By David Tarrant
Dallas Morning News
AUSTIN, Texas - Relaxing on his bus outside an Austin television studio, Willie Nelson sits at a small dining table, looking less like a legend and more like a man who just slipped into a truck stop to order the No. 3 special. It is April 27. In two days Nelson turns the Big Six-O. He seems to be taking the event philosophically.
So, is there life after 60 for a long-haired, self-styled outlaw? Nelson grins. "Well, I don't know. I never figured I'd get this far. "Not only has he gotten this far - he is still shooting down a career path as twisting and turning as the Rio Grande.
In the last two months, he has released his promising new album, "Across the Borderline," which includes celebrity duets with Bonnie Raitt and Bob Dylan. He has also completed his sixth Farm Aid benefit, hosted "Saturday Night Live," and taped two concerts for a CBS special tribute to his birthday, which airs from 9-11 p.m. tomorrow. In the works are another album and possibly a movie role. All that, and a grueling 1993 concert schedule crowded with more than 200 dates, makes it easy to overlook the fact that Willie will soon be eligible for senior citizen discounts. "I never really thought that much about 60. But as you get closer to it, you start thinking more about it, especially since it's always been called `The Big Six-O.' It's supposed to be some goal you reach, and by the time you get there you're supposed to be. . . just about dead," he says with a soft chuckle. "And it's real funny when you get there and you're not." Nelson is one of the most famous and prolific singer-songwriters in history. Even if he had never recorded a single song in his life, he would have gone down in history as a legendary songwriter for penning classics such as Patsy Cline's "Crazy" and Ray Price's "Night Life" more than three decades ago. Songs like "On the Road Again" and "Always on My Mind," are among the most enduring and recognizable in American contemporary music.
He is a genuine Texas folk hero whose long reddish-gray hair, rolled head bandanna, crinkly, kind face and snowy beard seem as familiar as the carvings on Mount Rushmore. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, he was the Lone Star of country music - a colossus straddling pop and country charts strumming his battered 30-year-old Martin classical with the hole worn in it. He led young rock-'n'- roll fans out of the disco desert, and he was the spiritual leader of an old-guys brat pack with pals Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson, who made movies and mischief together. His legendary carousing, bacchanalian Fourth of July picnics and sneakers-and-T-shirt lifestyle fueled the vicarious dreams of fans who ranged from rednecks, hippies and homemakers to urban cowboys and office workers.
Then he hit an ugly patch of road. In 1990, the Internal Revenue Service smacked him with a bill for $16.7 million in back taxes, and he saw most of his property and possessions sold on the IRS auction block. He lost his son, Billy, who committed suicide on Christmas Day 1991 at age 33. Martha, his first wife and Billy's mother, had died in 1989. Even the National Enquirer ran a cover story reporting that he was considering suicide. Instead of being diminished by those personal tragedies and swings in fortune, Willie says he feels a sense of redemption for having survived them. "Those are some of the worst things that can happen to you. And they've already happened to you. "It's sort of like, what can you do to me now? And once you reach that point where it seems like you've been through the fires and you're still here, then that in itself is a miracle that you survived all these things. There's enough reason there for jubilation, I think, whether it's on your 20th birthday or your 60th, that you've made it that far." Copyright (c) 1993 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.
Willie Nelson: The Big Six-0 (1993) (TV)
Cast: Tom Arnold, Clint Black, Edie Brickell, Gary Busey, Ray Charles, Bill Clinton, Bob Dylan, Emmylou Harris, Waylon Jennings, B.B. King, Kris Kristofferson, Lyle Lovett, Lou Diamond Phillips, Sydney Pollack, Willie Nelson