Kris Kristofferson is a living testament to the ethic of the singer-songwriter. Introspective and gregarious, astute observer of the ebb and flow of human emotion, courageous, independent. Kristofferson was there in the beginning, living the life, sowing the early seeds. Come to think, maybe he started the whole damn thing.
Born in Brownsville, Texas to a military family, Kristofferson has lived pretty much everywhere, and has done pretty much everything. Army Captain, helicopter pilot, boxer, rugger and runner. Rhodes Scholar, actor (with a Golden Globe Award) and pretty boy. But foremost, a songwriter.
Raised mostly in California and steered by his father towards a military career, his family never forgave him when he quit the army to become an artist. Kris got over it, and has had as much fun in this life as anybody, more than most, just being free and easy.
He landed in Nashville in 1965, swept floors to survive and did practically anything to get someone to listen to his songs. But he was never really part of the Nashville machine, nor would he become an “outlaw” from the traditional country scene like his buddies Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings. Kristofferson never pretended to be a country boy, never pretended to be anything other than what he was…a road hardened hippie California drifter from Texas. He was the absolute antithesis of the Nashville cowboys that whooped it up on Saturday night and still pretended to go to church on Sunday morning.
The full measure of this man’s work, and the real import of his influence on the art form, can only be appreciated from a distance. He has written great songs, of course, completely original and diverse barnburners that have become country standards. Songs like “For the Good Times”, “Sunday Morning Coming Down”, “Help Me Make it Through the Night” and “Me and Bobby McGee”. Songs still instantly recognized and loved around the world.
But perhaps more important than what he did was the way he did it. Kristofferson wrote and produced the way he wanted, not the way some record executive told him to. His original recordings are raw and spare and dusty, delivered with a few scratchy guitar chords and a sandpaper voice, and they were much the better for it. Kris was one of those early preachers of the simple spoken word (along with the likes of Bob Dylan and Townes Van Zandt and Leonard Cohen), teaching us that the value of the music is in the message, not the package. The book rather than the cover.
Kris Kristofferson has had a long and beautiful journey, and we’re quite lucky that he took us along.
Three things you should know about Kris Kristofferson: (1) he has a Masters degree in English literature, and once wanted to be a novelist, (2) he was romantically involved with Janis Joplin when she died in 1970, and (3) to get Johnny Cash to listen to some of his early songs, Kris landed a helicopter in his front yard.