Masterpiece: Kristofferson

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[Today: The Buddha of Nashville...]

The solitary figure at the center of most country music is the heartbroken man, the outlaw on the run, the misunderstood, unforgiven outcast. The character at the center of Kris Kristofferson’s music is a seeker – of wine, women and the wisdom that comes with good times and hangovers alike. But unlike most Nashville musicians, Kristofferson wrote songs that radiated an almost Buddhist philosophy. He made music that reflected on the fleeting nature of possessions, chastised over-eager policemen and social critics, and celebrated free love. Each of his songs, in their own way, looked into the darkness and found light.

If Kristofferson wrote songs that were unlike his Nashville contemporaries, it was probably because nobody like him had set foot in that city before. A Rhodes Scholar who studied at Oxford, he joined the Army after college, where he attained the rank of Captain and completed Ranger school. After leaving the Army, he turned down a position as professor of literature at West Point so that he could pursue songwriting. He moved to Nashville and was literally sweeping the floors at Columbia Studios while Bob Dylan was recording Blonde On Blonde there. Kristofferson’s music came to the attention of Johnny Cash, who helped the not-so-young man find his footing in the industry.

Speaking of his early struggles in Nashville, he said “It was such a creative experience for me; it never seemed as hard on me as it was, I’m sure, on my family and friends who thought I’d gone straight to the devil. Thought I’d lost my mind and gone to Nashville to be a country writer.” After his song ‘Me And Bobby McGee’ was covered by Roger Miller, Kristofferson played the Newport Folk Festival and his career gained enough momentum that he was able to record his self-titled debut.

Kristofferson is certainly unlike anything else that Nashville was cooking up in 1970. It opens with ‘Blame It On The Stones’, a sly re-write of ‘Mother’s Little Helper’ that takes aim at those who blast the youth for being young. ‘To Beat The Devil’ is the tale of a struggling songwriter that is dedicated to “John and June”, ‘The Law Is For The Protection Of The People’ compares aggressive cops to those who hung Jesus on the cross, and ‘The Best Of All Possible Worlds’ is, like most of Kristofferson’s music, incredibly alive to the beauty of the moment.

But Kristofferson’s debut is best known for two songs – ‘Me And Bobby McGee’, a great song of love lost and bittersweet blues that has made his name, and ‘Sunday Mornin’ Coming Down’. A hangover can provide very constructive wisdom, but few songwriters have captured its poetry as well as Kris Kristofferson. “There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth,” wrote the Buddha Siddarta, “not going all the way, and not starting.” Kristofferson’s debut goes all the way, and relishes every bump in the road…

Listen: Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down

Listen: Me And Bobby McGee

Listen: Best Of All Possible Worlds

Listen: Blame It On The Stones

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One Response to “Masterpiece: Kristofferson”

  1. Mr. Footnote Says:

    It’s worth noting that after Janis Joplin’s version of ‘Me And Bobby McGee’ took off, this album was re-packaged (same batch of songs, new cover, new title) as… wait for it… Me And Bobby McGee. And of course, it was a hit the second time around.

    Strangely, LP copies of his self-titled debut are expensive and hard to come by, but copies of Me And Bobby McGee can be found in the dollar bin. Word to the wise.

    And in addition to his resume noted above, KK is also an accomplished boxer, pilot, actor and all around ladies’ man…

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