Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, and ‘Pretty Paper’: The Sadly True Christmastime Story
Songwriter Willie Nelson’s “Pretty Paper” is a holiday favorite for many fans of country music. In 2020, his longtime friend, Dolly Parton, recorded her own version of it with him singing backup and playing guitar. But he wrote the song decades before that.
Who was the original inspiration for Nelson’s sad lyrics?
Willie Nelson and ‘Pretty Paper’
In his book, Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die, Nelson discusses the song and its origins on the streets of Fort Worth, Texas, long before he sang it with friend, and nothing more, Parton.
“In Fort Worth around Christmastime, I would see a guy with no legs. He had roller skates on his knees, and he sold pencils, wrapping paper, and Christmas cards,” Nelson shares. “I wrote this song about him.”
“Pretty Paper” describes a man sitting alone on a sidewalk hoping bustling holiday shoppers won’t just pass him by. The lyrics include, “Should you stop/Better not, much too busy/You’re in a hurry, my how time does fly/And in the distance, the ringing of laughter/And in the midst of the laughter he cries.”
Nelson details the lonely man’s merchandise in the chorus: “Pretty paper, pretty ribbons of blue/Wrap your presents to your darling from you/Pretty pencils to write I love you/Pretty paper, pretty ribbons of blue.”