Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Willie Nelson and Jimmy Carter’s son smoked a bowl on the White House roof

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Photo: Wally McNamee / Contributor (Getty Images)

Casey McQuiston’s 2019 novel Red, White & Royal Blue—yes, this is a story about Willie Nelson smoking up on the roof of the White House, please bear with us—opens with a lovely little passage about the White House roof. (See? It’s relevant.) There’s a piece of paneling up there, McQuiston writes, that can be gently peeled back to reveal a message:

In the secret history of First Families—an insular gossip mill sworn to absolute discretion about most things on pain of death—there’s no definite answer for who wrote it. The one thing people seem certain of is that only a presidential son or daughter would have been daring enough to deface the White House. Some swear it was Jack Ford, with his Hendrix records and split-level room attached to the roof for late-night smoke breaks. Others say it was a young Luci Johnson, thick ribbon in her hair. But it doesn’t matter. The writing stays, a private mantra for those resourceful enough to find it [...]

It says:


It’s a good book! You should read it! But also, perhaps we should expect an expanded or revised edition that includes confirmation of one of the great anecdotes of musical history: Yes, Willie Nelson got high on the roof of the White House, and yes, it was with one of Jimmy Carter’s kids. Carter confirms it in the new documentary Jimmy Carter: Rock & Roll President, and if you want to be totally charmed by watching President Carter lightly chuckle about his son’s covert weed-smoking, you can see that clip in the trailer at the bottom of this post. Addressing the anecdote Nelson included in his 1988 autobiography (helpfully titled Willie: An Autobiography) Carter says that it was not, as Nelson suggested, a White House employee who smoked and passed it on, but one of Carter’s offspring.


In fact, it’s been confirmed twice—by the former President, and by James “Chip” Carter, the son in question, himself. Here’s what he said to the Los Angeles Times:

“My guess is it’s true. If you’re talking about me and Willie, he was my friend,” he says. Asked to paint a picture, he replied with a sigh, “I’ve never talked about that before.” The 40th anniversary of that joint’s passing, in fact, is Sunday.

The date was Sept. 13, 1980. Carter was in the thick of his reelection campaign against Ronald Reagan. In Iran, 52 American hostages had endured more than a year of captivity.

Nelson was in the middle of a set at the White House. Recalls Chip, “In the break I said, ‘Let’s go upstairs.’ We just kept going up till we got to the roof, where we leaned against the flagpole at the top of the place and lit one up.’”

Adds Chip: “If you know Washington, the White House is the hub of the spokesthe way it was designed. Most of the avenues run into the White House. You could sit up and could see all the traffic coming right at you. It’s a nice place up there.”

It sounds like Chip Carter managed not to break rule number one, until now at least. Happy anniversary, Chip/Willie/White House roof!

[via Consequence Of Sound]

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