Willie Nelson has a gift for finding the beauty in the commonplace, and his song "Pretty Paper" is a perfect example of the genius in his craft. A Christmas song that has been recorded by everyone from Roy Orbison to Chris Issak, it is a poignant holiday tale about a disabled vendor selling his wares on the street.
Now Nelson has teamed up with a collaborator to see if he can branch out and still maintain the same touch with the long-form art of storytelling through novel writing — and "Pretty Paper" is the inspiration.
According to The Dallas News, the song has an interesting backstory:
...Nelson, who in the early 1960s had yet to establish himself as one of the giants of country music, spotted a disabled street vendor selling colorful papers, pencils and ribbons in front of Leonard's Department Store in downtown Fort Worth.
"Pretty papers!" the man called out. "Pretty ribbons!"
Alas, the peddler, his legs amputated above the knees, wasn't making any sales that day.
Nelson was so moved by the sad visual that he wrote Pretty Paper, an ironic Christmas song that combines a pleasing melody with poignant lyrics.
Apparently it was always on Nelson's mind because he's teamed up with David Ritz, who helped him write his 2015 memoir: "It's a Long Story: My Life," to craft a story for that peddler he saw so long ago that inspired a song so many have recorded and been touched by.
"Pretty Paper" the novel is Nelson's attempt to give the disabled peddler a name and a history — and along the way he tells the story of being a struggling musician in 1960's Fort Worth, Texas.
The novel reportedly culminates in a happy Christmas for the pretty paper seller, proving that Willie Nelson tries to pay those who've inspired him back the best way he can — by giving them the dignity of a great story.