A SONG IS A SHORT STORY. It might have been my buddy Harlan Howard, a writer I met in Nashville in the sixties, who first said a song ain't nothing but three chords and the truth.
Well, songs come easy to me. I've written hundreds of them. I see them as little stories that fall out of our lives and imaginations. If I have to struggle to write a song, I stop before I start. I figure if it don't flow easy, it's not meant to be.
The truth should flow easy. Same for songs and stories. If you overanalyze or torture yourself to bring them to life, something's wrong. Just the way a mountain stream, bubbling with fresh clean water, keeps flowing, stories need to flow free and easy. The source of the water, like the source of the songs, comes from on high. It's a natural thing. It's a beautiful thing.
But what you're holding in your hands is something more than a simple song or a short story. It's a Long Story is the name of this enterprise. This time I've given myself a different task and a whole new challenge. And while I'll certainly need the truth to guide me, I'll need a lot more than three chords. I'll need more than three minutes and a few rhyming lines to convey the ideas in my head and the feelings in my heart. My head is filled with memories, and my heart, while filled with love, also retains the memories of loss and hurt.
My prayer is that, like the mountain stream, the memories flow freely. My prayer is that the memories, whether joyful or painful, refresh my spirit, and yours, by assuring us that the stream never runs dry.
Memories remind us that every moment of our lives, even the most tragic, have contributed to our strength. We've got- ten through. We're still here.
I'm thankful that I'm still here. By the time you read this, I'll be eighty-two. I'm pleased to tell you that since turning eighty, I've written a couple of dozen new songs, recorded five new albums, and performed over three hundred live concerts. I don't say that to boast but only to reassert my belief that the essence of my work as a songwriter, singer, and performer is based on the simple task of telling stories. Telling those stories has kept me alive.
Now that it's time to shape all the short stories into one long yarn, I gotta admit that the job feels a little daunting.
Eight long decades of memories.
Eight long decades of successes and failures, heartbreaks and breakthroughs, miracles and mind fucks.
It's an epic tale. And to tell it right will require all the clarity at my command. But before I move on to glory and return in some reincarnated form, I'm determined to do it, determined to tell this story in my present form as Willie Hugh Nelson, a man who has lived a long and blessed life.
So if I view the task before me as just another song to sing — although a long one — I'll be fine. This isn't the Bible. This isn't the biography of a world leader or a great philosopher. It's just the story of a picker from Hill County, Texas, who got more good breaks than bad and managed to keep from going crazy by staying close to the music of his heart.
So let me just pick up Trigger, my trusty guitar that has comforted me through thousands of stormy nights and thou- sands of sun-filled days.
Let me find a melody.
Let me find the right words.
And in one fashion or another, I'll sing you this song.
Excerpted from the book IT'S A LONG STORY by Willie Nelson with David Ritz. Copyright 2015 by Willie Nelson. Reprinted with permission of Little, Brown and Company.