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.

Fred Foster, who owned Kristofferson’s publishing company, Combine Music, was starting a record label called Monument Records, and he invited his star writer to become a recording artist. Kristofferson protested that he wasn’t much of a singer. Foster didn’t disagree but replied that Dylan had proven that a gifted writer could become a star without a conventional voice. If Kristofferson’s singing was more like Leonard Cohen’s than like Dylan’s, so was his success. But that was enough to build an enduring career.

His ability to translate the felt experience of drinking, lovemaking, law-breaking and loneliness into song made him a magnetic figure for many folks. Filmmaker Dennis Hopper sought him out to star in The Last Movie. An obscure songwriter named John Prine sought him out as a mentor, and Kristofferson got Prine a record deal and wrote the liner notes for his debut.

At a later Big Sur Folk Festival, Joan Baez sang a duet with Kristofferson on Prine’s “Hello In There,” also included in The Complete Collection. Superstar Barbra Streisand invited him to co-star in her remake of A Star Is Born. Directors such as Martin Scorsese, Tim Burton, Todd Haynes, Sam Peckinpah and John Sayles cast him in movies.

An adventurer such as Kristofferson couldn’t resist such opportunities, but the combination of touring (often with singer Rita Coolidge during their 1973-1980 marriage) and making movies prevented the single-minded devotion to songwriting he had enjoyed between 1965 and 1971. His third album,1972’s Border Lord, marked a definite drop-off, but later that same year he rebounded with Sign In to Keep Reading

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