And in his newly-released book, Energy Follows Thought: The Stories Behind My Songs, the red headed stranger is giving fans a new perspective on some of his biggest hits, deep cuts and longtime fan-favorites by providing commentary on the stories that inspired many of them.
One that made me laugh harder than most comes from the story behind his duet with his friend, the late, great Merle Haggard, when they decided to record “Why Do I Have To Choose” for their collaborative Seashores of Old Mexico album.
The follow-up to their enormously successful 1983 Pancho and Lefty record, Seashores of Old Mexico was released in 1987 and produced solely by Willie and Merle.
Though, this project was much less successful in comparison to their first venture, as it didn’t contain a hit single and peaked at just #31 on the U.S. Billboard Country Albums chart.
The only song written by Willie was the aforementioned “Why Do I Have To Choose,” which he calls in his book:
“A song about romantic bewilderment.”
It tells the story of a man who basically can’t make up his mind about which woman he wants to be with, as “either love is true” and he refuses to “walk around and sing the blues.”
Anywho, Willie says it was Merle who really pushed to cut the song, as Merle told his friend “I like it because it’s perverted”:
“I first sang it on my own in the early eighties. A few years later, while I was making an album with Merle Haggard, ‘Seashores of Old Mexico,’ we decided to do it as a duet.
Merle really liked the song. ‘I like it because it’s perverted,’ he said.”
Of course, a very taken-back Willie Nelson was quite confused:
“‘Is that like calling me a pervert?'”
“‘Nope. What I mean by perverted is that you start it out as nothing but another love song. You’re singing to your gal.
While she’s listening to it, she’s got to be loving it. You’re telling her there ain’t no love like the love between you and her.'”
And Willie defended himself, saying:
“Well, there’s nothing wrong with that.”
Though, Merle (rightfully) continued, saying it’s really backwards because while Willie’s singin’ about how much he loves this one girl, he ultimately pulls the “rug out from under her,” so to speak, when another woman gets brought into the picture that he also apparently loves:
“Except you pull out the rug from under her. You bring another woman into the picture. That’s how you pervert your love song. You start out sweet and then go sour.
And what’s worse, you don’t let either one know what you’re gonna do. You’re breaking two hearts at once.”
It’s hard to argue with that, but of course, Willie responds with another fair question, asking why the heck Merle wants to sing it if it’s so perverse, saying:
“‘Well, that’s my choice. But if it’s so perverse, why do you wanna sing it, Merle?”
And The Hag comes back with an all-time classic line, admitting with conviction, humor and unabashed honesty: