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'Willie Nelson: An Epic Life' Book Review

567 pages might not be enough to cover Willie Nelson's Epic Life

By Doug Freeman, Fri., April 25, 2008

'Willie Nelson: An Epic Life' Book Review

Willie Nelson: An Epic Life

by Joe Nick Patoski
Little, Brown and Co., 567 pp., $27.99

"He was a musician but more than a musician," writes Joe Nick Patoski near the end of his excellent new biography of Willie Nelson. The portrait that Patoski paints of Nelson on the threshold of the musical icon's 75th year is one of a tenacious maverick who constantly bucked trends and authority by remaining true to his roots, family, music, and, most of all, friends. As with many living biographies, Patoski seems slightly dismissive of the younger Nelson's indiscretions, his tempestuous marriages and affairs, rough corral of conning confidants, and freewheeling lifestyle, proving Willie as much loved for his faults as in spite of them. From his scrapping early days bounding determinedly out of Abbott, Texas, to his frustrated career in Nashville to his finding home among Austin's cosmic cowboys in the 1970s, Nelson never wavered from his sense of self or pursuit of a good time, even as his fortunes rose and fell. Like his subject's, Patoski's prose drifts equally poetic and folksy, his eye for place and ear for Nelson's unique style vibrant, while his research in cataloging the revolving cast of Family and interviewing sources runs deep. Most illuminating is his understanding of the scenes that mark Nelson's career, especially the underlying tensions between Nelson's pistol-packing outlaw buddies and newfound hippie following, resulting in both his fallout with the Armadillo World Headquarters and the Altamont-esque disaster of 1976's annual picnic in Gonzales, Texas. The episodes, however, become testament to Nelson's nondiscriminating loyalty to friends, extending equally to boosting Charley Pride as to supporting thuggish associates, and his legacy is one of enduring generosity and uncompromising integrity. Coming full circle, Patoski closes his narrative with Nelson's purchase of his childhood church in Abbott, Willie at the pulpit as elder statesman, outlaw poet, and international superstar but with the same mischievous Texas grin as the boyhood "Booger Red."

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