Kris Kristofferson – Freedom’s still the most important thing for me
ND: Wives don’t like guys named ‘Funky.’
KK: They don’t like guys who are funky. You know, it was a time when I just had to be selfish. Looking back, I was selfish. If I hadn’t been, I never would have been able to put up with the hardship I was causing other people. I had a little girl I wasn’t seeing much of. And for my wife, it must have been miserable.
II. THERE WERE RULES THAT WEREN’T BROKEN
ND: You used to tour with a big band, trucks full of equipment and all that. Now you’re out there with nothing but your harmonica, your guitar and songs. How is performing different for you now?
KK: I’m still scared every night I go out. Still scared. I guess it’s not really ‘scared’ as much as it’s like before a boxing match or something. You’re nervous, and you might get your block knocked off. I play acoustic now, without a band, and there’s some people out there that must find that a torturous thing. I thought of that when I first started going out that way. I was thinking, “If you don’t like the words and the songs, it’s going to be a long night.”
ND: Obviously, you still have faith in the words and the songs.
KK: I know my limits as a singer, but I feel good about the songs. I don’t feel tired of singing anything. I don’t feel like I need to rewrite the songs. Except, I remember when I wrote “Best Of All Possible Worlds”, they wouldn’t let me demo it the way that I wrote it. I wrote it as, “If that’s against the law, tell me why I never saw a man locked in that jail of yours that wasn’t either black or poor as me.” They wouldn’t let me say “black.” I changed it to “low-down poor,” but I don’t sing it that way now; I sing “black” every time. It’s amazing how far we’ve come. There were rules that weren’t broken when I went to town, when I got to Nashville. When I was writing “Help Me Make It Through The Night” and “For The Good Times”, believe it or not they were controversial.
ND: Yes, but these days artists can get on the radio with a “politically incorrect” opinion a lot easier than they can get on the radio with a call for tolerance or humanism or peace. Toby Keith can sing whatever he wants, but the Dixie Chicks can’t sing anything on the radio, because the people that run the stations have decided that they’re anti-Bush.
KK: Yeah, I can remember when that started changing. I remember reading to my surprise that I was “irrelevant” back at the end of the 1970s. I felt like I was relevant, but I don’t think they considered me marketable. It might also have had to do with the material I was putting out at the time. “They Killed Him” was my first single, but the program directors weren’t going to have it. One guy said, “The only thing wrong with killing Martin Luther King was they didn’t have any more bullets in the gun.”
ND: Those kinds of viewpoints didn’t cause you trouble when you were starting out, though, and that was during the Vietnam War, when Nashville was supposed to be hawkish and intolerant.
KK: Well, remember, I was never working in the country venues. They considered me a Nashville artist, but the places I was playing were the places Dylan played: the Troubadour, the Bitter End. I wasn’t running into any opposition until they tried to market me straight country, when I went to Mercury. They didn’t have any idea who I was selling records to at the time.
ND: That was when you began falling out of favor. Could that have also been due to the perception that you’d gone to California and weren’t interested in country music anymore? Like when Hank Jr. sang “Kris he is a movie star and he’s moved off to L.A.”
KK: Well, there’s that. I should have known, but I moved to L.A. because my wife at the time, Rita [Coolidge], wanted to be out there. I was just going along. But I knew from my experience in Nashville that anything from out of town wasn’t really considered at all.
ND: In the past, you’ve said, “I have no regrets.” Can that possibly be true?
KK: Listen, I have those. What I meant when I said that was that my life has turned out so well for me that I would be afraid to change anything. Because maybe if I hadn’t stayed out every night for a week at one point, I wouldn’t have had the schooling that I got from that, for songwriting. I’m not saying it was all like a classroom. It wasn’t studying and it wasn’t analytical, but it was making music.