Monday, March 06, 2006

"Heroes Happen When You Need Them"

Crossposted at HickoryWind.

It was a very great privilege and pleasure last year to see Kris Kristofferson live last year. He’s not exactly kept up a hectic pace of touring, North American gigs are rare enough let alone antipodean ones. But --mirabile dictu! – he came. He brought the kids and had a family holiday, stayed for more than a month and played some out of the way places. The press was uniformly positive, genuinely warm and respectful which made me unutterably happy. The bloke deserves it and is was so nice to see.

And a new album of original material, This Old Road. And it’s very good. Don Was is probably my least favourite producer ever, but happily he has kept his everything-he-touches-turns-to-banal mitts off the thing, and it’s the voice and a ringing guitar that dominates. A bit of mandolin and harp here and there, some harmony vocals. Jim Keltner and Stephen Bruton are in the band.

I heard Kris speaking somewhere on the interwebs recently, recalling Johnny Cash and he told a story. He was sitting next to Johnny at June’s funeral, some random came up to give his condolences and he also told Kris he thought he was a great singer. After he left, Johnny leant over and said, “Well, that makes one.” A lovely story about Cash – wheelchair-bound, physically tormented and full of grief, but still up to a jab at his old mate. And also a self-deprecating apology for his own voice, which would make Pro Tools crash if they tried to “correct” his dodgy notes. But that’s why we love it. He is a great singer, in all the ways that really count.

Kris’s political leanings are no secret. Despite (or perhaps, because of) loving music and being political, I don’t much care for “political songs.” Even (or perhaps, especially) when it echoes my own view, which most of them do. It has to be a good song first, second and only. Otherwise, you might as well just get a blog. They are on the same page politically, but it’s Kris’s poetic sensibility I think which makes his “message songs” much better than, say, Steve Earle’s. He can do sloganeering, but can’t stay there for too long before he brings it back home. “In the News” is the most speechifying (Burnin' up the atmosphere and cuttin’ down the trees/A billion dollar bombin' of a nation on its knees/Anyone not marchin' to their tune they call it treason,) but it starts and ends with a single act of domestic violence: the Lacy Peterson murder. The words Kris has returned to most over his whole career are justice, mercy and beauty, with perhaps mercy the greatest of these.

There are some affecting personal songs too, as befits a man nearing 70, he’s looking back and looking around and is grateful for what he sees. “The lonely singer in a world turned deaf and blind” is the big hero of This Old Road. On “Wild American” (a variation on the “To Beat the Devil” theme) he namechecks Earle, Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, later on “Final Attraction” he urges the singer to “go break a heart” in the name of Hank and Johnny, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Ray Charles, Harlan Howard . . .

Value folks like this while they’re still around, people.

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