Brokeback Balladeer

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Brokeback Mountain may be an Oscar frontrunner, but who would have thought country-western singer Willie Nelson would also be celebrating gay rope slingers? His song Cowboys are Frequently Secretly (Fond of Each Other) (sample lyric: "Inside every cowboy there's a lady that'd love to slip out") has been climbing the iTunes charts. TIME's Clayton Neuman asked him about it:

TIME: You've been getting a lot of attention for the gay cowboy song. How did it come about?

WN: Twenty years ago I did Saturday Night Live in New York, and the bass player Tony gave me a cassette tape from a guy named Ned Sublette, and it was a song called Cowboys are Frequently Secretly (Fond of Each Other). And I thought it was the funniest goddamn song I'd ever heard. I had it on the bus for 20 years, and people would come in and I'd play it. When Brokeback come out, it just seemed like a good time to kick it out of the closet.

TIME: Have you gotten any negative attention for it?

WN: Naw. Every now and then somebody might get a little offended. It's got bad language in it, so I just don't do it in my shows. Anybody wants to hear it can hear it on iTunes. But you know people are listenin' to it, likin' it. Every now and then somebody don't like it, but that's okay. Similar to years ago, when the hippie thing come out and I started growin' my hair and puttin' the earring in, I got a little flak here and there.

TIME: What sorts of positive responses are you getting?

WN: A lot of people have sent congratulatory messages and e-mails, saying, you know, it took a lot of balls to put the song out. But I didn't really think it did. First of all, I didn't think anybody would play it. I didn't think it would get on the air, but sure enough it did.

TIME: On any country stations?

WN: Oh no, they're not gonna play it.

TIME: Did you try to get it in Brokeback Mountain?

WN: Actually, I didn't get there in time. Ang Lee, the director of the movie, did all the music. He's the one that called me and asked me to do the song that I have at the end of the movie, called He Was a Friend of Mine. We laughed a lot about it, sayin' we ought to put this song in there, but it wouldn't have fit. It's not serious enough for the movie.

TIME: It might have felt a bit out of place.

WN: Yeah, yeah.