Kris Kristofferson Ellen Wolff - Essay

Ellen Wolff

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Imagine a few friendly drunks, arms linked to bolster their balance while they sway to the downbeat songs of a rasping crooner singing into his beer. The soundtrack for this scenario could easily be Kris Kristofferson's Spooky Lady's Sideshow, the perfect mood music for malt liquor melancholics. Despite the provocative promise of the peepshow title, the songs exhibited here offer a bevy of down and outers like he's shown us before.

Sideshow begins on a resigned note, with "Same Old Song," a mellow motel blues that's been hanging around Kris' repertoire for a while. It bears his droll, understated trademark, summarizing success as "just a few more friends that you'll be losing when you drop." (p. 73)

Kris further slows the pace by following up with a loser's lament, "Broken Freedom Song."… Simple images of suffering sketch sensitive vignettes that evoke understanding as well as pity. The low-key arrangement is just right, a subtle complement to the sparse, poignant lyric….

["Shandy" is] a highly recognizable Kristofferson lyric, balancing on the thin line between cleverness and contrivance….

The poetry in "Shandy" is more suggestive than explicitly narrative, which leaves more to the imagination than most of the album. It's highlighted by an archetypal Kristofferson chorus, the best in this collection….

On side two the pace is lightened by "Rescue Mission."… Though it's almost a 'novelty' song, standing in marked contrast to the rest of the album, its colorful imagery and bawdy humor make it an enjoyable oddity. It also points out that Sideshow provides only the perspective of the itinerant musician; self-analysis instead of tangible events peopled with someone other than the First Person. The narrowness of the "I'm alone on the road" genre is a problem, in Kris' case especially, since his poetry is his main drawing card….

Country and western purists may find that Kris has simply settled into a comfortable groove. But for the rest of us, who've been waiting for song poems with the appeal of "The Pilgrim" and "Bobby McGee," Sideshow displays a monochrome portfolio. Kristofferson's becoming a polished performer, world wiser and wearier, too. Somehow, he seemed more intriguing when he was still a smartass outcast. (p. 74)

Ellen Wolff, in her review of "Spooky Lady's Sideshow," in Crawdaddy (copyright © 1974 by Crawdaddy Publishing Co., Inc.; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), August, 1974, pp. 73-4.