Straight Talk

FOR THE GOOD TIMES Singer-songwriter Kris Kristofferson will be inducted by Willie Nelson into the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame in Carthage on August 16.

I’ve always thought that Hawaii has a lot in common with Texas. My old friends always say I’ve gone back home.

Oh, yeah?

It’s very much like Brownsville. The grass and the weather are the same—Brownsville is semitropical—and you can go barefoot to school.

Until your newly released live record, Broken Freedom Song: Live From San Francisco, you hadn’t performed in several years. How was it to get back in front of an audience?

It was good. It’s fun for me when I’m doing it with people I like to work with. Stephen Bruton is the guitar player—he has been my guitar picker since he was a boy. Keith Carper is on bass, and it feels comfortable playing with him.

Were you nervous performing live?

I’m always nervous. I’ll always be nervous. They say that’s one of the scariest things to do. But there’s a satisfaction when it works. I kinda like that it was stripped down to the three of us, because it put a focus on the songs, which feels right to me.

Especially for the type of songs you chose to sing—a lot of the ones on this record are war-related.

When I’ve performed, I’ve always felt like that was the reason I am out there—to spread my experiences as best I can.

You’re outspoken against the war, and yet the American Veterans Association just gave you an award.

Veteran of the year. I had to tell them I was surprised.

It is a surprise.

But I’m pleased, because I’ll always feel a bond with the military. My family was in the military. And I don’t blame the military for the problems I complain about—it’s the civilians.

There’s something I’ve always been curious about: What was the story with your pro-war song “Viet Nam Blues”? Was that tongue in cheek?

Nope, that was absolutely where I was coming from. I had volunteered to go to Vietnam, and I had gotten turned down because I was on assignment to teach at West Point. My whole unit went over there. I was the only guy who volunteered to go, but I was the only guy who didn’t go. And after I went to West Point, I went to Nashville and fell in love with the life of the songwriter and with the music business at the time.

Was it the atmosphere in Nashville that changed your politics?

No, it was my experience. So many of my friends were in Vietnam. When I began flying helicopters in the Gulf of Mexico, I started running into these pilots who had been sent over there just out of high school, and the things they were telling me were horrible. I thought, “If you can make a kid do this—like kick a man’s hands off a ledge if he’s trying to hang on for his life or take people out and interrogate them—you can make him do anything. And he’s going to have to live with it forever.” That’s the hidden damage of war.

(See Carthage: Other Events. )

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