Let’s Remember Willie Nelson for More Than Marijuana

April 10, 2012 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  21 Comments

Today it was announced that a new statue of Willie Nelson will be erected in Austin, TX, commemorating the country music legend whose career now spans over 50 years. The bronze statue is a gift from the not-for-profit organization Capitol Area Statues. It stands 8-feet tall and weighs 1 ton, at a cost of about $300,000. It was created by sculptor Clint Shields, who told The Rolling Stone he had a difficult task of making sure he represented all the eras of Willie, from the Outlaw of the 70’s, to the face of Farm Aid in the 80’s, to today.

The statue will sit at the base of the stairs to ACL Live’s Moody Theater where Austin City Limits is taped, at the W Austin Hotel downtown. The statue was initially unveiled to a small group in Austin on November 14th (see image of statue), but the public unveiling will happen the same day Willie Nelson and many other artists are scheduled to perform at the “We Walk The Line” tribute commemorating Johnny Cash’s 80th birthday on April 20th, aka 4/20. The statue will also officially be unveiled at 4:20 PM “as a nod to the country star’s reputation as a stoner.”

As Saving Country Music pointed out last August, asking if Willie Nelson was becoming a “pot punchline”:

Willie Nelson is an American treasure, one of the worlds greatest pacifists, an advocate for farmers, biofuels, and countless other causes, as well as being one of the most revered living American artists, and one of the greatest country music legends of all time. His album Red Headed Stranger is disputably the greatest, most important country album ever. But as time goes on, what Willie seems to be best known for is a guy who happens to smoke pot.

…what I am concerned with is that Willie’s weed identity is trumping, if not marginalizing the other accomplishments of one of our country’s elder statesmen, including his marijuana advocacy work…If marijuana was legal, it would simply be a footnote to Willie’s legacy, like a baseball player’s favorite ice cream.

The 4/20 unveiling of the Willie Nelson statue happens to be a convenient date when Willie and other music dignitaries will already be in attendance at the Moody Theater, but unveiling it right at 4:20 PM reinforces what Willie Nelson’s legacy is becoming in the eyes of popular culture.

Statue creator Clint Shields said that while creating the likeness, he was concerned about the statue’s impact “especially a younger generation (that) grew fond of him during his more mature years.” Willie Nelson’s songs have long since left radio. He can’t be found on country awards shows. There’s no Willie Nelson videos on MTV or CMT. The way most of the younger generation and popular culture interface with Willie Nelson is through TMZ stories about his marijuana arrests, collaborations with Snoop Dogg on stoner songs, and stories like The Rolling Stone article above that mentions little about his music or other accomplishments.

Willie Nelson’s music, his legendary albums like Red Headed Stranger, Wanted: The Outlaws, and Stardust all constitute his musical legacy. His work with Farm Aid, and for biofeuls, world peace, environmentalism, and marijuana advocacy constitute his world legacy. Willie’s pot legacy is only his pop legacy, irrelevant in the face of such a reverent and inspiring life of work. To perpetuate a typecasting of Willie Nelson in the frame of an ironic joke at such a memorable moment as the unveiling of an eternal tribute seems like an unnecessary reduction of his legacy.

Some may want to commemorate Willie Nelson’s “reputation as a stoner”, but I choose to remember him as so much more, like his reputation as a world-class musician, a fighter for artists’ independence, an advocate for peace, and a spiritual inspiration.

21 Comments to “Let’s Remember Willie Nelson for More Than Marijuana”

  • Right on. But Willie is definitely doing his part in forming this less valuable version of his legacy. I have often wondered why.

    • I don’t think he gives a shit about his legacy, which makes his legacy even more amazing. Could be wrong though.

  • I think you’re a bit too worried here.. legends don’t become legends just by being stoners. so what if the statue gets unveiled on 4/20 – it’s just a gimmick, will people who look at that statue in 50 years still be referring to that date? is the statue holding a joint or something.. Willie is a pop cultural icon for his music and his social engagement (of which pot is yes an important part) but in the end it’ll be more that pot will be a Willie Nelson punchline than the other way around..

  • Willie Nelson was born on April 30th, which is also my birthday

  • Love!!!!!!! Willie…………he is a singin, writin, 12 string guru!

  • i dont see him losing any fans or not being taken seriously cuz of the stoner image and probably gets him a lot of fans he never would have had otherwise.

  • Jeezus man! That headline made my heart skip a beat. I thought he was dead for a minute!

  • Willie will always be remembered by me for his music. I’m not sure a better song has ever been written than “Angel Flying To Close To The Ground”, maybe it’s nearest rival with me is “Blue Eyes Cryin In The Rain”. I don’t mind Snoop and Willie being friends, I think they are both legends for doing their genre of music right… But maybe a bad idea to make themselves into cartoon characters of their own legend. Sure it keeps them relevant for now, with a new generation of fans, but how many have moved on? I have from both to a degree. Either way, as one commenter above stated, great honor for Willie, and his music is what will be remembered, just wish as a true fan of his skills, I didn’t have to wait till after his life was over to determen what his immediate legacy is. Shouldn’t have to, it should be easy. Great songs. Just wish he knew that.

