Kris Kristofferson is primarily known for his work as a songwriter, spinning tales and poetic down-home narratives that launched or reshaped the careers of others. To consider that many of his best-known early songs were written during his time as a janitor for Columbia Records in the mid-’60s is to realise that Kristofferson is one troubadour who lives what he sings, and who practices what he preaches.
Please Don’t Tell Me How The Story Ends dusts off Kristofferson’s demo recordings from 1968 to 1972 and presents them for the first time, and in lavish fashion with in-depth liner notes and testimonials from friends and colleagues like Dennis Hopper and Willie Nelson.
These are the skeleton frameworks of songs that would eventually be covered by such iconic titans as Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash, to name but a few. These recordings are simple and stripped down, often comprised of just Kristofferson’s voice and guitar, and the intimacy of the sessions is arresting. Studio chatter and false starts make appearances from time to time, lending to a sense of experiencing an understated, but integral, part of history as a fly on the studio wall.
It’s best to crack open a bottle and fall headlong into this collection. Willie Nelson was absolutely right when he said that Kristofferson “brought us out of the Dark Ages.” Simple truths shine through in lines like, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose,” and “Never’s just the echo of forever,” and “Everything is heavy when you’re losing your grip.” This is a collection that demands to be experienced and pored over like the monumental archival find they are.
Many of the songs here shine with dusty clarity, speckled with dust motes and worn through like long-walked boots. Some of these tunes (most notably Me And Bobby McGee, immortalised by Janis Joplin) are familiar enough to be considered part of the popular music archetype, and even as major entries in that long-fabled Great American Songbook. But in these demo recordings, Kristofferson imbues them with a sense of hungry urgency, and his voice becomes that of a sage, toiling years ahead of his time.
On If You Don’t Like Hank Williams (whose refrain ends, “buddy, you can kiss my ass”), Kristofferson sings, “I think what they done is well worth doing. And they’re doing it the best way that they can. You’re the only one that you are screwing when you put down what you don’t understand.”
In the song (which is slower and more deliberate here than in its final incarnation), Kristofferson mentions everyone from Gene Autry to The Beatles to “that sexy Mama Cass,” and he pays respectful homage as a songwriter and music enthusiast who respects their work. Kristofferson has made an indelible mark on popular music, and it’s clear that he deserves his place among those he so reveres. These demos present him at his toughest and leanest. Please Don’t Tell Me How The Story Ends is a monumental and important collection from an unmatched voice in the American mythos.