During a time of deep division, it’s reassuring to see that Texans of many stripes still share certain pleasures. One of those is Willie Nelson. Which is why we’re looking forward to publishing, in August, a special thirteenth issue of Texas Monthly devoted to the life and music of the red-headed stranger. It will feature reflections on Willie from musicians such as Robert Earl Keen and music journalists such as Holly George-Warren, Nate Chinen, and one of our senior editors, Paula Mejía. It will also include classic articles from our archives—Texas Monthly published its first issue just a year after Willie returned to Texas from Nashville, and we covered him from the start.
We’ll be selling our Willie issue at H-E-B and Buc-ee’s and other fine establishments and are eager to send it for free, as a bonus, to any subscriber who requests it. So if you’re a Willie fan, please sign up here before July 15.
This project is the brainchild of senior editor John Spong, whom I’m embarrassed to admit I neglected to include in my recent introduction of new staffers. But I have a good excuse: it seems as if John has always been here. He joined the TM staff in 1997, after two unsatisfying years as a lawyer. He started as a fact-checker and became one of this magazine’s finest writers, on topics ranging from dance halls to the life and death of his father, an Episcopal priest. John knows Willie and Willie’s friends and, it seems, almost everyone of note in our state. “Great reporters tend to be very social, and John has that in spades,” says deputy editor Jeff Salamon, who coedited the Willie issue with John. “People open up to him, including famous people who usually don’t talk to reporters.” Not many writers could get both Tommy Lee Jones and Robert Duvall to return their calls on deadline, but John did last year for his appreciation of the late Lonesome Dove screenwriter Bill Wittliff.
John stepped away from TM for a couple of years but served me well as a sage counselor and source of introductions when I arrived at the magazine. It was a boon, in January, to lure him back onto our staff and get his laughter back into our corridors. Not to mention his resilience: he finished this Willie project while he and his wife and two sons relocated to temporary lodgings after a late-night fire destroyed their Austin home.
For the past few months, our staff has been scrambling to cover a pandemic, a recession, and, more recently, unprecedented protests for racial justice. Fast-moving stories such as these are challenging for us to write about in our monthly magazine, where we strive to take a step back and consider topics in a broader context (this month’s “What Lies Ahead” cover package, overseen by features director J. K. Nickell, is a sterling example). But we’ve been covering breaking stories every day on texasmonthly.com under the leadership of the site’s editorial director, Michelle Williams. There, as in print, we leave news bulletins to others. We strive to uncover what the news means to our readers and bring to life the people and the forces behind it. You can find a sampling of our web stories here. I hope you’ll check them out and let me know what you think.