Thursday, March 31, 2011

DIRTY ROOTS RADIO: March 31st Playlist

Tune in to Dirty Roots Radio every Thursday night from 8 to 10 p.m. (central) on WGRN 89.5 FM. Listen online from anywhere in the world at www.wgrn.net.

Ramones – Do You Remember Rock ‘N’ Roll Radio?
John Fogerty – Centerfield
Bob Dylan – Dirty Road Blues
Supersuckers – Bloody Mary Morning
Rev. Lonnie Farris – Peace in the Valley
Howlin’ Wolf – Wang Dang Doodle
Charles Bradley – The World (Is Going Up In Flames)
Social Distortion – Bad Luck
Johnny Cash – Solitary Man
Neil Diamond – Thank the Lord for the Night Time
Merle Haggard – Are the Good Times Really Over (I Wish a Buck Was Still Silver)
David Allan Coe – You Never Even Called Me by My Name
Nina Simone – To Love Somebody
Pete Seeger – Little Boxes
Willie Nelson – Picture in a Frame
Jayhawks – Waiting For the Sun
The George Baker Selection – Little Green Bag
David Bowie – Cat People (Putting Out the Fire)
Blind Boys of Alabama w/Lou Reed – Jesus
Flobots – We Are Winning
Flobots – Rise
Bo Diddley – Gun Slinger
Son Volt – Tear Stained Eye (demo version)
Joe Tex – The Love You Save (May Be Your Own)
Bottle Rockets – Lawd, I’m Just a Country Boy in This Great Big Freaky City
Wingless Angels – Rivers Of Babylon
Tom T. Hall – Me and Jesus
B.B. King – Paying the Cost to Be the Boss
Steve Earle – Waitin’ On the Sky
Chuck Berry – You Never Can Tell
Mavis Staples – You Are Not Alone
John Mellencamp – Save Some Time to Dream

*Background Music: Instrumentals from Quentin Tarantino Soundtracks (Pulp Fiction, Death Proof & Jackie Brown)

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“When buying a used car, punch the buttons on the radio. If all the stations are rock and roll, there's a good chance the transmission is shot.” - Larry Lujack

Thursday, March 24, 2011

DIRTY ROOTS RADIO - March 24th Playlist (Pearl Jam 20th Anniversary Special)

Tune in to Dirty Roots Radio every Thursday night from 8 to 10 p.m. (central) on WGRN 89.5 FM. Listen online from anywhere in the world at www.wgrn.net.

Pearl Jam – Hail Hail
Sheryl Crow – Steve McQueen (Happy would-be 81st birthday to Steve McQueen)
Social Distortion – California (Hustle and Flow)
Townes Van Zandt – Dead Flowers
Wanda Jackson – Rum and Coca-Cola
Wanda Jackson – Rip It Up
Pearl Jam – Who You Are
Bob Dylan – Forever Young
Willie Nelson – Lost Highway
Public Enemy – 911 Is a Joke
Ramones – Sheena Is a Punk Rocker
Solomon Burke – Cry to Me
Eddie Vedder – My City of Ruins

THE TEN CODE: One-hour special celebrating Pearl Jam’s 20th anniversary and the reissue of their albums “Vs.” and “Vitalogy”

*Background Music: Booker T – Potato Hole

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“Creativity shouldn't be following radio; it should be the other way around.” - Herbie Hancock

Pearl Jam: Celebrating 20 Years

Pearl Jam’s been around for 20 years? How can that be?

I remember buying Pearl Jam’s debut album, “Ten”. It came out my freshman year of high school and for whatever reason I was early on the bandwagon. Actually, I beat the bandwagon. It was a point of pride for me. I remember a guy from school who was kind of the big man on campus (you know the type…ahead of the curve on everything, the trendsetter, the popular guy who girls loved even though he treated them badly…no bitterness on my part, though…) asking people about “this band he kept hearing about…Pearl Jam” and I’d already about worn out my “Ten” tape by that point.

I loved the general sound of that record. It had the “grungy” (forgive me for the use of the word…) sound that was new to mainstream audiences at the time, but was clearly influenced by “big” arena rock. Perfect for a 13-year old who was in the classic rock phase that all young men go through, but was developing musical tastes of my own.

