Larkin Grimm Talks Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard’s Django and Jimmie

In an inspired work of country-jazz fusion, two icons reveal the secret of staying in it for the long run: don’t give a fuck what anyone else thinks.

I’ve got so much love for the oldsters in music. I make it a point to see every band with a median age over 60 because it inspires me to keep going. Like most musicians I know, I’m always wondering if this tour is going to be the last, if it’s only a matter of time before addictions and anxieties get the best of me. I’ve watched so many of my musical peers duck out in waves. First wave: the young flames who get famous at 17 and go mad at 21, disappearing into the arms of their families, never to appear in public again. Second wave: the ones who die by their own hand in suicides and overdoses, snuffed out in the prime of their beauty and talent, immortalized in that dangerous brilliance. After that comes the third wave: the musicians who change when they begin to stare down middle age. They start giving in to societal and familial pressures, and worrying about money. They get jobs at Whole Foods, Ikea and Guitar Center; they go to grad school, get married, have kids and start missing band rehearsal. Finally, there is the fourth wave of slow droppers: hard livers, drinkers and junkies who get more and more bloated and unpredictable each year, slowly poisoning their livers until they die from heart attacks or cancer in their late forties and fifties. If you’ve made it past 60, you’re a lifer! There should be a prize given to every musician who makes it to 60.

I question myself all the time. How am I going to make it that far without giving up or going out? Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson’s new album Django and Jimmie has all the answers to those questions, at every stage of life you may be exploring, at every crossroads where you ponder giving up your dreams of being a lifer musician. That’s the most valuable piece of this record. It has real wisdom and encouragement for you.

Django Reinhardt, the gypsy guitarist who, despite having two fingers of his left hand paralyzed in a fire, became the father of French “hot jazz,” and Jimmie Rodgers, the father of country music, had pretty much nothing in common except their love of Louis Armstrong’s music. Jazz and country have few crossover points, but if you consider the influence that African music had on all the musics of the south — old-time, bluegrass, blues and all — and when you realize that the most hillbilly of all musical instruments, the banjo, comes from Africa, then it becomes easier to accept that Willie Nelson belongs to the jazz lineage as much as he does to the country world. (I seriously doubt that many of you, dear readers, have listened to jazz saxophonist Bryan Murray’s 2010 album of Merle Haggard covers, Pretend It’s the End of the World. Suffice it to say, go dig it, weirdos!) This country-jazz fusion is about the most adventurous thing Merle and Willie have going on in their music. Without it, this album would be a little too safe.

Django and Jimmie is such a treat. It is completely unselfconscious and fun, two ragged but happy old codgers reminiscing, sharing their wisdom, recalling old friends they’ve lost, thinking about the music they’ve loved and been influenced by, reflecting on their careers and tying it all up in a big Nashville bow. Each song is crafted like a bulletproof vest, nary a stitch amiss. The record’s got a couple of really stellar country classics written into it, like the whiskey-drinking love song to yourself “Live This Long,” the saudade of “Where Dreams Come to Die” and the audacious stoner anthem “It’s All Going to Pot.”

In “Live This Long,” they sing about this happy accident of surviving into their 80s despite years of hard living. “We’d have taken much better care of ourselves if we’d known we were going to live this long,” Willie sings puckishly. But they probably lived this long because they did what they loved. And also because they were a little lucky. My favorite thing about oldsters vs. hipsters is that the oldsters truly don’t give a fuck what you think. They are so comfortable being who they are and speaking their truth that they can tell their diehard country fans that they really were blowing jazz all along. They know whatey make it all look so easy, having recorded an album this tight in only three days.

If I have a problem with this record, which is pretty easy listening for any country fan, it’s for the opportunities missed to appreciate the ladies out there: Dolly! Loretta! Emmylou Harris! Goddamn; if they haven’t paid their dues, nobody has. Django and Jimmie hollers out to a lot of crusty old white men but gives no care to the women in country. It’s a lily-white bad-boy’s club/sausage party/back-slapping dude-fest. You can do better, guys. And what about all the people of color who developed this jazz you love? Could you mention one or two in all your odes to your friends? I’d love to see some improvement on this for the next album, boys. Here’s to having all the time in the world. Might I suggest a collaboration with Erykah Badu or Janelle Monae?

Still, let us give thanks to Willie and Merle, our sweet musical mentors. Their rocking chair wisdom is telling you to spend your last $100 on pot and play music until your heart stops. I’m gonna listen to these guys!

Born in a commune in Memphis, Tennessee, Larkin Grimm is a musician, writer, sculptor and painter residing in Harlem, New York City. Her tastes veer towards outsider art and difficult music. Her roots are loaded with Southern folk, blues, old-time and country. Larkin has worked with producers Michael Gira of Swans and Tony Visconti. She has sung backup for Patti Smith and shared bills with Thurston Moore, Joanna Newsom, the Mountain Goats, Dirty Projectors, Bill Laswell, St. Vincent, John Zorn and many undiscovered geniuses. You can follow her on Twitter here.