#260: Willie Nelson, "Stardust" (1978)

His aching hands still gripped Trigger as he floated up back into the stars. Humming “All of Me” as he picked out the chords. He knew them so well. After all, he’d played them since he was a child. His time was at hand (and, naturally, off the beat), but he never let them take his heart, no matter what the song said.

He smiled as he saw Ray, greeting new arrivals at the gate, just beyond St. Peter. Ray rocking back and forth, stamping out Georgia on the piano. “Willie?” he asked. “I thought I smelled you,” and he smiled. “Bring that dank stash over here. Isn’t that what the kids say?” They jazzed a few bars of that old sweet song, ‘til Willie moved along, off in a green cloud to re-join Johnny and Waylon on the highway….

“Just direct your feet….” Willie hummed and strummed….when a Monk blast jumped from behind a tree. Well, Willie grinned as wide as West Texas, and without missing a beat, plucked his way:

“In Walked Bud!” he said to Thelonious’s smile. They bripped and brapped and flanged and danged and noodled themselves high as they could, though they were already higher than the blue sky….

Bluebirds danced around their heads as they toddled down the road, picking up Powell, and Satchmo, and even Kerouac, gesticulating wildly with his instrument of choice, filling the pure air with more purity, a pure joyful haha-hee-ha of lips and hambone knee-slapping….

Willie’s smile began to fall, for he missed Bobbie, and Mickey, and Jody and Paul. He knew he’d see them again, as a hummingbird, or a poet, bringing song, or a thrumming word. Or maybe if he was lucky, he’d be a person someday. As if by magic, he spotted Bee up the way, and picked up the tempo. He stopped and said hey. “Bee, how are you, buddy? I need your bottom end.” Willie spoke a sly grin, as tears ran down his friend’s face.

“I’d like you to accompany me,” he said, “on my tour of the great beyond.” And with that, the Family kept keeping on….

He saw Lady Day crying underneath a sycamore tree, and asked “What’s wrong, Billie?” She groaned out that she was lonely, and he put his arm around her and said, “Don’t be, ‘cause I’m here to get you through.” With that, they sparkled up mountains and moonlights in Vermont, with the flitting meadowlarks, up the icy slopes and down again, arm in arm, friend with friend. “After all,” Willie said, “isn’t that why we’re here?” and Billie said, “Come here” for a peck on the cheek.

Willie walked along, singing, picking out joyous trills of notes, but a touch of blue still trailed him. He wondered how long his spirit’d be on loan next time, if he’d ever properly practice love. He set this aside, and picked up his tune again, confident his friends could be his guide. As he serenaded that ol’ buttermilk sky, he prayed to be re-born in Texas.

It was a momentous first day, filled with laughter and teardrops and old friends and song, but Willie, Bee, Billie and Satchmo and Ray, all hugged and goodbyed and went along their way. While Jack cornered Monk and Bud to rap about their flow, Willie and Bee, well….they re-joined the road. And they never could find Waylon….

—Josh Medsker