Rocks Off spoke to Kris Kristofferson by phone from his home in Hawaii where he describes living a life as spare and literal as the records he makes with producer Don Was. Twice he told us that he's old, once he told us that he's brain-damaged and then he told us that his favorite place on Earth is in Texas.
Rocks Off: I've been listening to your new record, Feeling Mortal, all week.
Kris Kristofferson: That's more than I've listened to it.
KK: Yeah, I don't really listen to my own stuff. But I love my songs and I love working with Don Was especially.
RO: Has Ramblin' Jack Elliott heard the song you wrote about him?
KK: You know, I don't know. I had written the first half of it a long time ago. And he might have heard that. I don't really know if he's heard this yet. I hope he has. I really enjoyed being around Jack.
RO: "Ramblin' Jack" is the last song on the record. The last two songs are the most upbeat on the entire record. On song No. 9, you even laugh a couple of times.
KK (Laughing): That's one of those kind of autobiographical scats that is probably not as good a song as the rest of them. You can thank Don for leaving that (laugh) in.
RO: You say in the first couple of lines of the first song something about having a shaky self-esteem. Is that possible? Do you really have a shaky self-esteem?
KK: No. I don't think I do. I think everybody does when they're honest. You know? But I would certainly not think that I was too shaky because I've had so much reinforcement over the years with people liking whatever I'm doing.
But listen, when you get old you're not as good at everything as you were and I think most people are probably more critical of themselves than other people are anyway.
RO: I can really relate to the song "Bread for the Body" because I've got a day job and a mortgage and I do feel like I'm on a treadmill sometimes. Do you?
KK: Well, I'll tell you. I have not felt like I was on that treadmill since I decided to go follow my heart and be a songwriter in Nashville and got out of the military and all of that other stuff that I was prepared for. And I've felt free ever since.
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RO: The record shows a lot of the beauty of life, but there's still a melancholy to it. Do the beautiful things in life make you feel sadness?
KK: I think it all comes together. I think life is a beautiful thing, and yet there's sadness in every life. One of the sadnesses is that you know it's going to end. And I think it's God's blessing that keeps us from thinking about that constantly.
Because it's a short life. But fortunately we get enough entertainment along the way to not be preoccupied with that.
RO: I read that this is your first completely independent release.
KK: I don't even know anything about that. That part of the business has never been my concern. A couple of people in interviews have told me and I really don't even know what it's about. I leave that to Don to handle.
RO: So do you know if people will still be able to buy it at Walmart?
KK: I'd hate to think that they can't. I guess I've never been in charge of that part of the process.
RO: Are you releasing a single for radio?
KK: I don't even know if they do that anymore.
RO: They used to play your songs on the radio. What happened to radio since then?
KK: I don't know because I haven't really listened to the radio since I've been out on the road starting back in the early '70s. And I know a lot of people who've interviewed me have told me that they think the music nowadays is almost like pop used to be.
When I went to Nashville, I thought that pop music was just, you know, little pop tunes and that the real serious stuff was done by the soul people like Hank Williams.
RO: I asked Ray Price that same question recently and he recommended I listen to Willie's Roadhouse on Sirius satellite radio.
KK: Oh? Well, you know, Willie has always been a hero to serious songwriters. And Ray Price is a hero too because he appreciates songwriters so much.
RO: I just saw him recently. He was amazing.
KK: Yeah, he'll be here a long time.
RO: So you've played Houston many times. Do you have any great stories from Houston?
KK: You know something? Now that my memory's getting real bad, I'm brain-damaged from my football and boxing days, it's getting so I don't remember a whole lot. I always feel like Houston is the place I play that's closest to my favorite place on Earth. Brownsville, Texas.
Growing up in Brownsville was the best thing I remember of my life. In fact, where I live today reminds me a lot of Brownsville. It's a real small town and they've got stuff growing everywhere. And perhaps people today will be surprised that I liked it, but to me it was bare feet and dirt roads and good people.
That's one of the reasons I settled here (in Hawaii); it reminds me of Brownsville with the weather and the people.
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Feeling Mortal is available today.