15 Minutes With Kris Kristofferson

Feeling mortal but fine

By Jim Caligiuri, 4:20PM, Wed. Apr. 10, 2013

15 Minutes With Kris Kristofferson
photo by Ash Newell

Here’s a conversation I had last week with outlaw Highwayman Kris Kristofferson from his home in Hawaii. He’s part of the Jack Ingram & Friends show at the Moody Theater Friday evening.

Geezerville: You’re in Hawaii. Who got there first, you or Willie Nelson?

Kris Kristofferson: Me. I’ve been coming out here since I was a little kid. My old man worked for Pan American. I bought this place around 1970.

G: So you’ve been there a lot longer.

KK: Oh yeah. He came over to this side once because it takes about two and a half hours to get here. I live on the small unpopulated side of the island. He’s right over there by the airport and golf course. Oddly, this side reminds me of where I grew up down in Brownsville, Texas. It’s got the same grapefruit trees. It’s real vegetated. Everybody thinks I’m crazy saying that, but it’s kind of like the Rio Grande Valley, where the biggest crop was grapefruit before anybody had them and it was always green.

G: I saw that you were recently part of the cast to The Motel Life. I was surprised to see that book [written by Richmond Fontaine’s Willy Vlautin] made into a film. It really touched me. Did you read the book and how long ago was it filmed? It doesn’t appear to have been released yet.

KK: I don’t remember. My memory is so shitty now. I found – and we didn’t know it at the time – that all the concussions you get in boxing and football starts catching up with you by the time you get to be as old as I am. My memory’s going fast. I guess the good thing about it is that it doesn’t bother me. I just remember what I have to. Fortunately my wife is about 20 years younger than me, we’ve been married 30 years, and she can take care of me.

G: Let’s talk about the most recent album, Feeling Mortal.

KK: Every album I’ve made is about what I’m experiencing at the time. The experience of feeling mortal is kind of throughout this one here. At this point in your life, you gotta reflect on the fact that it will end. It’s happened to everybody else. We’re so reluctant to address it. You don’t think of it much until you get up there.

G: I read recently that people in science and medicine think there are breakthroughs coming that will allow people to live to 130 or 150. Is that something that sounds attractive to you?

KK: I’ll go as long as I feel like it. If I could feel the way I do now at 150, fine. If I have to be taken care of I think I’d just skip that.

G: Quality of life is a big factor there.

KK: Yeah, but I think it’s cool. We’re living longer than our parents did.

G: I was talking to Bobby Bare not that long ago. He was here in Austin for South by Southwest, and he was talking about Shel Silverstein, who he’s famously associated with.

KK: Bobby Bare is one of the greatest people in country music.

G: You did some co-writing with Silverstein and there’s one on Feeling Mortal. You say he’s the only one you did co-writes with.

KK: I’ve gotten my name on some songs with other people. Most of those I wrote myself and put down some friends names on them. But with Shel, we actually did co-write. The first one, he gave me the idea and I took it down to the Gulf where I was working at the time – every other week on the off-shore oil rigs. So I came back and it worked so well we kept doing it. Not a lot, but we did several.

G: You recorded one of those collaborations, “My Heart Was the Last to Know,” for this album. What was it about the song that you felt now was a good time to record it?

KK: I don’t know. I guess it was what I was feeling at the time. My albums really are like scrapbooks to me.

G: Has there ever been a time when you weren’t able to write songs?

KK: I haven’t written many lately. The times that I wrote the most was back when I was writing with Shel. When I was flying helicopters out on the oil rigs because there wasn’t a hell of a lot to do. It was a great time. I had all these songs bubbling out of me. I’ve never been a disciplined songwriter. I’ve known a lot of people that I respected who were, but I could never write that way.

G: When you say disciplined, what do you mean exactly?

KK: I mean like make yourself write every day. I know Tom T. Hall, who is a great songwriter, used to make himself write every day. I don’t know if he still does that or not, but I couldn’t do that. If I had operated like that I probably would have written a lot more songs. But I kind of like the way I did it. My own way.

G: Is there a backlog or a notebook somewhere of songs that you’ve never recorded?

KK: I don’t know. My wife was showing me a book of old songs that I’ve written and there may be some songs in there that I should do. But I’m feeling no urgency right now to put out another record. But I’m sure that I will, as long as Don Was is still alive and I am. I hope he lasts longer than I do. Don Was is one of the greatest people I’ve known in creative life.

G: The last song on the album is “Ramblin’ Jack.” He’s a pretty special character too.

KK: [Laughs] Jack will never change. Do you know him?

G: I’ve seen him perform a number of times and Tom Russell tells some great stories about him.

KK: Well they’re probably all true. He’s unlike anybody I’ve ever known. I first met him when he came into work with Johnny Cash in the Sixties. He decided who he was going to be as a young man and there’s nothing phoney about it. He became that person.

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