Kris Kristofferson still rolling after all these years
The career move seemed questionable at the time. He could either accept a professorship at West Point or move to Nashville to try and make it as a singer and songwriter. He chose Nashville.
Looking back, Kris Kristofferson said he’s happy with the way things turned out.
"I feel so grateful that I did what looked like a risky, stupid thing at the time," he said. "I decided I would go to Nashville and be a songwriter instead of being a professor at West Point.
"And my life has been so interesting since then I can’t help but think it was the good move of my life."
Kristofferson speaks thoughtfully, articulately, with his own distinctive diction and a touch of self-deprecation. His tone is friendly positive.
His 1965 move to Nashville launched Kristofferson’s career which has seen him succeed as a singer, songwriter and actor.
He spent five years writing songs and establishing himself in the music business. After seeing some success as a songwriter, he had his first major hit in 1971 when Janis Joplin sang "Me and Bobby McGee." From there, his career took off. Soon, he became just as well known for his performances, which led to other opportunities.
"I got offered this job, when I started playing," said Kristofferson, "it was at the Troubadour in L.A., and a lot of film people went there. And I was getting scripts offered to me after the first time I worked there."
He accepted his first role in Dennis Hopper’s film, "The Last Movie," and soon after, a bigger role came up.
"Harry Dean Stanton brought me a tape of one of them when we were coming back for another gig at the Troubadour and said there were some people who wanted me to be in a film," said Kristofferson. "At the time it was called "The Dealer," but it turned into a thing called ‘Cisco Pike.’"
That 1972 film launched Kristofferson’s acting career almost instantly.
"I didn’t pay any dues in that line of work," said Kristofferson, "but I had a lot of great on-the-job training." Ultimately, he said he thinks that playing his music and performing on stage parallels the work of an actor in a film.
"To me, the performing is very similar. The writing of it is where it starts and what’s different," he said. "Getting up on the stage or getting in front of the camera and making that a creative, believable experience for an audience is kind of the same job. At least that’s what I’ve come to think of the acting, over time. I’ve gotten a lot of respect for it as an art form."
These days, Kristofferson said he pretty much splits his time between acting and music, although as time goes by he said he’s seeing fewer film roles and more opportunities for concerts, and his concert audiences, he said, have been growing.
His current run, a month-long swing around the Northwest and Rocky Mountains, will see him in Park City for an Eccles Center show on Jan. 14 and then, after a few shows in Idaho and Colorado, playing at the Sundance/BMI Songwriters Snowball in the Kimball Art Center on Jan. 25.
For the tour, Kristofferson will play his shows solo, continuing with the format he used for two tours in Europe and Australia.
"I started it, really when I was doing ‘The Jacket,’ and got offered to do some gigs down in Ireland," said Kristofferson. "I was over there by myself and I had done one gig in Nashville that way at a very small theatre, but all of a sudden I was playing in front of 2,000 people plus, at a place called The Point, and I sold out three nights by myself it was a pretty cool experience."
The format, he said, puts a focus on the songs.
"It’s worked so well in Europe and Australia and I thought, I might as well be doing it back home too," he said.
But he also noted that the shows are a challenge, because he must operate without any sort of backup.
"The notion of doing that is pretty scary," he said, "Because it’s nice to have a band you can hide behind. But somehow I think the only way I can describe it is, it’s a closer sense of communication with the audience. I guess it’s because they have nothing to pay attention to but what’s coming out of my mouth."
Kristofferson said he just hopes to make each show worthwhile for the audience. He hits the road with a new album, "This Old Road," due out March 7, and he said the show will be a blend of his hits and a few of his newer songs, which he said he would work into the program as the tour progressed.
Over the years, Kristofferson said his songwriting has remained relatively the same.
"Ever since I decided I was serious about being a songwriter, I’ve tried to write the best that I can," he said. "I think just, the more you do it, if you’re still holding yourself to the same standards, you know, you’re probably going to write that way.
"I don’t write as much as I used to and I’m sure there’s some songs that I’m sure some people won’t even agree with about the stuff that’s in the news but I think it’s all honest."
While his lyrics are decidedly left-leaning, he said he does his best to avoid simple, didactic songs. He noted that not all fans might agree with his politics, most, he said, would at least be affected by his songs.
"I don’t feel like I’m beating anybody over the head," he said.
"People generally don’t like to feel like they’re being taught or led in a certain direction, and I just like to set it down for the truth as I see it, you know. And a lot of people are telling me that they start thinking about things that are important to think about."
In addition to his political messages, Kristofferson said that these days, his songs reflect his increasing age which is only logical, he noted, as he writes about his experiences. But he said that even as he approaches 70, he’s not thinking about retiring.
"I can’t really see that coming," he said. "I may, because I really haven’t been home a lot this last year. I’ve had my family with me, luckily, and I continue to, but I think that I’ll probably be doing it, in some form or another, until they throw dirt on me."
Kris Kristofferson will perform a show for the Park City Performing Arts Foundation at the Eccles Center on Saturday, Jan. 14 at 7:30 p.m. The show is sold out. For more information, visit http://www.ecclescenter.org or call 655-3114.
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