A couple of years back, the good folks at Legacy Recordings reissued “Ten” in a Legacy Edition set. I hadn’t listened to the album in quite a few years, and I was bummed to find that it didn’t hold up for me. It was still good…but it didn’t have the impact that it did when I was 13. And angry. And the world didn’t make sense. (I’m still angry and the world still doesn’t make sense…just in different ways from when I was 13).

I accepted that for the most part, I had outgrown much of the music of my youth – a sad but true development.

So, I didn’t get too excited when I heard that the Legacy Editions of Pearl Jam’s second and third albums were on the way (in stores March 29th). I just felt old when I heard that these two reissues were part of Pearl Jam’s celebration of their 20th anniversary as a band. I mean…I remember in 1991 that REM released their classic album, “Out of Time”, and that everyone was making a fuss about that being their tenth anniversary….But HOW has it been 20 years since Pearl Jam debuted??!?!?!

At any rate, I decided to sign up to share a one-hour special program on my Dirty Roots Radio show, celebrating the reissue of “Vs.” and “Vitalogy”. I signed up to receive ten copies of a sampler CD, featuring rare, live, and unreleased recordings made by Pearl Jam during the time around “Vs.” and “Vitalogy”. They arrived late last week and I decided to give one of the samplers a listen. Maybe, by some miracle, I had managed not to outgrow PJ’s second and third albums.

To my surprise, I found I had indeed NOT outgrown these albums. I loved the tracks I heard on the sampler – many of them, alternate versions of songs on “Vs.” and “Vitalogy”.

And I remembered. I remembered buying “Vs.” at Target the weekend after it came out. I remembered hearing that it broke all “first week” sales records for any album – and feeling proud that I helped “my band” accomplish the feat. I remembered that the album originally didn’t have a title…but that Pearl Jam decided to title it “Vs.” after a batch of initial pressings. I remember running home to see if I had one of the original copies that had no title on it. I did. And I remember vowing never to part with this relic that was sure to be a collector’s item. I did part with it at some point, and it never became exceptionally valuable.

But most of all…I remember being amazed – even at 14 or 15, or whatever I was – that Pearl Jam had developed such a great sound. I remember thinking the sound was more “earthy” or “organic” or something. And even better than “Ten”, which I’d loved so much. I remember being blown away by how good the songs were on “Vs.”.

I remember buying “Vitalogy”, too. I remember it came in a little book instead of a traditional CD case. I remember lying on my bed and listening to it all the way through. I remember thinking it was, again, a an evolution in the band’s sound. I remember being creeped out at the time by the song “Bugs” on the album. Overall, I remember thinking the band was “growing”.

“Vs.” and “Vitalogy” were two great albums. I loved Pearl Jam at the time for not playing by the music industry’s rules, for refusing to release music videos, and for taking on Ticketmaster in Congressional hearings when they felt the media giant was gouging their fans for overly expensive fees attached to concert tickets.

I think those actions helped with the ubiquity factor, too. The singles from Pearl Jam’s debut album, “Ten”, (Alive, Even Flow, Jeremy) were played to death on both radio and MTV. After such a barrage, one can grow weary of any music. It sounds odd to say, but after their refusal to “play the game”, Pearl Jam in some way spared their fans from being over-exposed.

Where I loved “Vs.” and “Vitalogy”, I liked the next few Pearl Jam records. But I pretty much lost track of them at some point. Their last two records piqued my curiosity, but weren’t anything I stuck with.

"Vs.” and “Vitalogy” last, though. They are the sound of a great band in their prime, evolving almost faster than they could even keep up with.

Tune in to Dirty Roots Radio this Thursday night (March 24th) to hear the Pearl Jam “Vs./Vitalogy” radio special. We’ll be giving away nine copies of the “Vs./Vitalogy” sampler, too (Yeah…I did get ten of them…but I’m snaggin’ one for me…). We may have additional giveaways to announce shortly, as well.

LISTEN TO DIRTY ROOTS RADIO TONIGHT AND EVERY THURSDAY NIGHT FROM 8 TO 10 P.M. CENTRAL, FROM ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD ONLINE AT: WWW.WGRN.NET. Just click the "listen online" button on the upper right-hand side of the page.

