For the good times

I first met Kris Kristofferson courtesy of my dad, who used to blast “Me and Bobby McGee” from the eight-track tape player in his car.

“He’s a genuine songwriter,” Dad said as we belted out “Blame it on the Stones” while we cruised down highway 51, just outside of Wausau on a winter day around 1974. A few miles later, he pointed out a specific lyric in “To Beat the Devil”.

But it’d been a month of paydays since I’d heard that eagle scream.

“That’s poetry,” he said.

In the 43 years since, Kristofferson has remained both poetic and prolific. A member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame, Kristofferson has published 243 songs and, according to Rolling Stone Magazine, more than 500 artists have performed those songs.

Thanks to my dad, I know every word of every song on Kristofferson’s first album and, thanks to YouTube and my sister Jenny, who jumped in my car for a road trip to Pennsylvania many years ago with the Me and Bobby McGee CD, I still sing them regularly.

Sunday night, I met my lyric idol for the first time and, I’m touched to report, the legend shook my hand.

We saw Kristofferson perform at the City winery in Chicago, a venue so respectful to its musicians that we could hear the steady tap of Kristofferson’s boots on the stage as he played his sets.

At 80-years old, Kristofferson strums with less swagger now. According to his wife of 36 years, he has been battling memory issues due to Lymes Disease for the past few years.

Still, it was a thrill to see him standing up on stage with just his own guitar and a stand mic. His eyes twinkled as he played and he seemed to feel at home. In many ways, the old Highwayman’s age gave his lyrics even more poignancy, especially as he wrapped up his concert with “Please don’t tell me how the story ends.”

This could be our last goodnight together
We may never pass this way again
Just let me enjoy ’till its over
Or forever
Please don’t tell me how the story ends

See the way our shadows come together
Softer than your fingers on my skin
Someday this may be all
That we’ll remember
Of each other
Please don’t tell me how the story ends

Never’s just the echo of forever
Lonesome as the love that might have been
Just let me go on loving and believing
‘Till it’s over
Please don’t tell me how the story ends.

We meant every clap of the standing ovation we gave Kris Kristofferson Sunday night. We applauded his bravery. It’s tough enough to grow old in this country, but to stand on stage all alone, competing with the handsome, younger version of yourself that any audience member could summon with the flick of a finger on a smartphone, seemed especially gutsy.

“To me, the song is what matters, not necessarily the performances,” Kristofferson once said. “Just the words and the melody — that’s what moves your emotions.”

He thanked the audience after every song Sunday night, both as a gesture of genuine gratitude and a means to signal the end of the song when his plucking fingers wandered.

I felt equally grateful to him, for his talent and the drive he had to make sure his songs made it out into the world; for the memories his songs inspired; For The Good Times.

I enjoyed introducing my daughter Katherine to my lyric idol.
We sat close enough to hear the steady tap of his left boot on the stage floor.
I still have that old 8-track tape from my dad’s car.
My sister Jenny took this picture of me fan girling.
I think it’s pretty brave to stand up there with your battered old guitar and compete with the handsome, robust singing of your younger self. He still looked like he was having fun.


5 thoughts on “For the good times

  1. Wow, wow! I love him as a singer and as an actor. I am envious. But, thanks for sharing.

  2. Wow–up close! He’s a country music legend. I saw him perform last year with Willie Nelson and the Haggard boys. He stepped in as a sub after Merle Haggard’s death. He was wonderful! All the classic country singers are.

    1. I agree. The classic country singers are well worth the ticket price. We sat with people who had seen him perform with Willie and the Haggards. I would have loved to have seen that concert as well.

    2. I agree. The classic country singers are well worth the ticket price. We sat with people who had seen him perform with Willie and the Haggards. I would have loved to have seen that concert as well.

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