Willie Nelson, 82, is a singer, songwriter and musician with few peers. He received the Kennedy Center Honors in 1998, is a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame and is on Rolling Stone’s lists of 100 Greatest Singers and 100 Greatest Guitarists. On Nov. 18 he will receive the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for lifetime contributions to popular music.
Do you still recognize the Willie Nelson who wrote songs 50 or more years ago like “Funny How Time Slips Away” or “Crazy”? Or does that seem like a different you?
No, I sing those songs every night, so I can still relate to all of that. I think “Crazy” probably fits me more ways than one.
Is there a songwriter in American history whom you wished people knew more about?
Vern Gosdin. He’s a guy who kind of got lost along the way, but he’s one of my favorite all-time songwriters.
And why is that?
’Cause he’s a good f------ writer! [Laughs.]
You still tour pretty extensively and put out albums. Is resting not an option for you?
Well, I don’t do time off very well. But I’m really pissed that I’ve been laid up here the past couple of weeks with this operation, because I need to be working.
What was the operation for?
It was a stem-cell operation. It’s supposed to help the lungs. Over the years I’ve smoked a lotof cigarettes, and I’ve had emphysema and pneumonia four or five times, so my lungs were really screwed up, and I had heard that this stem-cell operation would be good for them. So I said, “Well, I’m gonna try it out.” But I’m still so sore that I can’t say that it was a success. I’ll have to wait until all the soreness goes away.
Does it hurt to sing?
I’ll let you know. [Laughs.] I think I’ll be able to sing. The only thing that worries me more than anything is carrying my guitar, because they did the operation right in my stomach. But I think I’ll be all right.
If you could receive a lifetime achievement award for something other than music, what would it be?
[Laughs.] That’s about all I know anything about.
Who is someone you never saw perform that you wish you’d had a chance to see?
You know, I’ve been pretty lucky. Even when I was a kid my heroes were people like Bob Wills, and I had the pleasure of getting to know him real well. I not only performed with him, but I booked some shows. When I was about 15 years old, I was about a half-a--ed promoter, I thought. I booked some shows with Bob Wills, and I got to get up and sing with him, so I thought that was a pretty good deal.
You’ve been a big proponent of legalizing marijuana, and as you probably know, D.C. legalized it last year.
You know, I was in Washington the day they legalized it. I happened to be playing at the White House, so I asked President Obama, “Did you hear they legalized pot here today?” and he said, “Yeah, I heard about that.” And I laughed. And he said, “Well, you know, I’m from Hawaii.” So we had a big laugh about it.
Did you light one up at the White House?
No. Well, I did, but not with him.
You could try at the Library of Congress.
Oh, I better be careful there.
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