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Some details on the “Vs./Vitalogy” samplers up for grabs:

Vs.:
Hold On (4:39) acoustic studio track
Creedy Stomp (3:21) instrumental outtake
Crazy Mary (5:38) from Sweet Relief

Vitalogy:
Better Man (guitar/organ only version) (3:54)
Nothingman (demo) (4:35)
Corduroy (alt. version) (4:43)

Live at the Orpheum (4/12/94):
Alone (3:08)
Sonic Reducer (with Mark Arm on guitar) (3:55)
Yellow Ledbetter (5:30)

Self Pollution Radio:
Spin the Black Circle (2:54) live in studio

Monday, March 21, 2011

Solomon Burke & Successful Parenting

Yesterday evening, I was gathering up CDs I was going to take for one of my regular “trade-in” visits to my favorite independent record store, Vintage Vinyl in St. Louis.

My daughter, who will turn four in May, is my usual guest on these excursions. I told her that on the way I wanted to listen to two of the CDs that “I might trade”. One was an album I’d been given and knew nothing about. The other was a Solomon Burke collection that I’d acquired on clearance somewhere for $5.

You’re probably wondering how a serious music lover could ever consider selling a collection of music by the late, great “King of Rock ‘n’ Soul” (Solomon Burke). I try to keep my music collection pretty tight and I hate having things lying around that I don’t listen to. I’d purchased the album because I didn’t have a Solomon Burke collection, but wanted one. But, for whatever reason, despite my best intentions, I simply hadn’t gotten around to listening to it. I wanted to…it just hadn’t happened.

And when I get the itch to trade in CDs (in exchange for new music, of course), I often make tough decisions to maximize the amount of new music I can claim. If I haven’t listened to an album that I paid $5 for on a whim…it goes into the pile. I rationalize that for no more than I spent on it the first time, if I really want to get back to it, I can find it again on clearance sometime/somewhere.

On the way to Vintage Vinyl, I put in the first CD. A few seconds into the first song, my daughter (again, three years old) says, “I don’t like this…I think you should sell this one.” I assumed she wanted to hurry up and get through these CDs, so she could listen to “her” music (I’d promised she could hear her kids CD if I could check out these two). I told her to just settle down, and once I’d heard what I needed to, she could listen to her music. She insisted that she wasn’t rushing me…she just didn’t think I needed to keep the CD I was playing.

Halfway through the second song, I realized she was right. Into the “trade in” bag it went.

Then we got to the Solomon Burke CD. Within about 4 seconds she said, “I LIKE this one!” We listened to that album twice on the way to St. Louis – and she never again mentioned “her” music. These recordings were vintage soul selections from the 1950s 60s. And she’s three.

About two thirds of the way through the first playing of the Solomon Burke album, my daughter said, “Daddy…WHY were you gonna sell this CD?!?!?!” The genuine incredulity in her voice was humbling.

I’m glad I had her there with me, to save and enjoy what is now one of my favorite CDs.

I figure each parent has their own measurement of success they’d like to reach in the raising of their child. I achieved one last night :)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

DIRTY ROOTS RADIO - March 17th Playlist (St. Patrick's Day Special)

Tune in to Dirty Roots Radio every Thursday night from 8 to 10 p.m. (central) on WGRN 89.5 FM. Listen online from anywhere in the world at www.wgrn.net.

Johnny Cash – Danny Boy (1965)
U2 – Desire
Motorhead: Ace of Spades (acoustic)
Dick Dale & His Del-Tones – King of the Surf Guitar
Dropkick Murphys – I’m Shipping Up to Boston
Steve Earle – Dominick St.
Green Day – East Jesus Nowhere
William S. Burroughs – Old Western Movies
Tom Waits – Murder In the Red Barn
Tom Waits – I Don’t Wanna Grow Up
Steve Earle – Galway Girl
Mike Ness – If You Leave Before Me
Jerry Reed – When You’re Hot, You’re Hot
Joan Jett & the Blackhearts – Bits and Pieces
Charlie Robison – John O’Reilly
Great Big Sea – The Night Pat Murphy Died
Metallica – Whiskey in the Jar
Van Morrison – Days Like This
Merle Haggard – Are the Good Times Really Over (I Wish a Buck was Still Silver)
B.B. King – Paying the Cost to be the Boss
Izzy Stradlin & the JuJu Hounds – Shuffle It All
The Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem – Irish Rover
Bruce Springsteen – Jesse James
Charlie Louvin – Great Atomic Power
John Mellencamp – Teardrops Will Fall
Dropkick Murphys – For Boston
Randy Crawford – Street Life
Elvis Presley – It Feels So Right
Johnny Cash – Danny Boy (2002)
*Background Music: Oliver Sain – St. Louis Breakdown: The Best of Oliver Sain

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"Radio is a bag of mediocrity where little men with carbon minds wallow in sluice of their own making." - Fred Allen

Sunday, March 13, 2011

A NOTE FROM DIRTY ROOTS RADIO

Worldwide fans of Dirty Roots Radio ~

We're going to start a weekly email newsletter. It won't be much to begin with. We'll share the weekly playlist, info on upcoming shows, and other pertinent info (items of interest, interview excerpts, contest info, etc.). If you'd like to sign up to join the email list, send an email to: dirtyroots@rocketmail.com.

