In Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die: Musings from the Road, Willie Nelson presents a series of vignettes, memories, lyrics to songs, dirty jokes, and thoughts about a wide variety of issues ranging from religion to bio fuel to marijuana. But what strikes me most about this work is Nelson’s love for his family. In the interest of disclosure, I will say up front that I am a fan of Willie Nelson. I recall listening to him on the 8-track player when I was a child. He’s on my iPod. I’ve seen him perform live several times. And so when I had the chance to review his latest book, I jumped on it, thrilled to have the opportunity to read and reflect on one of my very favorite singer-songwriters.
Nelson’s “musings” are, in some ways, predictable. He speaks out in favor of the legalization of marijuana and promotes bio diesel and other alternative energy sources. He tells of childhood memories and of playing poker at his home in Hawaii. Nelson is not just a singer of “outlaw country” but a persona, larger than life, and an important bit of Americana. This work is not an autobiography but, rather, a reflection of who he is as this persona.
Nelson writes about his family, and his devotion to his children and “sister Bobbie,” his older sister who has played and toured with him for years, is what is most striking about this book. Interspersed with Nelson’s own “musings” are a series of short pieces written by Nelson’s friends, band mates, and primarily his family. In fact, what Nelson’s wife, sister, and children have to say about him is certainly as interesting as Nelson’s own thoughts. All of this is punctuated by artwork done by Nelson’s son Micah.
In some ways Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die is not terribly well written; this is particularly true of the sections submitted by Nelson’s friends and family. However, Nelson’s voice feels authentic. In a culture where so many famous people use ghost writers, we get the feeling that this is not the case for Nelson, the lyricist. The cadence and style of the writing feels like it’s all Willie. Nelson manages to write in a way that feels like he speaking to the reader. This conversational tone combined with a discursive structure makes the book feel immediate, even intimate. For fans of Nelson, this may be the book’s biggest selling point.
Somewhere between memoir and a collection of thoughts, Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die may not appeal to the general reader and certainly not to the reader who is offended by swear words and dirty jokes. But for the fan of Nelson’s music or the devotee of his persona, it is absolutely worth reading.
Drennan Spitzer is a writer and blogger from California who now resides in New England. She writes creatively, blogs publicly, and journals privately. You can find her at http://drennanspitzer.com.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by William Morrow. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.