Weekend Drive Through Nashville With Kris Kristofferson

The actor Ethan Hawke recently wrote a Rolling Stone profile about this interesting man, describing him this way:

"Imagine if Brad Pitt had also written a number one single for someone like Amy Winehouse, was considered among the finest songwriters of his generation, had been a Rhodes scholar, a U.S. Army Airborne Ranger, a boxer, a professional helicopter pilot -- and was as politically outspoken as Sean Penn."

Well, that describes Kris Kristofferson in 1979.

Kristofferson, now 73, is releasing "Closer to the Bone," his 24th album, this week. With soulful lyrics addressing family, friendship, love and mortality, the album is Kristofferson at his best.

Among the songs are "From Here to Forever," written for one of his children; "Good Morning John," for his beloved friend, Johnny Cash; and the first song he ever wrote, when he was just 11 years old.

For the last decade he's been touring the United States and internationally to sold out crowds.

"I guess it must be down to the essence of the songs, because God knows, there's better guitar players and singers," he said. "But it seems to be working with my material -- just me and the song."

Recently, Kristofferson invited Bill Weir to join him for the day in Nashville, Tenn. The two toured music row, old songwriter haunts and the beautiful Ryman Theatre, the original home of the Grand Ole Opry.

BILL WEIR: What's it like coming back to Nashville after all these years?

KRIS KRISTOFFERSON: I have a special place in my heart for Nashville because it saved my life back in the day. Everybody was into songs and songwriting and I loved it. When I first came here I was still in the Army. I had a two-week leave coming to me, so I came to Nashville. I came straight here.

WEIR: You met Johnny Cash shortly after arriving in Nashville. What was that like?

KRISTOFFERSON: Whoo -- electric. It was backstage at the Opry. It was at the end of my two-week leave here and it was the final nail in the coffin of my military career. I just knew ... I just shook hands with him. I am sure he didn't remember. I said, 'I'm coming back here [as soon as I'm out of the Army].' I figured if I couldn't make it as a songwriter, I could get so much material to write fiction because it was just fascinating to me.

WEIR: And what was it like between writers? Was it competitive? Was it collaborative?

KRISTOFFERSON: The people that I hung out with just loved music so much that we'd get just as enthralled by somebody else singing. We'd sit around the floor and knock each other out. It was competitive, but not like cutting somebody else down.

WEIR: You got a job pushing a broom at Columbia Records shortly after you arrived in Nashville.

KRISTOFFERSON: They called it "studio setup man," but I would clean up after the sessions and empty the ash trays. I wasn't supposed to give my recording demos to any of the people who were recording there, but I did. I gave everything I ever wrote to Johnny Cash. I think he said later in some interview that he would take them home and throw them in the lake with all the other demos. I'm sure he got a million of them.

WEIR: Were you ever discouraged? Did you ever come close to hanging it up?

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