“he’s a poet, he’s a picker”

I don’t know what it is about Kris Kristofferson, but y’all are used to that, right? I never can explain what it is about artists that draws me to them. With Kristofferson, it could be that all of his songs remind me of my uncle Jim or it could be that he seems to want so badly for the world to see Johnny Cash the way he saw him. That was a bromance for the ages, wasn’t it?

Instead of trying to explain, I’m just going to give you some of my favorite lines and let you sort it out for yourself. After all, it’s the songwriter half of singer/songwriter that always gets to me. For instance, the title of this post came from “The Pilgrim: Chapter 33,” which Kristofferson claims is about Cash and a bunch of others like him, which really makes it autobiographical. He has that same impulse to examine that Emily Saliers has; they go over and over the same parts of themselves, nearly crippled by their self-awareness and their helpless insight into human nature.

There are songs whose lyrics are so poetic that I barely notice the music.

From “Shandy”:

All she could pay was attention
So all they could take was her time
Proving an ounce of possession
Ain’t worth a piece of your mind.


Locked in the goldhandled bathroom,
Martin was changing his mind,
Shedding his humble pretensions,
One careful toke at a time.

From “Billy Dee”:

Billy took a beatin’ from a world he meant no harm
The score was written in the scars up on his arm

From “Stranger”:

Maybe she was smilin’ in the mirror
Maybe I was, too, ’cause I was stoned
Singin’ every sad song on the juke-box one more time
Honey, they were hittin’ close to home

From “Jesus Was a Capricorn”:

Jesus was a Capricorn
He ate organic food
He believed in love and peace
And never wore no shoes
Long hair, beard and sandals
And a funky bunch of friends
Reckon we’d just nail him up
If he came down again

From “Loving Her Was Easier”:

Wakin’ in the mornin’ to the feelin’ of her fingers on my skin.
Wipin’ out the traces of the people and the places that I’ve been.
Teachin’ me that yesterday was something that I never thought of trying.
Talkin’ of tomorrow and the money, love and time we had to spend.

From “Chase the Feeling”:

And you got loaded again
Ain’t you handsome when you’re high
Nothing matters
Chase the feeling ’til you die

From the aforementioned “The Pilgrim: Chapter 33” (I couldn’t pick just a few lines, because this song is a freaking poem):

See him wasted on the sidewalk in his jacket and his jeans,
Wearin’ yesterday’s misfortunes like a smile.
Once he had a future full of money, love, and dreams,
Which he spent like they was goin’ outta style.
And he keeps right on changin’ for the better or the worse,
Searchin’ for a shrine he’s never found
Never knowin’ if believin’ is a blessin’ or a curse,
Or if the goin’ up was worth the comin’ down.

He’s a poet, he’s a picker.
He’s a prophet, he’s a pusher.
He’s a pilgrim and a preacher, and a problem when he’s stoned.
He’s a walkin’ contradiction, partly truth and partly fiction,
Takin’ ev’ry wrong direction on his lonely way back home.

He has tasted good and evil in your bedrooms and your bars,
And he’s traded in tomorrow for today.
Runnin’ from his devils, Lord, and reachin’ for the stars,
And losin’ all he’s loved along the way.
But if this world keeps right on turnin’ for the better or the worse,
And all he ever gets is older and around,
From the rockin’ of the cradle to the rollin’ of the hearse,
The goin’ up was worth the comin’ down.

And he’s got iconic songs that give me goosebumps because of the aching vulnerability he can express with very simple words. There’s rarely anything fancy in a Kristofferson song—no SAT words like “trajectory” in the vocabulary or complicated metaphors that usually show up in my kind of songs.

From “Help Me Make It Through the Night” (also known as one of my favorite songs of all time because the music so perfectly complements the desperate, pleading lyrics):

I don’t care what’s right or wrong,
I don’t try to understand.
Let the devil take tomorrow.
Lord, tonight I need a friend.

From “Me and Bobby McGee”:

Feeling nearly faded as my jeans

From “Sunday Morning Coming Down”:

Well I woke up Sunday morning,
With no way to hold my head that didn’t hurt.
And the beer I had for breakfast wasn’t bad,
So I had one more for dessert.

Are you starting to see what I mean? If Kristofferson isn’t talking about you, he’s talking about someone you know. I mean, who hasn’t woken up on a morning or two with no way to hold their head that didn’t hurt? I’m not sure that Kristofferson is the greatest songwriter who ever lived, but I am so comfortable listening to his songs. It’s like I can crawl right up inside them, pour myself a glass of bourbon, and let the warmth spread all over my body. Yeah, it smells like stale cigarettes, used whiskey, and musty guitars in there, but I like it.