Every Musician Should Learn These 5 Things From Willie Nelson’s New Book
via The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon / YouTube
Willie Nelson, the legendary musician whose name is synonymous with country music, has gifted the world with timeless songs and a life steeped in authenticity. With a career spanning over six decades, Nelson’s music has touched the hearts of millions, but his wisdom and experiences extend far beyond the lyrics of his songs.
Now, he has opened a new chapter of his life with the release of his latest book, Energy Follows Thought: The Stories Behind My Songs, which offers a profound look into the mind of a music icon.
Released on October 31, 2023, this book provides a unique opportunity for musicians of all backgrounds and genres to dive into the inner workings of a songwriter who has penned some of the most enduring melodies and lyrics in music history.
“What do you have to lose when you’re about to turn 90?”, Nelson’s website says, and indeed the music icon laid down everything, along with some intriguing and insightful revelations that every musician should learn from.
1. The Primacy of Lyrics
In his book, Nelson unveils the magical relationship between words and melodies, something any aspiring songwriter or musician knows and learns at the start of their career.
But for the veteran songwriter, the foundation of any composition hinges on finalizing the lyrical narrative before integrating any melodies or musical elements.
For Nelson, lyrics have always been the beating heart of his songs, and he invites readers to journey with him through the stories and emotions embedded within his words. As a musician, this lesson reminds you that compelling lyrics can be the driving force behind a powerful song.
It’s about crafting narratives that resonate with your audience, drawing them into the intricate world of your music. Nelson’s emphasis on lyrics is a testament to the enduring power of storytelling in music, urging musicians to invest time and energy into the lyrical content that forms the emotional core of their work.
2. A Sobering Transformation
In his candid narrative, Willie Nelson reveals how quitting the booze changed everything in his life and career. He looks back on his 1970 song “I Gotta Get Drunk”, which he modestly describes as “stupid”.
However, this characterization pertains to the narrative woven into the lyrics, which vividly mirrored his own life during that period.
Nelson further underscores the profound influence that alcohol held over his life during those years, acknowledging that it had the potential to lead him to a perilous end had he not made the pivotal decision to quit drinking permanently.
For musicians, Nelson’s journey serves as a powerful reminder that self-improvement can have a profound impact on creativity. Sobriety not only brought clarity to his artistic process but also extended his career.
3. Embracing Pain as a Creative Wellspring
Willie Nelson’s willingness to confront and embrace pain is a lesson in channeling raw emotions into art. Within the pages of Energy Follows Thought, readers encounter heartfelt reminisces of fleeting moments shared with dear companions.
Nelson candidly shares unvarnished and sincere reflections on departed creative partners, such as Waylon Jennings and Ray Price. Throughout the book, Nelson consistently explores the enduring impact of pain and sorrow, acknowledging that these emotions have a lasting presence in one’s life.
He reveals his propensity to revisit those sentiments, using them as emotional fuel to shape his musical compositions as the book talks about the power of using one’s vulnerabilities and personal experiences as a source of creativity.
Musicians can learn a lot from acknowledging pain and using it as creative fuel can result in deeply resonant and emotionally charged compositions. In doing so, they can forge a deeper connection with their audience through the authenticity of their music.
4. Inspiration from Everywhere
Willie Nelson’s ability to draw inspiration from every facet of life, even his dreams, is a lesson in the boundless potential of the creative mind.
While the country icon acknowledges that he typically struggles to retain the specifics of his dreams upon awakening, there have been instances where the realm of slumber sparked his creative genius.
A prime example is the song “Local Memory” featured in his 1969 album, My Own Peculiar Way. This composition emerged from a dream sequence that transported him back to his cherished hometown of Abbott, Texas.
Musicians like Nelson know that there are no fixed boundaries when it comes to creative fuel. Whether it’s a fleeting moment of serendipity or a vivid dream, every experience can become a wellspring of inspiration.
5. Love’s Enduring Melody
In one of the numerous contemplations on his nine decades of existence, Willie Nelson attributes love songs as the steadfast foundation of his creativity. This goes beyond romantic love; it encompasses a deep-seated passion and commitment to the art of music.
In his book, Nelson’s unwavering love for his craft shines through every page, reinforcing that dedication and devotion are the pillars of enduring creativity. Creating and delivering melodies that center around the profound sentiment and various forms of connection—be it romantic or platonic—serve as his guiding light.
In this purview, musicians are reminded that, at the core of their artistry, there should be a profound and unwavering love for what they do. Love for the process, for the music, and for the audience can infuse their work with sincerity and depth.
Nelson’s journey is a testament to the fact that, in the face of challenges and changing times, a love for music can sustain an artist through the peaks and valleys of their career. Musicians are encouraged to nurture their own love for their craft as the driving force behind their creativity, reminding them that it is this love that will keep them writing, composing, and performing with an enduring passion.