Settling Down, Grandchildren, and the Message Behind One of Willie Nelson’s Favorite Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real Songs, “Icarus”

Writing the eighth album became a little more real for Lukas Nelson. “You feel like that every time you make a record,” said Nelson of his 2023 release Sticks and Stones with his band Promise of the Real. “But I think you just get closer to the bone every time.”

Filled with some autobiographical sketches from the opening title track, his message of self-acceptance—Sticks and stones may break my bones / But you can’t tell me nothing that’ll hurt / Dust to dust, we’re all just pushing dirt—and partying hard, “Alcohallelujah,” and the reverse end of settling down on “Ladder of Love.”

“What I’m hoping this time is that these songs are cohesive, that they go together and then it tells a story,” said Nelson of the album. “And it is country. This is the most country record I’ve ever made. This is as close to my roots as I’ve gotten so far.”

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‘I Fly Just to See My Feet’

More than midway into Sticks and Stones Lukas delivers another contemplation on settling down and giving his parents grandchildren, “Icarus”—My mama said she wants grand-babies
My daddy said he wouldn’t mind a few grandchildren too.
The song, he says, is a favorite of his father Willie Nelson since it’s the most “country” track on the album.

“I think this is my dad’s favorite so far, probably because it’s more country than any of the other ones I’ve done,” said Nelson. “There’s a lot of humor on this record, which is more a part of me than the last records have had. I prefer to laugh at myself more than anything. People will get frustrated with me for my dad jokes, but I really like them.”

I run just to catch my tail
I fly just to see my feet
And I hide just to see who’s lookin’
And I smile every time I brush my teeth

My mama said, everybody thinks they’re wiser than Icarus
Flirting with the big old sun, go and find someone
Why don’t you settle down, baby?
Yeah, you had your fun

My mama said she wants grand-babies
My daddy said he wouldn’t mind a few grandchildren too
But I just lost my baby
‘Cause I’m too hard livin’, I’ve got too much to do

Grab the bull by the horns, sheer them sheep
Milk those heifers baby, teat by teat
A little hard work never did no wrong
But who you gonna love when the evenin’ comes?

And I run just to catch my tail
And I fly just to see my feet
And I hide just to see who’s lookin’
And I smile every time I brush my teeth

LOS ANGELES, CA – FEBRUARY 06: (L-R) Anthony LoGerfo, Willie Nelson, and Lukas Nelson perform onstage during the Producers & Engineers Wing 12th annual Grammy week event honoring Willie Nelson at Village Studios on February 6, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Maury Phillips/Getty Images for The Recording Academy)

“There’s a time and place”

“In the past, I haven’t integrated that part of myself into the music and I think it’s been a loss for the last records,” says Nelson of the Sticks and Stones track. “It’s like I’m missing a part of myself if I don’t do that. There’s a time and a place, but I wanted to celebrate life with music on a record and not get too bogged down. There’s such a thing as too much reflection, I think.”

Nelson added, “There’s a time where you need to let it all go and celebrate life and maybe get up off your seat and dance a little bit. Or sway quietly and feel loved and feel connected in a positive and uplifting way. Or if the song isn’t positive, at least it brings you to a place where you can let go and forget about life for a bit or remember it through a good lens.”

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Lukas and Willie Collaborations

Along with Lukas’ two collaborative albums with Neil Young, co-writing several tracks for Bradley Cooper’s 2018 remake of A Star is Born and making music with his band Promise of the Real, his work with his father also spans two albums—Heroes (2012), which features three tracks written or co-written by Lukas, and Willie and the Boys: Willie’s Stash, Vol. 2 from 2017.

“He was very timeless in his way of writing,” said Lukas of his father’s songwriting in 2023. “That type of writing is … there’s an authority to it. It sounds more like an ancient text than it does a song.”

Photo: Brian Ach/Getty Images for Time

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