“The great featherweight champion Willie Peps once said, talking of a fighter’s lifetime: the first thing to go is your legs, then it’s your reflexes, and then it’s your friends.”
– Kris Kristofferson
Over the course of this project, I’ve written about a rogue’s gallery of drunks, ne’er-do-wells, and scoundrels, larger-than-life icons who lived fast, died young, and left behind desiccated, ghoulish corpses. That all ends with today’s entry in Nashville Or Bust, however, as I cover the dry, colorless, almost perversely uninteresting Kris Kristofferson.
Kristofferson is just your typical Army brat turned championship college rugby player turned Rhodes Scholar/expatriate Oxford alum turned Army captain/helicopter pilot turned recording-studio janitor turned hit songwriter turned recording artist turned producer turned movie star turned living legend turned primary inspiration for the role that will probably win Jeff Bridges a long-overdue Oscar this year. When he left the military, Kristofferson wrestled with a choice every country singer has faced, from Jimmie Rodgers to Taylor Swift: whether to accept a post teaching English Literature at West Point, or pursue his dreams of becoming a songwriter.
Well worth a read. Here’s a soundtrack.
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Thanks to the wonders of the radio button on GrooveShark, I have become acquainted with Kris Kristofferson who, unbeknownst to me until very recently, actually wrote a whole bevy of really great country songs. He sang plenty, too, including “The Best Of All Possible Worlds”, my new favorite song.
By the way, he is also awesome. In his early life, besides turning down a gig at West Point being a professor of literature (after he got done being a Rhodes Scholar and doing a tour in Vietnam, mind you), he also landed a helicopter on Johnny Cash’s lawn to bring him a song he wrote, which, as it turns out, happens to be one of the best country songs ever.
About 6 years ago, an Okie named Tim played me some Hank Williams in Chonburi, Thailand.
Now, Hank is a musical genius, originator of an inimitable style that has caused country to veer in wildly different directions ever since: no one can do it like Hank. Beings that I have ears, Hank went on repeat in my MP3 player for weeks. As in this contender for greatest country song, if not song, ever:
But somehow, for me, it was more than that. The songs haunted me, and not just because of his haunting voice. I couldn’t get them out of my head. Some contrail of memory I couldn’t place.
My grandparents had an old wooden cabinet record player. They almost never used the thing. But every once in a while they’d play a record, usually on a winter evening when it was too cold to do any more farm work. (For my grandfather, who was raised on a hardscrabble dirt farm in the Great Depression and came of age storming Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima, it had to be pretty damn cold out.) Us grandkids would sit around the woodburning stove-heated room in western Nebraska winter listening to songs with them, basking in an intragenerational admiration society.
Never thought much about the soundtrack. Until hearing Hank again more than 20 years later. Some weeks after he took pride of place among my MP3s, that room and that time and that place came rushing back to me. And I realized that all the other music I’ve ever listened to is just a bonus track to Hank.
Now maybe Hank isn’t to your taste. But it’s like Kris says:
More next week.