Willie Nelson’s official site is currently streaming the “world premiere” of “Roll Me Up,” the first song from his upcoming Heroes album and a tune that he’s been playing live since late last year.
On my first listen to the studio version of the song, I couldn’t help but think of a good article I read on Saving Country Music a few months back that asked if Nelson was becoming a pot punchline. In it, writer Kyle “The Triggerman” Coroneos wondered if the jokes and pop culture references to the country legend’s marijuana use were undermining all of the things that he’s accomplished in his career. I think that’s a fair question, and I also think the answer is probably yes.
The song is undeniably catchy and undeniably Willie Nelson. As if Nelson himself wasn’t enough star power, it features guest appearances by Kris Kristofferson, Jamey Johnson and Snoop Dogg. Yeah, one of these things is not like the others, and it’s apparent from Snoop’s verse on the song. They probably should have given him something where he could deliver the line in a more comfortable manner. Though I’m not much of a rap fan, I generally find Snoop Dogg entertaining, but his attempts to capture a country twang here are a bit awkward, especially considering the guys he’s surrounded by. (Though, in all fairness, I have to admit that Kristofferson sounds a little haggard in places, too.)
That aside, it’s still a fun little song. But the question is, would anyone outside the crowd that’s going to buy a Willie Nelson record anyway care about it if it weren’t about marijuana? Most likely not. And that’s a crying shame.
Even Willie seems to be having thoughts about the effect on his legacy. In a video interview about the record, he admits that he planned to name it Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die, but had second thoughts and renamed it Heroes after a song he wrote about Billy Joe Shaver. It was probably a good decision.
I’m really looking forward to Heroes, and I’m sure there will be amazing songs on it. I’m sure there will be songs that are beautifully poetic, songs that are deeply emotional and meaningful. There always are with Willie, and you can hear samples of some of those in the background on the interview.
And hey, I admit that I probably won’t be skipping “Roll Me Up” when I listen to the record. It’s a good tune. But you have to wonder, as Coroneos asked, if Willie will be remembered for all of the great songs in his catalog, for his charitable efforts like Farm Aid, or if all future generations will remember is a loveable, long-braided stoner?