Kris Kristofferson Stephen Holden - Essay

Stephen Holden

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[John] Prine and Kristofferson have much in common: naturalistic singing styles that owe a lot to the early Dylan and to Johnny Cash, respectively, and lyric themes that evoke rural and/or working-class sensibilities….

Unlike Prine, Kris Kristofferson seldom plays the role of social commentator. He came into prominence as the author of "Me and Bobby McGee." … With its memorable catch phrase, "Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose," this great song generated expectations that Kristofferson has not lived up to. Jesus Was a Capricorn is his fourth and weakest album.

Prior to Jesus, Kristofferson's self-made image was that of a hard-drinking, hard-loving man-of-the-road, a rustic cosmopolite and earthy philosopher of romantic disillusionment. While Jesus belies that image, it offers little to replace it…. The best song is the title cut, a blunt comment on tolerance….

The several long songs on Jesus are uncharacteristically tentative and gentle for Kristofferson. "Give It Time to Be Tender" (coauthored with Donnie Frith) is the first Kristofferson song ever to express fear of love. Another ballad, "Enough for You," contradicts Kristofferson's established macho image with its expression of personal inadequacy and vulnerability in a relationship….

For all their faults, Prine and Kristofferson are better-than-average singer/songwriters. Kristofferson is the more tuneful; Prine, though not the facile phrase-maker that Kristofferson is, probes more deeply into his subjects to unearth a socially rooted Angst. In the long run, neither Prine nor Kristofferson shows the capacity to transmute sorrow into rage or resignation into love as Dylan has done so often and so well. (p. 55)

Stephen Holden, "Prine, Kristofferson, Green, and Wonder," in Saturday Review of the Arts (© 1973 Saturday Review Magazine Co.; reprinted by permission), Vol. 1, No. 2, February 3, 1973, pp. 55-6.∗