I think all music-lovers have private “hit-lists” of people that they want to see before they die. I know I do. Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Springsteen, Albert King, Tom Waits, The Rolling Stones... it's a pretty long list. I've seen most of them (but not Tom Waits, damnit!). And, till last Wednesday, not Kris Kristofferson.
I'm not sure any of us escape our formative influences, and musicians are no exception. Those things that you first heard and loved as a teenager (or earlier) are hard to shake. For me that meant Simon and Garfunkel, Bob, Al Stewart and, possibly most of all, Kris Kristofferson. A bit later I discovered the blues.
The first song I ever wrote, when I was 14, was a parody of a Kris Kristofferson song for a school function, and there are bits of Kris scattered throughout the Kokomo opus – snatches of melody, character names – I'm sure if you were a Kris scholar with too much time on your hands you could document a bunch (I suspect my brother, who knows my early
influences better than anyone, spots them every time).
So, after nearly 40 years of singing his songs and borrowing from him, seeing Kris was something personal.
And he was fantastic!
It wasn't even vaguely the show I was expecting. It was billed as “solo and acoustic” and it mostly was. It was also billed as an evening of songs and stories, which it really wasn't.
I've heard for some years that Kris, now 78, is suffering the early stages of Alzheimers – maybe that's why he didn't do stories (aside from a couple of brief mentions of family). But it didn't stop him remembering the songs. Bucketloads of them. That's all he did: sing songs, one after the other, with no break except to say “thank you” and occasionally blow his nose (which he apologised for - “You didn't pay good money to see an old man blow his nose!”).
So it was just song, song, song. 10 songs in I checked the time: he'd been on for 25 minutes. The intermission came after 50 minutes, over twenty songs in. And another weird thing was he didn't really have endings for the songs. He'd just get to the end of the words – no repeat choruses, just the absolute basics – say thank you and stop. And then play another one. And another one. He has so many great tunes that “Me and Bobby McGhee” was casually tossed in third song rather than saved as an encore.
And he was magnificent. Taller than I thought with a shock of white hair and still obviously fit, Kris was a magnificent old lion. Sometime when he smiled (which he did a lot) you could see that younger Kris peeking through and got a hint of what a force he must have been back in the day – tall, handsome, wild, smart, funny, a warrior with the world at his feet.
The other odd thing about the show was the sound system. Or lack of it. The entire sound came from four small monitor speakers sitting along the front of the stage. It was pretty quiet, but that only added to the intimacy. You could hear a pin drop during "For The Good Times".
In fact it was so intimate that it almost seemed like an intrusion when, in the second half, his daughter joined him for 4 tunes and the final encore. She was small and perky and blonde and played banjo; she looked just like Reese Witherspoon being June Carter in the Johnny Cash movie. The two could hardly lock eyes with each other without cracking up laughing. It was incredibly sweet and rather moving.
In fact a lot of it was very moving. I had tears streaming down my face several times. He played nearly all the Kristofferson album (later renamed Me and Bobby McGhee after the hit), hauled out most of The Silver Tongued Devil towards the end, played some new stuff and even pulled out a song from my personal favourite Spooky Lady Sideshow. I figure he did over 40 songs by the end of the encores.
And, yes, he played the song that when I was a schoolboy just learning my first chords on guitar inspired me to write my first song.
Thank you Kris.