Kris Kristofferson - man of character

There are some things you should know about the great Kris Kristofferson. He was a captain in the Army. He was a helicopter pilot. He was a Rhode Scholar. He was a Golden Gloves boxer. He has children older than your parents. He was a wife younger than your sister. Mostly, you know him as the guy who wrote 'Me & Bobby McGee'... the ballad that propelled Janis Joplin's career, albeit posthumously. He is also in a bunch of movies, usually parts that they can't get Sam Elliot for.

That isn't what I am here to salute the great man. I am here to salute him, just not for that stuff. There are two very cool things I have observed that impress the hell out of me. One is this, I was watching a biography channel piece on him and they showed footage over the years... from the 50's to the 2000's. Something I picked up on was he played the exact same acoustic guitar the whole time. Most working artists have between 20 and 30 active guitars. Hell, I am not a working artist and I have 6 or 7. There isn't really anyone in rock who uses the same guitar, with few exceptions: Bruce Springsteen still plays that exact same Fender Telecaster on the cover of 'Born to Run' every night. Willie Nelson still only plays his Martin 'Trigger'. Jerry Garcia only played 'Tiger' and 'Rosebud'. Those two guitars are the most beautiful on the planet, and Willie's is probably the most important single curio in all of the music world. My point being, for some reason it shows a great deal of character to me when a musician sticks with the same instrument always.

Here is the other very cool thing I remember about Kristofferson. Many years ago, back in college, I watched the Bob Dylan 30th Anniversary concert on pay per view. Many great artists did a concert covering their favorite Dylan tunes. Sinead O'Conner was on the bill, and took the stage to do her Dylan song. Problem is, she was booed nearly off the stage. See, this was the week after the famous tearing of the Pope picture on SNL. People were still totally freaked about the whole thing (though I thought it was very cool, personally). Anyhow, Sinead stands up there in front of 50,000 people and realizes it is futile to do the Dylan cover. Instead, she launches into a tearful rendition of Bob Marley's 'War'.

At the end of the song she is freaking out and crying and wanders off stage. Who is there to grab her and hold her up but Kristofferson? He offers to her 'don't listen to those bastards' and carefully guides her offstage. It was very impressive, as the entire world had regarded her as a hostile enemy, only one was there to lend a hand. I mean, this night was a festival of rock and roll, remember what that used to mean? It meant giving the middle finger to authority, right? Well, I guess things changed and that whole audience was happy to see her hang. That night I gained a HUGE amount of respect for both Sinead and Kristofferson. In fact, to be honest, I probably had no idea who he was that night. I knew one thing, though, dude was alright with me.

Lastly, there is this super brilliant and awesome story of Kristofferson going toe to toe with Toby Keith.  Here, I'll allow the Ethan Hawke, who was there, to tell the story:

"Up from the basement came one of country music's biggest stars (Toby Keith)," writes Hawke, who reports the unnamed star told Kristofferson not to perform "any of that lefty shit out there tonight."
"What the fuck did you say to me?," Kris growled, stepping forward. "Oh, no," groaned Willie under his breath. "Don't get Kris all riled up."
"You heard me," said Keith.
"Don't turn your back on me, boy," Kristofferson shouted. "You ever wear your country's uniform?" Kris asked rhetorically.
"Don't 'what' me, boy! You heard the question. You just don't like the answer." According to Hawke, Kris paused just long enough to get a full chest of air. "I asked, 'Have you ever served your country?' The answer is no, you have not. Have you ever killed another man? Huh? Have you ever taken another man's life and then cashed the check your country gave you for doing it? No, you have not. So shut the (blank) up! You don't know what the (blank) you're talking about!"

Lastly, there is the Johnny Cash helicopter story. Sorry, the man has lived too many lives for a 500 word piece.


Anonymous said…
I just watched this on youtube. I now have huge respect for Kris Kristofferson. A man of character indeed
steve-o said…
Maybe Sinead was booed because she sucks and is not a rock and roller. I don't think a lot of people in that particular audience gave a rat's ass about the pope or tearing up his photo on national tv live.
yeah, Kris gave her a big hug. I'm gettin all weepy and shit now
Anonymous said…
I am an Irish Catholic, and have always loved Sinead O'Connor as a singer, but always was irritated by her outspoken criticisms of the establishment. After all, we all have our opinions, but I felt she was taking advantage of her audience. Anyway... I am and always have been a fanatical Kristofferson fan since 1972, and I saw the incident at Dylan's 30th concert, and was very moved by the whole thing. I felt so much for Sinead... she did not deserve that public stoning, but I also was proud of my hero K.K. Consequently I saw him up close and personal performing in small clubs in Ireland several times not long after that. It would fill you with tears of pride for the man and make your neck hairs stand to hear him relate that story and follow it with his short tribute song to her integrety... song title "My Sister Sinead". I hope you get the chance to hear it.
Finbar said…
sineads first recorded album was punk ... more rock n roll than dylans early music which was folk/trad - sinead is widely known for her folk/trad roots also ... she also has a fantastic reggae album: she is diverse and undefineable, two words that are synonamous with dylan ... that audience reaction was a direct response to sineads actions two weeks previously on SNL - 1992, an irish catholic woman tearing up a pic. of the pope while recanting bob marleys 'war', substituting the word 'racism' with 'child abuse' ... she was protesting against the cover up of child abuse by the establishment of the roman catholic church whose head of office is the pope ... the murphy report is current news in ireland (2009) - see also 'the ferns inquiry' and 'the ryan report' in ireland ... and 'the john jay report' in the us resulting in, so far, 2 billion plus settlement by over 14 dioceses and bankrupting others ... time has proven sinead's 'opinion' fact ... she was decades ahead of everybody else and she exposed herself (on SNL)to aid the fight of others when we all dismissed her as crazy (well, not me) ... kris kristoferson is 'the man' and a legend and even he waited until 2009 to release 'sister sinead' when we are only starting to understand the magnitude of the catholic sexual abuse scandals ... there is no doubt that KK is full of nothing but admiration for sinead ... what dylan thinks is a mystery cause thats the way he likes it - he never gets involved, he was only ever about the music, and we love him for that (although joan baez could never understand it) ... this mini saga at the bob tribute highlights the immense strength of character of both sinead and KK ... sinead went out to pay tribute to bob dylan by singing his song 'i belive in you' and the audience didnt let her (the audience took advantage of her, they should not have voiced any opinions or emotions that were not explicity for the music of bob dylan)and unable to play her song sinead fought back admirably, the only other alternataive was to walk off stage ... ironicly bob got booed repeatedly throughout '65and '66 when he went electric so if anything it was all fitting ...
Also, I have to share this story about Kristofferson. He wrote a song for Johnny Cash called 'Sunday morning coming down'. Now, you have this GREAT song for Johnny Cash. How do you get it to him?

Well, Kristofferson kinda stole his military helicopter and flew it over to Johnny's house. He lands on his lawn and brings him the recording.

Can you imagine if you are Johnny Cash - or anyone - and a military helicopter alights on your front lawn. That is www3 type stuff.
Jason Barbour said…
Kris Kristofferson a true patriot a Soldier a man of character and intelligence. He has all ways been my hero.

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