Three songs: Kris Kristofferson

If he weren’t real, Hollywood would have made him up. Kris Kristofferson was an Army Ranger, helicopter pilot, award-winning creative writer, Golden Gloves boxer, Rhodes Scholar and one of America’s greatest songwriters. And a movie star. Though many of his songs are better known as interpreted by the likes of Johnny Cash or Janis Joplin, his versions have a singular power.

“Sunday Morning Coming Down”

Johnny Cash made this song famous, but to me, it belongs to Kris. His spare, dignified rendering is richer and more subtle; sadder and wiser.

“To Beat the Devil”

A struggling guitar picker meets the devil, in this tune. The point, it turns out, is not the immediate struggle between good and evil but the interminable, draining battle against the indifference of a world of folks too wrapped up in their mediocre aspirations to give a shit. In the end, Kristofferson makes the unfashionable point that to care is to win, even if you look like a loser.

“Me and Bobby McGee”

Not only is this a fabulous lost-love song in its own right, it exhibits Kristofferson’s creative generosity. He didn’t write songs that made him sound great, he wrote songs that were so transcendent they could — and did — make other artists shine. I’ve always assumed that the name “Bobby McGee” was chosen for its gender-neutrality, so the song, the story, could belong to anyone. I love that about it — and him.