Other ways you can keep up with Dirty Roots Radio:

FACEBOOK: www.Facebook.com/DirtyRootsRadio

TWITTER: www.twitter.com/DirtyRootsRadio

Be sure to invite your friends to join our Facebook page. And bookmark the website for our flagship station: www.wgrn.net, so you can listen online from anywhere in the world!!!

DIRTY ROOTS RADIO AIRS EVERY THURSDAY FROM 8 TO 10 P.M. (CENTRAL).

We've got a lot of exciting things coming up in the near future and we need your help to spread the word and grow the audience!!

THANKS FOR LISTENING & FOR ALL OF YOUR SUPPORT!!!


Thursday, March 10, 2011

DIRTY ROOTS RADIO - March 10th Playlist

Tune in to Dirty Roots Radio every Thursday night from 8 to 10 p.m. (central) on WGRN 89.5 FM. Listen online from anywhere in the world at www.wgrn.net.

Kris Kristofferson - Here Comes That Rainbow Again
Merle Haggard - Mama Tried
Kris Kristofferson - Blame It On The Stones
Kris Kristofferson - Casey's Last Ride
Merle Haggard - Workin' Man Blues
Kris Kristofferson - In The News
Merle Haggard - I Think I'll Just Stay Here And Drink
The Mavericks (feat. Flaco Jimenez) - All You Ever Do Is Bring Me Down
Bob Dylan - Subterranean Homesick Blues
Wanda Jackson - Thunder On The Mountain
R.L. Burnside - Chain Of Fools
Johnny Cash & Marty Stuart - One More Ride
The New York Dolls - Looking For A Kiss
Billy Bragg & Wilco - My Flying Saucer
The Nightwatchman w/Shooter Jennings - The Iron Wheel
Flobots - Rise
Townes Van Zandt - Pancho & Lefty
Rachid Taha - Rock The Casbah
The Ramones - Blitzkrieg Bop/Teenage Lobotomy/California Sun/Pinhead/She's The One (live)
Elvis Costello - The Other Side Of Summer
Neil Young - Cough Up The Bucks
Mavis Staples - Down In Mississippi
Mike Ness - I Fought The Law
Son House - John The Revelator
The Mavericks - Dance The Night Away
Louis Prima - Angelina/Zooma Zooma (live medley)
Kris Kristofferson - Why Me
*Background music: Bookter T - Potato Hole

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"The radio makes hideous sounds." - Bob Dylan

CONCERT REVIEW: Merle Haggard & Kris Kristofferson

I got to my seat a little later than I would have liked for last night’s Merle Haggard & Kris Kristofferson show. The two legends are on tour together, swapping stories and songs in an intimate stage setting in theaters.

I arrived in the middle of the first song of the night, Kristofferson’s “Shipwrecked in the 80’s”, which he dedicated mid-song to the veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But what really tripped me up was the quality of Kristofferson’s voice.

Kris Kristofferson isn’t a great singer. He’d be the first to tell you that. But he is, without debate, one of the greatest songwriters of all time. And his gruff and worn voice is the perfect vehicle for the tales of heartbreak he weaves into his songs.

But this night, his voice wasn’t gruff and worn. It was weak, shaky, scratchy and cracked and broke almost once per line of lyrics. I couldn’t tell if he had a cold or if this was just how his voice sounded and his records were made up of multiple “good” takes.

After the opening song, Kristofferson introduced Merle Haggard as “the greatest American singer-songwriter,” comparing him to Hank Williams and Woody Guthrie. For the record…the intro is absolutely correct.

Merle came out with his longtime band, one of the best live bands in the business, The Strangers, and slid into “Silver Wings”.

Throughout the night, Merle and Kris casually shared stories and traded songs. “There’s a lot of songs up here, between me and Kris”, said Hag at one point.

