<p>Kristofferson will team up with Merle Haggard to play the Holland Center Saturday night </p>

Kristofferson will team up with Merle Haggard to play the Holland Center Saturday night

Open Highwayman

Kris Kristofferson gets candid about a life well lived

Most people would consider Kris Kristofferson’s accomplishments as a songwriter and musician enough to qualify his as one hell of a life well-lived. But Kristofferson has succeeded at everything he’s tried in his life, whether it be acting (Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, Convoy, The Wendell Baker Story), sports (he achieved success in boxing, track and field, rugby and football), academics (he was a top-rate student and earned a Rhodes Scholarship to attend Oxford University), or aviation (he deftly maneuvered helicopters in the Army and later flew to offshore oil rigs in Louisiana). And to say he hasn’t aged gracefully would be utter folly: His most recent albums were critically lauded, he recently spoke at The Grammys and he still maintains that rugged attractiveness that makes the ladies swoon. Recently he was able to perform a Kennedy Center tribute to his old friend Merle Haggard, whom he will be joining onstage Saturday in Omaha. “Well, Merle is one of my heroes,” Kristofferson says during our recent phone conversation. “I was glad just to be a part of that. I didn’t do a whole lot on that. I gave him an award one night and then the next night, you know, sang. He deserves every accolade he gets. “We did it once before and one of the real blessings in my life has been that these people who are my heroes turned out to be close friends.” Kristofferson’s songwriting contributions are not only an intrinsic part of the canon of great country music songs, they are part of the overall canon of great American music. Cuts like “Sunday Morning Come Down,” “Me and Bobby McGee” and “Loving Her Was Easier (Then Anything I’ll Ever Do Again)” showcase a razor-sharp wit, a romantic’s eye and a poet’s feel for the perfect word. Lines as simple as “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose” and as gorgeously poignant as “Aching with the feeling of the freedom of an eagle when she flies” made Kristofferson one of the most iconic songwriters ever. As anyone who’s ever had a chance to speak one-on-one with the man can attest, he can also spin the heck out of a yarn. Stories like the one Johnny and June Cash liked to tell about Kristofferson landing his helicopter in their yard when he was first trying to get Johnny to buy one of his songs simply add to the mystique. “Lord, yes,” Kristofferson says with a contagious full-belly laugh. “For that little five minutes I could talk about that more than anything I’ve ever done. But it’s true; I had already known John for a couple of years. I worked as a janitor in a Columbia recording studio and I was at every session he ever cut. And I had given him every song I had ever wrote but he hadn’t recorded any of them. But he was so supportive of me. I remember I thought of it as a sort of a joke. I was briefly in the National Guard back when I was about to have another child in my family and figured I ought to have the financial support because I was still a janitor. And when I landed there he wasn’t even home. But John and June both had a real creative memory. He said I got out of the helicopter with a tape in one hand a beer in the other, you know, and there was no way in hell I could fly a helicopter like that. I definitely needed both hands.” Years later, after Cash bought “Sunday Morning Coming Down” and turned it into a huge hit, Kristofferson teamed up with Cash, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson in what will always be one of music’s all-time super groups, The Highwaymen. The band released two extraordinary records, most notably 1985’s Highwayman which found the foursome harmonizing on classics like “Against The Wind,” “Highwayman” and Woody Guthrie’s classic “Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos).” The records have an intensity that still shines some 25 years later. The fact that it was four hugely-talented artists who were also the best of friends rings through on cut after cut. As great as Kristofferson’s songs are, his acting is every bit as exceptional. While we’re all familiar with several musicians who tried to act with sappy results and actors who tried to play music (Russell Crowe, anyone?) with equally disastrous outcomes, Kristofferson managed the transition effortlessly. And no, he didn’t just play roles that fit him (like, perhaps, a country outlaw or more currently a wizened sage), he stretched himself into other character’s shoes with a grace that alludes many full-time actors. “Well, you know, when I started performing back in ’70, I happened to be down in Los Angeles at a place called Troubador and a lot of movie people hung out there,” he says. “And it was a time in film when I think they were taking chances on people. I can’t imagine why I got offered a film role when I was doing all I could just to stand behind a microphone.” When an artist has a catalog as distinguished as Kristofferson’s it is somewhat unfair to ask him if he has a favorite song or one that holds a special significance, but when asked, without skipping a beat he responded. “Well, you’re right, it’s like picking out your favorite kid, but I would have to say if there were one favorite it’d probably be ‘Bobbie McGee.’ It seemed to be when everything turned around on that song. It was one that I’ll probably be singing at every show I ever do. I’ll tell you what. I’m primarily a songwriter so I love it when other people cut my songs. Most of them sound a hell of a lot better than I do. I never knew that Janis was going to do it; I had never heard it even though we were together for a month or so right before she died. I heard it right after she died. I had gone out to L.A. because she had just died and her producer, who was a friend as well, told me to come over the next day and he played me the song she had done and it just destroyed me. She did a great job on it.” Kris Kristofferson and Merle Haggard will play The Holland Center, 1200 Douglas St., on Saturday, February 26 at 8 p.m. Tickets range from $48 to $78. For more info or to purchase tickets visit {encode="omahaperformingarts.org" title="omahaperformingarts.org"}.

posted at 10:52 am
on Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

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