The Pilgrim's Progress Page 5
1988 to 1991
Apart from touring with the Highwaymen, Kristofferson continues to appear in several uninspired film and television productions. He remains a vocal supporter of the Sandinistas, and joins the growing choruses demanding the release of Nelson Mandela and Native American protester Leonard Peltier. It's no surprise then that his next album, Third World Warrior, takes an even stronger militant stance, although unfortunately it is released at the same time as Highwaymen 2. In spite of some great songs like "Don't Let The Bastards Get You Down," sales of his solo effort are a fraction of what the group generates. "That was a time when that information wasn't generally known everywhere," he says now. "We were undermining these countries in Central America, blowing up schools, and training the Contras to mine roads and overthrow the Sandinista government in Nicaragua and kill people in El Salvador. It used to piss people off when I would sing those songs, and it doesn't anymore because they've been exposed to the same information."
1992 to 1995
Kristofferson acts as MC at the Bob Dylan tribute concert at Madison Square Garden. He introduces Sinead O'Connor, who is promptly booed offstage, having torn up a picture of the Pope on Saturday Night Live the week before. In a dramatic scene, she runs into Kristofferson's arms and he is clearly heard telling her, "Don't let the bastards get you down." He revisits this moment in the song "Sister Sinead" on Closer To The Bone. Also at that concert he meets producer Don Was, who is eventually enlisted to produce what will be the final Highwaymen album, The Road Goes On Forever. Sales don't match those of its predecessors, and all four artists go back to their solo careers. Kristofferson works with Was again on A Moment Of Forever, released independently on Justice Records. The album features a stellar line-up of musicians, and includes remakes of several songs, along with "Johnny Lobo," a new piece inspired by Native American activist John Trudell.
1996 to 1999
A standout performance in John Sayles' Lone Star revives Kristofferson's acting career, leading to a recurring supporting role in the Blade trilogy. He earns further acclaim for a star turn in A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries, and reconnects with his core audience through the album The Austin Sessions, a selection of classic material performed with guests that include Steve Earle, Mark Knopfler, Allison Krauss, and Jackson Browne.
2000 to 2005
Kristofferson remains busy with several films and documentaries, the most high profile being a role in Tim Burton's Planet Of The Apes. In 2003, the live album Broken Freedom Song is released on John Prine's Oh Boy label. Recorded in San Francisco, it largely draws from his latter-day political work. Waylon Jennings dies in 2002, and Johnny Cash dies the following year. Kristofferson writes of Cash in Rolling Stone, "[He] was a biblical character... I don't think we'll see anyone like him again."
2006 to 2008
Kristofferson signs with New West Records and records This Old Road with Don Was, his first album of new material in 11 years. The album's stripped-down sound reflects the more philosophical tone in most of the songs. One he retools is "The Burden of Freedom," first heard on Border Lord. Explaining this decision, Kristofferson says, "When I wrote it back in the late '60s, it was about leaving the path I had been prepared for ― West Point and all that ― but it's mostly about doing what you believe is right, whether that makes you enemies or not." The album is warmly embraced by critics, and reaches the Top 40 on the country chart. Unlike most names associated with Nashville, Kristofferson formally endorses Barack Obama for president.
Closer To The Bone picks up where This Old Road leaves off, and is the last recording with Kristofferson's long-time guitarist Stephen Bruton, who dies in May. The stark qualities of the performances bear similarities to Johnny Cash's American series, to which Kristofferson responds, "I was glad to see [John] make those last few records, and glad that Rick Rubin was so behind it. But Don Was was the guy who really suggested that I be recording like this." Yet, Cash's presence is there in the song "Good Morning John." "I wrote that at June's request after John had just gotten out of a rehab ― I think it was the last one he was in. After that he straightened up for the rest of his life. There were a lot of songs like 'Good Morning John' that I hadn't recorded that really meant something to me. I wanted to get as many of them on this record as I could." Kristofferson has made it known that he wants the opening lines of Leonard Cohen's "Bird On The Wire" ― "Like a bird on the wire, like a drunk in a midnight choir, I have tried in my way to be free" ― engraved on his tombstone, but until then he plans on maintaining a full schedule. "I can make an occasional film and go out on the road any time I want," he says. "I feel very fortunate with how my life has turned out."
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