Kris Kristofferson Noel Coppage - Essay

Noel Coppage

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Kristofferson's] songs deal with how it is to feel inadequate. The world is a mess, all right, he concludes, but then so am I. The hero winds up in jail only partly because of his life style and politics—there also was the matter of his being roaring drunk and raising hell. The South, being so conservative, has always been a tough place for rebels, and Kristofferson has been able to construct a stable of Southern characters—mostly shades of himself—to personify actions and reactions that anyone anywhere can identify. Hank Williams, his boyhood hero, knew what it was like to be poor and scrambling in the South (which is pretty much like what it's like anywhere else, only more so) and it got into his songs, too. Like Williams, Kristofferson looks at it with a mixture of sympathy, objectivity, and hope….

[Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down on "Kristofferson"] is his ultimate statement to date about loneliness, and Kris has made a lot of statements about loneliness. The lament for lost or never-had companions or loves dogs his songs with the quiet efficiency of a small-town bookkeeper. Many songs also mention being broke and hung over….

Kristofferson tosses out a better-than-average adage occasionally…. But his lyrics don't have the gloss of self-conscious surrealism that so many other songwriters picked up by listening to Bob Dylan. Kristofferson's lyrics are straightforward and, in their way, generally graceful. Compare his songs with those of writers ten years his junior, those who are trying to say the same things, and you can see how experience—and even an Oxford education—can be helpful.

Kristofferson says he wants to affect people emotionally rather than intellectually—but any songwriter interested in survival wants to do that. The thing is that in order to write well for the viscera, one must have his own cerebrum in order, otherwise he won't know how thick to pour it on. Kristofferson, in this album, poured it on just about right.

Noel Coppage, "The Sound of Kristofferson," in Stereo Review (copyright © 1971 by Ziff-Davis Publishing Company), Vol. 26, No. 4, April, 1971, p. 61.