Saturday, April 11, 2009
The return of Billy the Kid
Took a day off from revisions last week to see Kris Kristofferson - singer, songwriter, actor, Rhodes Scholar and all-around American badass - at the Society for Ethical Culture's Concert Hall in New York. At 72, Kristofferson's an icon. He's written songs for Johnny Cash, Janis Joplin and Willie Nelson, starred in films for Sam Peckinpah, Martin Scorsese and John Sayles, and continues to act, tour and record (his most recent album, "This Old Road," came out last year). Not to mention he dated - or married - Janis, Barbra Streisand, Rita Coolidge (for awhile in the '70s, he and Coolidge were the country music power couple) and other women probably too numerous to mention.
Within the intimate confines and superb acoustics of the Concert Hall, Kristofferson was mesmerizing. Accompanying himself on just guitar and harmonica for more than two hours, he played most of his extensive catalog, including "Me and Bobby McGee," "For the Good Times," "Help Me Make It Through the Night" and "Sunday Morning Coming Down" (maybe the best country song of the last fifty years).
The voice is ragged - though it was never sweet - and the face craggier than ever, but Kristofferson is still an imposing figure (actor Ethan Hawke wrote a pretty good profile of him in the most recent Rolling Stone, that generated a little controversy of its own ). He didn't talk that much between songs and was plagued by a cold ("Bet you folks are sorry you paid good money to watch an old fart blow his nose"), but he seemed genuinely energized and moved by the enthusiastic reception he got. And 72 or not, he's still got that rakish charm that made him an unlikely sex symbol - and a poster boy for hard and fast living - in the 1970s. Hard to believe he's survived everything he's done. Hopefully he'll get around to writing that memoir some day.
Below is a vintage clip from "The Johnny Cash Show," and a trailer for one of Peckinpah's finest films.
Back to work.