery doesn’t do anything to change that tone, either. There are shots of Willie, looking haggard, with the horses at his Luck Ranch, and close-ups of his weathered face in the studio as he sings. He wanders alone amid memorabilia from his youth, full of posters, film reels, album covers, and photos of Nelson with other artists he came up with as he sings about how “one by one, your friends have crossed over,” and stares at the initials carved in the wood of his ranch house.
As videos that capture the reality of facing one’s own mortality, it’s not quite “Hurt” by Johnny Cash—one of the dearest of those friends who’ve crossed over—but it’s not far off, either. Willie’s in better shape than Cash was at that point, though, and that’s an element here too. He doesn’t just visit the horses, he can still swing into the saddle, and for all of the talk about the world passing him by, he’s “still got a lot of life and a song to sing.” And that’s the real power of a video like “Old-Timer”—it’s a fairly unflinching acceptance of mortality, but Willie’s still here to sing about it. And with any luck, he’ll have many years ahead of him to continue to ponder that fact of life.