When we first announced Kris Kristofferson’s show on Friday at the Tivoli Theatre back in late May on The Pulse’s Facebook page, one wag responded: “... and his last hit was when?” While it’s certainly true that the Tivoli stage often hosts performers past their prime (as does its cousin, the Memorial Auditorium), Kristofferson—even at 76—is not among them. While he may be among the most graying (yet has always been silver-haired) stars to grace the ornate theatre, Kristofferson needs no “last hit” to establish himself as a one of the finest songwriters of the last century. It is rather more incumbent on any music fan to see this legend at work—and a show that should be savored as a rare treat.
But even that directive requires justification these days, at least for those born after 1980. Before we get to those songs, let’s consider this iconic American’s eclectic resume, a life worthy of a movie itself.
The son of career Army officer born in the Texas border town of Brownsville, Kristofferson first gained notoriety as an all-around sports star at Pomona College in California before graduating summa cum laude with a degree in literature. Kristofferson went on to become a Rhodes Scholar, and it was in England while dreaming of a career as a novelist that he first began penning songs..
After graduating in 1960, and with the Vietnam war percolating, Kristofferson joined the Army under pressure from his family, where he became both a helicopter pilot and Ranger. After serving in West Germany, Kristofferson returned to states and taught English at West Point.
But the music bug had bitten Kristofferson before his European tour had expired and after serving his time, he left the Army to pursue his songwriting career in Nashville. Times were tough at first. Kristofferson swept floors at Columbia Records while watching a parade of stars filter through the studios, including Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan. But Kristofferson’s muse wasn’t far behind. In between later stints flying offshore oil workers to rigs off the coast of Louisiana, Kristofferson wrote what would become two of his signature songs—“Help Me Make it Through the Night” and “Me and Bobby McGee”—made famous by Cash and Janis Joplin, respectively.
The hits continued—”Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down,” ”For The Good Times,” “Why Me,” “Loving Her Was Easier,” among others—and by the time the first album of his own achieved critical and commercial success (1971’s The Silver Tonged Devil), Kristofferson was already making waves as an actor. Perhaps best-known for his role in Barbra Streisand’s remake of “A Star is Born”—a role Streisand offered to Elvis Presley that his manager, Col. Tom Parker, famously turned down—for which he won a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor, Kristofferson has become a familiar figure on screen since, appearing in dozens of films.
By the 1980s, Kristofferson had come full circle, writing and performing his own songs and becoming one quarter of the first country supergroup, The Highwayman, alongside Cash, Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings. His score for Nelson’s film, “The Songwriter,” was nominated for an Academy Award, while his solo career introduced Kristofferson’s political side and he continued to record successfully with The Highwaymen and on his own.
Since then, he has been honored with almost every industry songwriting and hall on fame award and collected dozens of gold and platinum records. Never content to rest of these laurels, Kristofferson has for the past 20 years been recording his songs on his own schedule, most recently spare albums that feature Kristofferson’s signature growl and fleet guitar playing.
Never an anachronism, Kristofferson the Country Star continues to embody the music’s deep truths while eschewing it’s tilt toward Hat Acts and songs with little more depth than the beer bottles many revolve around.
“That’s one of the blessings of being a songwriter,” Kristofferson explained in an interview last year while on tour with Merle Haggard. “You can use your experience for something more than feeling sorry for yourself or heading to the bar. You can make sense out of your experience. You can put that experience into words that other people can identify with. And you don’t even have to try to do that. If you sing it the right way or arrange it, it will make that connection. If you’re honest and good at it, it’s a wonderful way to make sense of your experience.”
7:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 10
Tivoli Theatre, 709 Broad St.