Have you read: Willie Nelson’s ‘Tao’ is hardly esoteric
“The Tao of Willie: A Guide to Happiness in Your Heart” by Willie Nelson and Turk Pipkin
Willie Nelson is not someone to whom I have ever really given much thought. His music is not the style I normally listen to, his previous books were not of much interest to me and his public life falls into the same indifferent category where I file most gossip and celebrity hype. Yet as I began to talk with people about “The Tao of Willie” my interest grew in just what this so-called “Icon of American Culture” might have to say.
Even before I started reading, just from interactions with various people, I began to discover many folks have a pretty strong opinion of Willie Nelson. Some are avid fans who consider Willie to be worthy of utmost respect and attention; others do not care for his music and find his interactions with the IRS to be worthy of derision. One thing you can say about the man is he has certainly permeated our society, not surprising considering a career spanning more than 50 years, 250 albums, 2,500 songs, 25 films and over 50 million records sold.
“The Tao of Willie” is a small book, short and easy to read with a lack of pretension that can disarm even the most skeptical of Nelson’s detractors. Although the title might lead some to think it would be a treatise solely on Willie’s transformation to and avocation of the Chinese philosophy of Taoism, the work is far from esoteric by any stretch. While there are many insights and excerpts from Lao-Tzu’s centuries old text the “Tao Te Ching,” Nelson relies more on his own life experiences and situations to fill out the book with thought provoking bromides, aphorisms and observations.
The book begins with a candid introduction from both authors and continues into stories of Nelson growing up with his grandmother in Abbott, Texas. Learning to play music, pick cotton and understanding a Native American heritage all provide fertile fields for Willie to sow his own hodgepodge philosophy through clever anecdotes. The stories of Christianity blend together with musings from Eastern philosophy and Native American traditions into what Willie is trying to get across throughout the book: “It’s really so simple, and it all comes down to love.”
Between the stories reside sections entitled “The Willie Way,” bits of philosophy and jokes gathered over years on the road, in music halls, and even from the world of being a pig farmer. Covering just about every spiritualistic topic from life and death to environmentalism and marijuana, Nelson strives to present his message of universal love and compassion from within the context of his own life.
Remarkably, the mixed philosophy, storytelling, joke-filled style actually serves to create a very readable and uplifting book. By keeping the format short and to the point, there is little opportunity for the narratives to drag or the spiritualism to become overly preachy. Like songs at a Willie Nelson concert, the chapters articulate their messages and get on to the next theme.
Turk Pipkin, co-author of “The Tao of Willie,” has appeared in eight motion pictures, several television programs (including a recurring part in HBO’s The Sopranos), and has written eight previous books. A longtime friend of Nelson’s, Turk Pipkin appears to have been involved mostly for support and other than the introduction is all but invisible throughout.
“The Tao of Willie” is a nice addition to the genre of inspirational books that many famous figures have contributed over the years, bringing a refreshed perspective on the same truths of love and compassion that have been the cornerstone of spiritualism since early humans began to see beyond the next meal and strive toward enlightenment.
-Michael Stroschein is co-owner and manager of Neighbors Bookstore in the Village Center.