Rheta Johnson: Why we should all love Willie

May 11, 2013 9:43:04 PM

Rheta Grimsley Johnson -


After learning from Internet "news" that real pearls feel gritty to the teeth and sago palms are poisonous to dogs, I decided to play a little music. 


I can't handle the information age. 


Maybe because it was his birthday week -- the man is 80! -- I wanted to hear Willie. In an age when not much is authentic, including the news, a girl can count on Willie Nelson. 


Celebrities come, and celebrities vanish. Many times we don't even know why or how they became celebrities. Few have staying power, and most of the time we're grateful.  


Willie does. Have staying power. At some point he crossed over the line from celebrity to icon and legend. He never goes out of fashion. 


When I was born, Willie already was a DJ in Nashville, and by the time I was hopping puddles in my school Hushpuppies, he was working for $50 a week as a writer. Hank Cochran played Willie's demo of "Crazy" for Patsy Cline, and it was off to the races. Willie as writer mattered. Mightily. 


By the time I was in college and country's Outlaws were hot stuff, it was becoming clear that Willie Nelson was around to stay. As a performer, a power. 


I've always had my doubts about that saying that people deserve the faces they get. Some have more money for Pond's or plastic surgery than others. And I've known some mighty awful people who were good-looking, and vice versa. 


But I believe that chestnut does apply to Willie, whose every misadventure and encounter with the Internal Revenue Service is etched into his noble countenance like Greek words onto old columns. He wears wisdom. And yet he's eternally youthful. 


Raised by his grandparents, Willie Nelson somehow appeals to the core of us, the part that remembers you shouldn't tell a lie -- even to Larry King on national television about your daily marijuana habit. 


But Willie doesn't do anything to shock. He's not like that. He is himself. He is bona fide. 


Willie is cool because he says and does "uncool" things without a trace of irony. Like the time he made the "Stardust" album of favorite cornball songs from his childhood that he loved.  


Everyone tried to talk him out of it, but Willie's unique covers of those old songs became a monster hit and endeared him to an audience that might not have appreciated "Whiskey River."  


He repaid his debts to the world of country music by singing duets with everyone who ever helped him. Using the duet like a wand, he works Willie magic and simultaneously introduces us to singers that some of his younger (or older; it works in reverse) fans might never have known otherwise.  


From Webb Pierce to Julio Iglesias, we accept them because they've been anointed by Willie. 


I hope Willie Nelson lives another 80 years, and, if he does, he'll remain easy on the ears and gritty to the teeth, a real pearl.