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.