Haggard cracked lots of jokes:

“I see lots of folks from my own age group tonight. Well, everyone else is COMIN’ OUT….we may as well come out, too!”

“My wife has a respiratory condition and has a card that says it’s legal for her to grow marijuana. That means I’m married to a marijuana farmer. And you know what, that contact high ain’t too bad!”

Haggard stopped the songs several times; once due to technical glitches, but much more often to crack wise or emphasize a point. After the big marijuana set-up, Hag played “Okie From Muskogee” and after the first line, “We don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee”, stopped and said, “Hold it…I didn’t get enough feedback there. So put your hearing aid back in and pat your chest a little bit”, then started the song over.

After the second verse of “Okie From Muskogee”, Kris added a new verse:

We don’t smoke our draft cards in Muskogie
We ain’t never heard of pitchin’ woo
We don’t inject deadly marijuana
And we get drunk, like God wants us to

Haggard changed the lines of “Are The Good Times Really Over (I Wish A Buck Was Still Silver)” from the original lyric (“Back when a girl could still cook and still would”) to the tongue-in-cheek, “Back when a girl could still cook and chop wood.” And, “are the good times really over for good” became, “and the good times ain’t really over for good.” For good measure, Haggard re-emphasized the point the first time through the chorus. “I said the good times AIN’T over for good!!!”

Each of the men threw asides into the classic songs they shared. In “Sunday Morning Coming Down”, Kristofferson sang, “I fumbled through my closet for my clothes and found my cleanest dirty shirt,” adding, “And I’m wearin’ it!”. At one point, mid-concert, he sang a line about “feeling like I’m dyin’”, after which he added, “It SOUNDS like I’m dyin’!!”

Eventually Haggard explained that Kristofferson had lost his voice just before starting the tour. He said they did the first five or six shows and he “hadn’t heard so much as a whisper from Kris..but he sounds real good tonight.” Haggard also explained that the dobro player’s amp was broken.

The setlist relied more heavily on Haggard’s music, and I got the feeling that it wasn’t just because of the state of Kristofferson’s voice. While both men were complimentary of each other throughout the show, Kristofferson was clearly honored to be sharing the stage with Haggard. At one point he said, “You guys should know, you’re all part of a dream I’m having; a dream where I’m onstage with Merle Haggard.”

I was curious to see who would make up the audience at a Merle Haggard/Kris Kristofferson show in 2011. There were old folks, young folks, college students, bikers, burnouts, old hippies, longhairs, bald heads, good ol’ boys, and guys who were taking a much – and probably infrequent – break from their long days workin’ on the farm. At least in the place I was sitting, almost everyone in the audience sang along with nearly every tune.

Perhaps my favorite part of the night is the fact that I was sitting behind a grandma with big hair, who was sitting next to her teenage grandson. Grandma, who was clearly a Hag fan from way back, gently clapped her hands along with each of his tunes and had a ball.

All in all, it was a perfect night. The flaws, gaffes, and technical difficulties were forgivable. Haggard, one of the greatest vocalists in all of country music, is showing age in his voice, but that just adds a warmth and realness. The state of Kristofferson’s voice was regrettable, but ultimately didn’t matter. What did matter is that this two road warriors showed up. That they’re still doing it. That they told great stories from great lives. And that they had a good time.

We all got to share that. And have a good time with them.

Setlist:

Shipwrecked in the '80s (Kristofferson)
Silver Wings (Haggard)
Going Where the Lonely Go (Haggard)
The Bottle Let Me Down (Haggard)
Me and Bobby McGee (Kristofferson)
Just the Other Side of Nowhere (Kristofferson)
Mama Tried (Haggard)
Back to Earth (Haggard)
Are the Good Times Really Over (I Wish a Buck Was Still Silver) (Haggard)
The Pilgrim: Chapter 33 (Kristofferson)
It's Been a Great Afternoon (Haggard)
Big City (Haggard)
Help Me Make It Through the Night (Kristofferson)
Working Man's Blues (Haggard)
They're Tearing the Labor Camps Down (Haggard)
Loving Her Was Easier (Kristofferson)
I Think I'll Just Sit Here and Drink (Haggard)
Momma's Prayers (Haggard)
Okie From Muskogee (Haggard)
Sunday Morning Coming Down (Kristofferson)
I Am What I Am (Haggard)
Why Me (Haggard, written by Kristofferson)
Pancho and Lefty (Haggard and Kristofferson, written by Townes Van Zandt)

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Kris Kristofferson: Renegade Prophet

Through my work in radio, I’ve been blessed to have the unique opportunity to meet many celebrities and take in many concerts. I’ve interviewed musicians who have meant a great deal to me (Mike Ness of Social Distortion) and seen many memorable live music events (Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, an amazing cover of Neil Young’s “Down by the River” by the Bottle Rockets with Eric Ambel).

