Kris Kristofferson: The Devil And The Details

He was an unrepentant hell-raiser with a gift for poetic storytelling. And he changed the way songs were written in Nashville.

kris1 Kristofferson has a laugh between takes at Monument Studios. Two months after the Isle of Wight Festival, on October 3, Kristofferson found himself in friendlier territory: the Big Sur Folk Festival at the Monterey County Fairgrounds, where the pivotal Monterey Pop Festival had been held three years earlier. Folk fans, accustomed to Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs and Tim Hardin, were open to the raspy vocals and elliptical metaphors, even when Kristofferson dressed them up in hillbilly clothes. His full set from that day has been released for the first time as a bonus disc on the new Complete Collection, and Kristofferson sounds less combative and more generous on this version of “Me And Bobby McGee.”

At Big Sur, you could hear the wonderful particulars of the verses, which described two bohemian hitchhikers with empty pockets and cheerful optimism. The narrator was “feeling nearly faded as my jeans,” before a truck driver picked them up, and soon, “with them windshield wipers slapping time and Bobby clapping hands,” they sang “every song that driver knew.” You needed to hear these verse details to appreciate the refrain, for only in the context of the hitchhikers’ happy-go-lucky poverty did the phrase “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose” sound like hard-won wisdom rather than glib sentiment. And you needed the aphorism to make the details resonate beyond mere description.

That was Kristofferson’s genius: to link specific imagery to universal catch-phrases — and to make those aphorisms too paradoxical for comfort. After all, what kind of freedom is it to be so poor that... Sign In to Keep Reading

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