- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 7, 2002

NEW YORK — Has one of country music's original outlaws been tamed? Willie Nelson says he has stopped smoking, cut back on fattening foods and is drinking healthful soy lattes.
He even has cut back on his use of marijuana.
"I used to be a real heavy marijuana smoker; I'd smoke all the time to the point I never really got high. But I slowed down a lot, I don't smoke half as much as I used to," the 68-year-old singer says.
But flip through his new book, "The Facts of Life and Other Dirty Jokes," and you'll find that he hasn't changed all that much. A funny, sometimes raunchy book, it contains Mr. Nelson's musings on his life and music during a recent stint on the road with his close-knit crew, which includes one of his daughters and his sister.
"He still really is an outlaw," says Matt Serletic, producer of Mr. Nelson's new disc, "The Great Divide." "He hasn't softened a bit. I think he still maintains his own rugged individuality."
The book touches on some of the highlights of his decades-long career, but it is not an in-depth look at Mr. Nelson's life. It doesn't delve into his personal life, which includes four marriages and his famous battle with the Internal Revenue Service, or his professional career, which includes countless hits, awards and his recent induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. (Mr. Nelson also has been nominated for two Grammys this year, including best country album, for "Rainbow Connection.")
Maybe that's because he covered most of that territory in "Willie: An Autobiography." The new book is different, Mr. Nelson says, because "I wrote it all myself. It's kind of a day-to-day journal."
"Didn't have anything definite to say and probably didn't say anything definite," he adds with a wry smile.
Mr. Serletic says the book "gives everyone a chance to sit down with Willie Nelson and spend a few hours [with him]."
Many of the jokes most of which are salacious stem from a tradition going back to his childhood in Abbott, Texas.
"When I was born, we had no television, so there was not a lot of entertainment, so we'd tell jokes," he says, adding that humor serves as a sort of therapy for him.
"Of course relationships are always hard, but the more time that passes, the more humor you can find. So if you're crying about it today, just be patient. You may be able to laugh about it."
The book's release coincides with several other new projects. He's on tour again, and now has his own brand of bourbon, 86-proof Old Whiskey River, which is packaged with a signature guitar clip.
His new CD pairs Mr. Nelson with an assortment of younger performers, ranging from the likely (Lee Ann Womack) to the unconventional (R&B; singer Brian McKnight).
So far, sales haven't been "Supernatural." In its first two weeks of release, "The Great Divide" sold about 50,000 copies.
Mr. Nelson says he's not necessarily chasing a commercial hit. Like many other country greats, he's not getting much attention from Nashville radio these days.
"There's a lot of good talent out there. They don't get that much play anymore," he says. "I knew I was in trouble when I heard someone say, 'I wish we could hear some of those old guys again, like George Strait and Randy Travis.'"
Though he likes Alan Jackson, Miss Womack and Alison Krauss, he prefers listening to Frank Sinatra or Hank Williams on oldies stations.
"It's hard to listen to a lot of the new stuff because it's all so happy, and that's just not the way it is," he says. "I liked it a little bit better when Hank [Williams] sang 'Your Cheatin' Heart,' because it's more realistic."


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