Ben Gerson

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 514

[Kristofferson is best] known as a lyricist, and so any consideration of his latest album, Border Lord …, ought to begin there. At regular intervals, I was confronted with lines ranging from [confusion to inanity to hyperbole to the kind of pseudo-poeticizing which should have gone out with Bob Lind and the Electric Prunes]….

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Kris' celebrations of machismo are his most patently stupid entries. When [Mick] Jagger works with the form, it's endearing because basically Jagger's assertiveness is compensating for failure. With Kris, it's sheer one-dimensional braggodocio….

"Smokey," "Border Lord" … and "Gettin' By High and Strange" … are the "love" songs least ambiguous in their intent. But when Kris attempts to shade in the emotional side of his affairs, he really steps in it. In "Little Girl Lost," for example, the stanzas alternate between objective consideration of his "little girl," bitterness at the way he was treated by her, and a melting forgiveness addressed to a third party who is about to "take her." The transitions are abrupt and irrational.

Kris is equally indigestible when he waxes reflective…. On "Burden of Freedom," Kris plays his namesake, Christ … but proves his obtuseness and egocentricity in the last stanza when he "cleverly" turns the tables…. Asking for forgiveness of your enemies is indeed Christ-like; to ask for forgiveness of your own transgressions, with the implications that the person who would refuse it is morally unenlightened, is grossly self-indulgent.

Kris has a fondness for dualities—"the bitter for the sweet," "the laughter and the tears"—which includes a backwoods Calvinist sense of right and wrong. He also has a taste for cheap irony … as well as the ability to make the tautological sound striking…. His sentences are very long clauses and prepositional phrases Latinately balanced, and betray this country and western singer's Oxford education….

Kris may or may not be a poet, a picker, a prophet, a pusher, a pilgrim, and a preacher, as his song "The Pilgrim—Chapter 33" enumerates, but he certainly is "a walking contradiction." By appealing to the more cosmopolitan urges among C & W listeners, as well as the more provincial yearnings among the rock audience, Kris has won a sizable following in both camps. But what makes him commercial condemns him artistically. He has neither the intensity and originality of vision of the solo artist (Neil Young or Joni Mitchell), not the simple integrity and force of personality of the more restricted country and western artist (e.g., his mentor, Johnny Cash). What is left is a strange hybrid: a C & W Jim Morrison, or a Bobby Goldsboro with sex appeal….

In the final analysis, Kris is no more a good old boy from Nashville than Neil Young is a rancher, George Harrison a mystic, or Frank Zappa a freak. He's just as rootless as the rest of us, creating his identity not out of family, work, religion, geography, but wishes, fantasies and the need for a sense of place.

Ben Gerson, "Kristofferson: Goin' Down Slow," in Rolling Stone (by Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc. © 1972; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Issue 107, April 27, 1972, p. 50.

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