  • Red Headed Stranger is still one of the best country albums of all time. So simple and gorgeous, if these modern pop-country idiots put even a fraction of the storytelling prowess Willie used into their songs today, we might not be bitching about how much they suck.

  • after viewing the photo it doesn’t look like willie was hitting on a bong when he posed for the statue. well, if he even posed but you get my drift. the sad thing is, as you also pointed out, is the fact he can’t be heard on the radio anymore. now that is criminal.

  • his appearance and jokes in the Dukes of Hazzard didn’t help me much. I just act like that part of him doesn’t exsist, and I get along fine…. if ya ain’t hangin out with the mens…. the jackass’s are…. and it will show. nothin wrong with it, just the way it is. Also…. after gettin busted with a damn pound of weed or whatever it was, and your only punishment is that you have to sing a song for the courtroom….what kinda behavior would one expect from the man…. the statue is alright, ACL got to attach themselves to yet something else. wondermus…..

  • I think there is too much thought going into Willie and Marijuana. As a younger country fan, I can say that rebel/outlaw/non-conformist is the actual legacy I think of when I think about Willie Nelson. He has always done what seems right to him regardless of how he might be perceived. Thats his legacy, actually living as he saw fit, not according to other peoples expectations. The man actually took the road less travelled, and it has made the all the difference for him….50 yrs and going strong. I cant wait to see him perform this summer at the County Fair where I live.

  • My hero has always been Willie Nelson. He is an inspiration. Its sad that when his name is brought up pot is the first thing that people connect with it. It should be his unique guitar playing and legendary songwriting ability.

  • Willie’s not special because he’s a musician that likes pot, but he is special because he’s a pot user that writes incredibly good songs and plays guitar like no one has ever played it. Look, stoners get excited because not often does someone come along that is as talented as Willie, and as open about their pot use. Ultimately his legacy will be the same as other ultra talented musicians, but with a positive twist. When you think about Ray Charles or Jimi Hendrix the first thing that comes to mind is how great their music was, secondly, you may think about their destructive drug use. At least with Willie when you get to the second part it won’t be remembered as a terrible negative in his life. Pills almost killed and ruined Johnny Cash. Weed has not done that to Willie. Don’t get hung up on the weed, Even if you think some people love Willie for the “wrong” reasons, that love isn’t hurting anything, and Willie doesn’t seem to mind.

  • I’m glad you brought this to attention. Willie has always been a music icon and will always be one, but as you say most people nowadays only know him because of the Marijuana. I think Willie kinda brought it upon himself for doing these silly movie roles based on his pot usage. I do have to say though if you look not only at his music he has had some great movie roles in westerns years ago. It’s the same with Kris Kristofferson I know personally alot of people in the 25 yr old demographic that didn’t even know Kristofferson was a musician only an actor. It really surprises and dissapoints me honestly.

  • Amen Trigger. Amen.

  • Willie is a man of all things. He wont just be known for country or marijuana smoking. I don’t mind if some stoner remembers him for a pot smoking rebel. It depends what inner circle you belong to is how you will remember Willie. I even met a person who likes him mostly cause of his acting. To me he made some of the best country music ever written. He is a living legend in my book.

  • The problem I have here is that we just don’t know what Willie Nelson would have been by now without the marijuana. What part is it in his inspiration that made him the legend he is. In my guilty moments I consider it a form of image-maintenance, but being a pot-smoker for the best part of my life, I can very well imagine he just likes the stuff. I know I do, and I don’t see a reason to quit. That’s easy to say, living in Holland, where possession of a few grams for your own use is not illegal, and people from all walks of life use it. It’s not an image-thing, it’s just there.
    Willie would not go to court over here, nor would he get praised for using, as long as he keeps it in proportions. So I would say de-criminalise it, it would bring the focus on the full package of Willie’s achievements, with the smoking as a footnote,though maybe it would be one of the more important footnotes.
    Which brings me to another question: is it legal to buy Lukas Nelson’s new album, since there’s so much marijuana on it.
    But most of all I think that every single kid who discovers Willie Nelson through a Snoop Dogg track, and maybe eventually hears Red Headed Stranger for the first time, is a soul won for country music.

  • I’m 25 and as I was growing up and telling people about my favorite genre of music being classic country, I would list my favorite artists. If I mention Waylon Jennings, no one knew who he was..I’d then reply if they knew who Willie Nelson is, and they’d say “oh yeah I love him”… but they only know of him from the pot references in the movies like half baked and dukes of hazzard. Its really sad…I mean how can they not know Waylon, but know Willie?? They say the “love him” but dont know one song..

    I swear, I was born in the wrong decade.and am really disgusted with people my age today.

  • have you guys heard his cover of cold play’s song? woah. it’s extraordinary! it’s so amazing to hear such a traditional artist to cover such a modern song. It’s even more incredible to see him with the likes of snoop dog! a duet that is actually very intriguing and has to be heard to be believed. Some others to notice that willie has recently worked with are dave matthews band and zac brown band… awesome!

  • They sure like to pick on me and Paul!

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