However, I haven’t had the opportunity to cross paths with many folks I’d call “heroes”. The closest I’ve come is a brief exchange of letters with both the author Howard Zinn and folk singer/activist Pete Seeger.

The rest of my heroes passed either way before I could meet/see them (Crazy Horse, Martin Luther King) or shortly before I had the chance (Johnny Cash, Joe Strummer).

Tonight, though, I will be in the audience when one of my greatest earthly heroes takes the stage at the Fabulous Fox Theatre in St. Louis. Kris Kristofferson, who I unequivocally call a true prophet, will join my favorite country singer, Merle Haggard, in concert.

Kris Kristofferson was featured in Sports Illustrated as a high school rugby player. He was a Rhodes Scholar and attended the prestigious University of Oxford, where he began boxing. Kristofferson eventually became a Golden Gloves boxer. After college he joined the Army and, as a helicopter pilot, achieved the rank of Captain. After his honorable discharge, Kristofferson was offered a position as a professor of English Literature at West Point.

But he had other ideas.

Kris Kristofferson dreamed of being a songwriter and he left the promising military and academic futures before him to become a janitor at the studios of Columbia Records in Nashville. There, he witnessed recording sessions by Bob Dylan (but didn’t approach him out of fear of being fired) and eventually became friends with Johnny Cash.

Kristofferson began to build a name as a songwriter. Perhaps the most well known tale about this period centers on Kristofferson’s pitch to Johnny Cash to record Kristofferson’s song, “Sunday Morning Coming Down”. Cash had long put off recording any of Kristofferson’s material. Kristofferson eventually landed a helicopter on Cash’s property in Tennessee, walked to his house, and handed him the lyric sheet.

Cash finally recorded the song in a live setting on his television variety show, famously refusing to self-censor Kristofferson’s then-controversial line “Wishin’, Lord, that I was stoned…”

Eventually Kristofferson became one of the most well-known songwriters in country music and beyond. Cash had a huge hit with his “Sunday Morning Coming Down”, Ray Price hit big with “For the Good Times”, Sammi Smith had a smash with “Help Me Make It Through The Night”, and Janis Joplin turned “Me and Bobby McGee” into a modern-day standard.

Kristofferson began an acting career that continues today and he still records new music.

My admiration for Kris Kristofferson comes from many points of his story:

First, he knew what he wanted and he went after it. I would dare say that almost anyone would take issue with how Kristofferson passed up so many “prestigious” opportunities. He was a Rhodes Scholar. He was a high-ranking military official. He was a helicopter pilot. He was a Golden Gloves boxer and an athlete recognized for prowess in other sports, he was successful in a prestigious University, and he was offered a very respectable position at a top military academy. Any of us would be beyond fortunate to have any one of those opportunities, much less all of them at once.

But he wanted to be a songwriter. And he knew to do that he would have to make changes and sacrifices. As is always the case in the best motivational stories, no one, including Kristofferson’s family, believed he’d succeed. They couldn’t understand why he’d pass up so many “sure bets” at a good life for this crazy dream.

Eventually, his dream cost him his family. From their perspective, this is completely understandable. And I have trouble with this part of Kristofferson’s history, when viewed from his standpoint. However, somewhere within the shades of grey, I maintain that there is something admirable about knowing what’s in your heart and having the courage to fulfill what you know to be your purpose. It’s the hardest thing in the world to do what you know is right when you’re the only one who believes in it.

Second, when Kristofferson set out to achieve his dream, he did whatever was necessary to get there. He began working as a janitor at Columbia Studios in Nashville, simply so he could be near the music industry. I doubt you could find another Rhodes Scholar who emptied ashtrays for a living (at least AFTER receiving the scholarship).

And when doors began to open, Kristofferson maintained the relentless pursuit. He knew Johnny Cash needed to record “Sunday Morning Coming Down”. When Cash continually refused, Kristofferson devised a pitch that couldn’t be refused and landed a helicopter at Cash’s house. The song was a smash hit.

