Willie Nelson Doesn't Want to Be the 'Last Man Standing', or Maybe He Does

Courtesy photo

From Last Man Standing, it seems Willie Nelson has lost his faith in people and feels pretty alone these days.

Last Man Standing
Willie Nelson


27 April 2018

Willie Nelson has always been a straight shooter, and he's always treated others with love and respect. That's why he was able to bring the rednecks and hippies together in Austin back in the day and why he's been able to sing with different musicians as contrary to each other as Toby Keith and the Dixie Chicks, Sinead O'Connor and Julio Iglesias, Keith Richards and Dolly Parton. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. As the old joke goes, it's easier to name someone Nelson has teamed up with than someone he hasn't.

But it seems Nelson has lost his faith in people these days. Oh sure, he'll still collaborate musically with others, even if this album does not contain any duets. That's part of his identity as much as smoking grass and wearing long braids. It must be in his DNA. However, Nelson's new record reveals how alone he feels these days.

So while Nelson claims he doesn't want to be the Last Man Standing, he quickly acknowledges that maybe he does. While many of his old peers such as Waylon Jennings, Ray Price and Merle Haggard have moved over to the other side, Nelson is not ready to die. "Maybe we'll meet on the other side," he muses on the title track. But then again, maybe not. As he notes on another cut, "Heaven Is Closed" and not only that, "hell is overcrowded" and heaven and hell might turn out to be the same place. He might as well just stay where he is.

It's not just that his friends are dying that makes him sad and alone. He's lost his feeling of connection to other people. Despite the upbeat rhythm of "Me and You", it's the saddest song on the record. He complains that he doesn't recognize the country he lives in anymore; that the planet has gone crazy. He has more enemies than friends, and friends will betray you. There is no "you" to talk to anymore—so now he just talks to himself.

Nelson co-wrote all 11 songs on the album with its producer Buddy Cannon. Cannon keeps the sound clean. One can distinguish each of the instruments on every song. Nelson writes in a variety of styles such as Western Swing, country waltz, honky tonk and other traditional Texas genres. He's joined by top-notch musicians including his regular harmonica accompanist par excellence Mickey Raphael, fiddler Alison Krauss, and keyboardist Jim "Moose" Brown. He and Cannon employ three different drummers and three different steel guitarists, which shows how important these instruments are to the sound of the album. Of course Nelson himself plays his own guitar named Trigger.

Last Man Standing suggests Nelson has no intention of slowing down. The lyrics may express a disillusionment with the world today, but what or where else is there? Nelson admits he doesn't know so he'll take pleasure where he can find it. He's still "Ready to Roar". He might be the one with "his head up his ass" and have breath bad enough to "melt the wall", but it's better than no breath at all. "Life goes on and on" he sings on "Something You Get Through". Individuals may come and go. However, the earth will keep on spinning with or without us.





How the Template for Modern Combat Journalism Developed

The superbly researched Journalism and the Russo-Japanese War tells readers how Japan pioneered modern techniques of propaganda and censorship in the Russo-Japanese War.


From Horrifying Comedy to Darkly Funny Horror: Bob Clark Films

What if I told you that the director of one of the most heartwarming and beloved Christmas movies of all time is the same director as probably the most terrifying and disturbing yuletide horror films of all time?


The 50 Best Songs of 2007

Journey back 13 years to a stellar year for Rihanna, M.I.A., Arcade Fire, and Kanye West. From hip-hop to indie rock and everywhere in between, PopMatters picks the best 50 songs of 2007.


'Modern' Is the Pinnacle of Post-Comeback Buzzcocks' Records

Presented as part of the new Buzzcocks' box-set, Sell You Everything, Modern showed a band that wasn't interested in just repeating itself or playing to nostalgia.


​Nearly 50 and Nearly Unplugged: 'ChangesNowBowie' Is a Glimpse Into a Brilliant Mind

Nine tracks, recorded by the BBC in 1996 show David Bowie in a relaxed and playful mood. ChangesNowBowie is a glimpse into a brilliant mind.


Reaching for the Sky: An Interview with Singer-Songwriter Bruce Sudano

How did Bruce Sudano become a superhero? PopMatters has the answer as Sudano celebrates the release of Spirals and reflects on his career from Brooklyn Dreams to Broadway.


Inventions Conjure Mystery and Hope with the Intensely Creative 'Continuous Portrait'

Instrumental duo Matthew Robert Cooper (Eluvium) and Mark T. Smith (Explosions in the Sky) release their first album in five years as Inventions. Continuous Portrait is both sonically thrilling and oddly soothing.


Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch Are 'Live at the Village Vanguard' to Raise Money for Musicians

Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch release a live recording from a 2018 show to raise money for a good cause: other jazz musicians.


Lady Gaga's 'Chromatica' Hides Its True Intentions Behind Dancefloor Exuberance

Lady Gaga's Chromatica is the most lively and consistent record she's made since Born This Way, embracing everything great about her dance-pop early days and giving it a fresh twist.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Street Art As Sprayed Solidarity: Global Corona Graffiti

COVID-19-related street art functions as a vehicle for political critique and social engagement. It offers a form of global solidarity in a time of crisis.


Gretchen Peters Honors Mickey Newbury With "The Sailor" and New Album (premiere + interview)

Gretchen Peters' latest album, The Night You Wrote That Song: The Songs of Mickey Newbury, celebrates one of American songwriting's most underappreciated artists. Hear Peters' new single "The Sailor" as she talks about her latest project.


Okkyung Lee Goes From Classical to Noise on the Stellar 'Yeo-Neun'

Cellist Okkyung Lee walks a fine line between classical and noise on the splendid, minimalist excursion Yeo-Neun.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.