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The gospel of Billy Joe Shaver's timeless lyrics preach secular sermon of faith in life and in the people you love

Brian T. Atkinson

Billy Joe Shaver's earthy yarns link sacred and secular with a devil's grin. His most engaging demand keen attention. Fittingly, Shaver, whose 'Live Forever' signals Jeff Bridges' deliverance in 'Crazy Heart,' cherishes performances at the Cactus Cafe.

'Ain't that a shame,' the 70-year-old says of UT's plan to shutter the venerable venue. 'I don't understand. That's the one place you can go to play and people just listen to you. It's wonderful.' The Waco resident appears Friday at the Paramount Theatre.

American-Statesman: Have you seen 'Crazy Heart'?

Billy Joe Shaver: I haven't, but I'm looking forward to it. Boy, Jeff Bridges is such a great actor. He's a big hero of mine. I saw some trailers, and sometimes he looked like Kris (Kristofferson). Other times he looked like Waylon (Jennings). Jeff's pretty cool.

His character's asked where the songs come from. He says, 'Life, unfortunately.' Bet you've felt like that sometimes.

Oh, pretty much all the time (laughs). It's like osmosis. I really believe I was born to write songs, so I've been writing since I was a kid and started talking. It's the cheapest psychiatrist yet, and I still need one (laughs).

Your friend Robert Duvall sings 'Live Forever' in the movie. Did you coach him?

No, but I heard he just busted his (expletive) singing it (laughs). Actually, he's really good. He plays guitar pretty good and sings good and writes good and everything.

How did that song come to you?

My son Eddy gave me that way back around 1989. Oh God, it's such a great melody. The melody's so good that I carried it around for six months before I could figure out what to put with it. I think Eddy gave it to me just to kick my (expletive)!

He wrote some of the lyrics, too, right?

(Sings) "You fathers and you mothers, be good to one another. Please try to raise your children right. Don't let the darkness take them; don't make them feel forsaken. Just lead them safely toward the light." He wrote that. That's the meat of the whole thing.

It's timeless.

Nobody recognized it as a great song when it came out. I have a lot of songs that people discover later on. I imagine that I'll be dead and gone a long time before people figure some of these out. If I'd heard one of these songs that I wrote now, I guess I'd just shoot myself if I didn't write it. Man, I just love my songs. They're like kids, though: it's hard to tell which one's the best.

Faith is so present in them. Consciously?

Yeah, I don't know how, but it gets in there almost every doggone time. That's life. I don't want to say anything bad about it, man, but it kind of gets me looking like some kind of preacher. God knows I ain't. I'm the king of the sinners.

Did your faith waver when you lost (Shaver's wife) Brenda in 1999 or Eddy the following year?

No, it has to get stronger, or you'll be gone. You don't lean on it; it leans on you. Faith even without a belief in God is a powerful thing. The power of suggestion is wonderful: Give something wings, and it's apt to fly.