SECTION THREE

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COLUMN SIXTY-THREE, SEPTEMBER 1, 2001
(Copyright © 2001 The Blacklisted Journalist)

RETROPOP SCENE
KRIS KRISTOFFERSON

[Yeah, I used to run with Kris Kristofferson when we both hung out at the kettle of Fish in the Village.  I was writing the POP SCENE column in the New York Post in those days and in my column, I predicted Kris would become a big star.  Since he became a big star, I havenít heard a word from him.]

It's almost closing time at the Dugout when Kris Kristofferson and I decide to walk down Bleecker Street to catch the last round at the Kettle.  Kris has just finished his second night at the Bitter End, with the weekend still to go, and the sweet boyishness of his face is beginning to look a little whiskey sour.  Kris has one of those smiles that do all their growing on other people.  He'll still look 22 when he's 34, which is what he happens to be.

"A year ago I walked up and down this street for three days and didn't know a soul," he says.

Across the street in front of the Greenwich Hotel, a handful of junkies are inspecting a cassette recorder that one of them has obviously a just stolen. Spread out on the sidewalk is a couple of guitar pickers entertaining themselves.  There is no one else to listen.

Kris tells how his publisher sent him up from Nashville to accept a BMI award.

"He rented me a tuxedo," Kris smiles.  "I had the thoughtfulness to bring along an extra pair of pants and one dirty shirt, but all I had for my feet were those tuxedo shoes, you know, the kind that always stay shiny.  No wonder I didn't pick anybody up."

A panhandler calls out from his seat on a cellar door.  Kris hands him a dollar and his last of a pack of Bull Durham cigarettes. All of a sudden, it's Kris' street.  A year ago he didn't know a soul on it.

We turn the corner onto MacDougal and he reminds me about the time only a few months ago when he introduced himself to me in the Gaslight to tell me he liked a story I wrote about Johnny Cash.

"Johnny Cash has been like a daddy to me," he says.

I remember how somebody told me that Kris was a pretty good songwriter.  That was only a few months ago.

We turn the corner onto MacDougal.  You only have to hear Kris drawl one song to know that he's important.  His husky baritone drags its bottom through the kind of gravel that piles up in every chain-smoker's throat, but it comes out so gentle, sweet and musical that you'd swear he could spit honey.

Once upon a time he was a Rhodes Scholar.

ďI always thought Iíd be the great American novelist," he says.  "I couldn't even finish a


He hated being an Army captain,
but his father
was a two-star General


novel."

Once upon a time he was a Captain in the Army.

"I hated it, but I was obligated." he says.  "My old man's a two-star general."

Ever since he was 11, he has wanted to write songs and sing them but he could never admit that to himself. Up until a couple of years ago, he didn't even sing on his own demos. 

It was Johnny Cash who discovered him as an ashtray cleaner in Columbia studios in Nashville, which was about as close as Kris would allow himself to get to a microphone.  Cash not only encouraged him to sing but put him on at the last Newport Folk Festival.

Since then Cash has recorded several of Kris' songs and has also put Kris on his TV show.

"Johnny Cash has been like a daddy to me," Kris will tell you.

We walk into the Kettle and there is Eric Anderson, who has just completed his opening night at the Gaslight.  There is Jerry Jeff Walker and Bobby Neuwirth and Howard Solomon, and a year ago---even a half year ago---Kris didnít know any of these people, but now he comes to sit at the head of their table. 

He talks about how he used to be a helicopter pilot in the Gulf of Mexico, flying for petroleum companies that pumped oil from platforms 70 miles out at sea.  He talks about how he gave up guitar lessons when he was a kid so he could go out and play football.  He talks about all the things that kept him from being what he was destined to be for almost 34 years.  And what is that?

Listen to him sing it:

ďI was born a lonely singer and I'm bound to die the same... but I've got to feed the hunger in my soul..."  

It's closing time and I say goodnight.  Driving away alone, I hear one of Krisí songs in my head.  I still hear him singing it:

". . .I was born a lonely singer and Iím bound to die the same ... but I've got to feed the hunger in my soul."  ##

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