Third, when Kris Kristofferson made a name for himself, he made sure it was HIS name. There are any number of singers and songwriters who follow formula to write and record hit songs. Kristofferson brought his style to country music.

At the time, the 1960s, country music was dominated by performers in nice suits and cowboy hats singing 2.5 to 3 minute songs about love, lost love, cheating, drinking, etc. Kristofferson showed up with songs that lasted 4.5 to 5 minutes – way too long for country standards. The country music industry is known for sticking to the tried and true, shunning anything new or different. But Kris proved them wrong.

His songs weren’t simply about love and cheating, either. They were about the painful emotions that occupy the space between those two topics. They were about longing and pain. They weren’t just about drinking. They were about why people drank. No one was writing songs like this in country music.

Dylan had already proven that these topics and this style – more poetry than standard songwriting – could be successfully integrated into pop and rock music. But country hadn’t dared touch them. Kristofferson single-handedly proved that there was a place for poetry in the hallowed halls of country music.

Through it all, Kristofferson has kept his head down and done what he needed to do. He’s never made a fuss over himself. He once said, “Acting is still fun. Talking about it still isn’t.” Beautiful. There’s not much worse than listening to self-important artists drone about their craft.

He’s held true to his beliefs, even when it wasn’t popular.

In the early 1990s, Sinead O’Connor shocked the world by destroying a picture of the Pope during a live performance on Saturday Night Live. The fallout was so huge NBC has forbidden the footage from ever airing again. She also made headlines for refusing, as a native of Ireland, to have the American National Anthem played before her concerts. After these controversies, O’Connor performed – or rather, attempted to – at a Bob Dylan birthday tribute concert. The audience was relentless in their attack. The boos and jeers made her performance impossible. Kristofferson was the first one onstage. He wrapped his arms around her and was heard over the sound system saying, “Don’t let the bastards get you down”.

I’ve never heard Kristofferson speak about his personal feelings about what O’Connor said and did. But I have heard him praise her for her bravery to say and do what she believed she should.

I have fewer earthly aspirations than to live a live as true and brave as Kris Kristofferson has lived his, for better or for worse.

This morning I woke up feeling especially low. I struggle with this on and off, but especially more so, as I’ve recently been dealing with the grown up problem of finding my place. A few years ago, I was active in leading a non-profit organization that everyone thought was destined for great things. Today, a few weeks after filing the final paperwork to dissolve that organization, I often struggle to get my legs back up under me. I wonder where my revolution is now.

As I headed in to my job…my “career”, (one of the many safe, grown up, mature, and responsible thing I completely disagree with by principle), I listened to my very favorite album of all time, Kris Kristofferson’s debut, simply called “Kristofferson”. One of the songs on the album is called, “To Beat the Devil”. It’s the story of a young singer who steps into a tavern to get out of the chilly wind. The devil himself is in that bar, disguised as a patron. The devil borrows the young man’s guitar and attempts to destroy his spirit with a simple song:

"If you waste your time a-talkin' to the people who don't listen
to the things that you are sayin', who do you think's gonna hear?
And if you should die explainin' how the things that they complain about
are things they could be changin', who do you think's gonna care?

There were other lonely singers in a world turned deaf and blind
who were crucified for what they tried to show.
And their voices have been scattered by the swirling winds of time.
'Cause the truth remains that no-one wants to know.”


The young man has heard the devil’s song before:

“You see, the devil haunts a hungry man.
If you don't wanna join him, you got to beat him.
I ain't sayin' I beat the devil, but I drank his beer for nothing.
Then I stole his song.

And you still can hear me singin' to the people who don't listen
to the things that I am sayin', prayin' someone's gonna hear.
And I guess I'll die explaining how the things that they complain about
are things they could be changin', hopin' someone's gonna care.

I was born a lonely singer, and I'm bound to die the same,
but I've got to feed the hunger in my soul.
And if I never have a nickel, I won't ever die ashamed.
'Cause I don't believe that no-one wants to know.”


I went into work with my spirit lifted, feeling a little braver and a little more convinced that there is, in fact, a place for me, somewhere, and a way for me to fulfill my mission, whatever that is, in a way that only I can.

Thank God for prophets like Kris Kristofferson who can remind us of this elusive but essential fact.