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At 80, Willie Nelson Has 'No Complaints'

The Red Headed Stranger reflects on life — and offers a little love counsel

Willie Nelson with sons Lukas and Jacob, Feb. 2013

Willie Nelson with sons — and fellow musicians — Lukas, 24, and Micah, 23, at a pre-Oscar party earlier this year. — David Livingston/Getty Images

Q: Many best wishes coming in for your 80th birthday?

A: Yeah, I'll be glad when it's over and we can talk about somebody else's birthday. Just kidding. I'm glad they're wishing me a happy birthday, and I'll get over it.

We did a lot of shows in Nashville, and a lot of 'em had to do with the birthday. I'm working on a duet album now with some great girl singers — Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Alison Krauss.

Q: What's your take on today's music industry?

A: I have no complaints. The fact that we're able to put out a record with all those standards on it speaks well for the industry.

There's not as many record companies as there used to be, though, and the ones left are having trouble competing with the Internet. A lot of songs are sort of given away — not normally a good thing if you have a record company! One night I was at a music premiere and a young kid came up and said, "I'm a big fan of yours; the other day I downloaded 12 of your songs."

Q: Some of your children and grandchildren have gotten into the music business. Do you give them advice?

A: I'm the last person in the world who should be giving advice, because I've done everything wrong. But maybe that's the way you learn: You make mistakes. I would tell people to just do what they want to do. If it works, great; if it doesn't, try something else.

Q: Has your songwriter's perspective changed as you've gotten older?

A: I've been through some experiences that made me write a lot of love songs — and a lot of unhappy love songs — but I don't think my experience is that different from anyone else's. I just have the ability to write about it. So I do.

Willie Nelson performing in Hollywood, FL, 2013.

Willie Nelson performing at Hard Rock Live in Hollywood, Fla., in February 2013. — A. Patel/Corbis

Q: In your 2012 memoir, Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die, Annie said you undergo "picker's withdrawal" when you haven't played in a while. How long does it take for that itch to kick in?

A: I could play every day. The traveling part gets old, and there's some times when you're ready to just sit in one spot for a few days, but as far as the music is concerned, you never get tired of playing it.

Music has a healing quality for the people who hear it and the people who play it. That's why people drive a long way to hear music, pay good money, clap their hands and sing along. And we keep doing it because it's a lot of fun.

Q: Looking back, what are you most proud of?

A: I'd like to think people walked away [from my concerts] thinking they got their money's worth. If they just saw a show of mine, I'd like them to be happy with it. That's all that matters.

Beth Carpenter is part of AARP's social media team. Learn more about Willie Nelson and his new albums by watching the videos at the bottom of this page.

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