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Willie Nelson Reveals Story Behind ‘Crazy’ and Other Classic Tunes in New Book

‘Energy Follows Thought’ is a celebration of the country music icon’s most famous songs


spinner image left book cover for energy follows thought by willie nelson right willie nelson in concert in indiana in twenty twenty three
William Morrow / Photo by Gary Miller/Getty Images

Willie Nelson, 90, is one of the great singers and songwriters of country music, an icon known for his long braids, bandanna and outlaw style since the 1960s. Now, in his new book, Energy Follows Thought: The Stories Behind My Songs (October 31), the legend reveals the origins of 160 of his classic songs, including “Crazy,” which he wrote and Patsy Cline recorded and made her own in 1961.

He explains in the book that “the words always come first”: “I figure that once I get the words right, melodies will appear. They always have. Get the story down first and it’ll sing on its own.”

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Cowritten with David Ritz, the book was timed to celebrate Nelson’s 90th birthday earlier this year, which was marked in April with two rollicking shows at the Hollywood Bowl in California (available as an album, Long Story Short: Willie Nelson 90 Live at The Hollywood Bowl, on December 15) and his induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame on Nov. 3.

In the following excerpts, the musician offers the stories behind “Crazy” and “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground,” a number 1 hit released on the soundtrack to the 1980 film Honeysuckle Rose, starring Nelson as a struggling country music singer.

spinner image willie nelson performing live in atlanta georgia in nineteen eighty one
Willie Nelson performing in Atlanta in 1981.
Photo By Rick Diamond/Getty Images

​“Crazy”

I’m crazy, crazy for feeling so lonely

I’m crazy, crazy for feeling so blue

I knew that you’d love me as long as you wanted

And then someday you’d leave me for somebody new

Worry, why do I let myself worry?

Wondering what in the world did I do?

I’m crazy for thinking that my love could hold you

I’m crazy for trying and crazy for crying

And I’m crazy for loving you

​Sometimes the craziest stories are the best. 

And God knows how many crazy stories have come out of Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, the famous barroom in downtown Nashville a few feet from Ryman Auditorium, home to the Grand Ole Opry. I was in there one night and saw Charlie Dick. I knew he was married to sweet Patsy Cline, who sang like an angel. I had a scratchy record of me singing “Crazy” where I sure as hell didn’t sound like an angel. I sounded more like a man desperate to have someone else sing the song. Anyway, I played it for Charlie, who liked it so well he drove me over to his house at one a.m., woke up poor Patsy, and made her listen to it.

Because Patsy liked it, I was poor no longer.

It almost didn’t happen because Patsy, who recorded it in a Nashville studio, tried singing like me. Big mistake. No one should ever try to follow my style of phrasing. Not that I don’t like my style. I do. I believe it’s natural, at least for me. But it’s offbeat. I tend to kick way back behind the beat or hurry up ahead of the beat. As my good buddy Waylon Jennings once said, “Willie wouldn’t know where the beat is if it bit him in the butt.”

Fortunately, Patsy’s famous producer, Owen Bradley, urged her to forget my phrasing and stick to her own.

Crazy is as crazy does, and this particular “Crazy” convinced me, at a time when I wasn’t a hundred percent sure of my writing talent, that I’d be crazy to stop writing.

Craziness can be a pretty good strategy for survival.

​“Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground”

If you had not have fallen

Then I would not have found you

Angel flying too close to the ground

And I patched up your broken wing

And hung around awhile

Trying to keep your spirits up

And your fever down

I knew someday that you would fly away

For love’s the greatest healer to be found

So leave me if you need to, I will still remember

Angel flying too close to the ground

Fly on, fly on past the speed of sound

I’d rather see you up than see you down

So leave me if you need to, I will still remember

My angel flying too close to the ground

​During those times when I was doing heavy reading and seeking unanswerable questions, I stumbled on this quote: “Knowledge is life with wings.”

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When I thought of wings, I thought of angels. I thought of angels flying around with a knowledge that could ease our troubled minds.

I had known angelic women. Their sweetness felt heavenly. Their purpose appeared only to love unselfishly. I imagined one such angel entering the life of a difficult man. To be with him required that, rather than soar, she descend. If she wants to live on his level, she must fall. 

Determined to repair the damage, he does so sadly, knowing that this angel is more than he deserves. Her fate is elsewhere. Her flight, her departure is inevitable.

I’ve been singing this sorrowful song since I wrote it in the 1980s. I can’t tell you how many people have asked me to name the angel I have in mind. My answer is always the same:

“It could be any one of a thousand angels. You name her. You tell me who she is.”

Excerpted from Energy Follows Thought: The Stories Behind My Songs by Willie Nelson with David Ritz and Mickey Raphael, published by William Morrow. Copyright © 2023 by WN Family Partnership, Ltd. Reprinted courtesy of HarperCollins Publishers.

Video: The Supercut You Need to Keep Willie Nelson Always on Your Mind

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