See him wasted on the sidewalk in his jacket and his jeans
Wearing yesterdays misfortune like a smile
Once he had a future full of money, love and dreams
Which he’d spend like they were going out of style
“Listen to the song ‘The Pilgrim,'” she said. “I thought of you when I first heard it.”
And he keeps right on a changin’ for the better or the worse
Searchin’ for a shrine he has never found
Never known’ if believin’ is a blessin’ or a curse
Or if the going up was worth the comin’ down
She knew I was on a downward spiral, drinking too much, smoking like a fiend, partying as hard as I drank. She wasn’t the first to try and make me face the demons. Sadly, she also wouldn’t be the last.
He has tasted good and evil, in your bedrooms and your bars
And he’s traded-in tomorrow for today
Running from his devils Lord, reachin’ for the stars
Loosin’ all his love along the way
Kirstofferson wrote a lot about being down and out. Another song of his, Sunday Morning Comin’ Down, rang all too true in my life.
Well I woke up Sunday morning,
With no way to hold my head that didn’t hurt.
And the beer I had for breakfast wasn’t bad,
So I had one more for dessert.
Then I fumbled through my closet for my clothes,
And found my cleanest dirty shirt.
An’ I shaved my face and combed my hair,
An’ stumbled down the stairs to meet the day.
I met Kristofferson a couple of years later when he played the Mississippi River Festival. I covered the concert for The Alton Telegraph, shooting photos and interviewing the singer/songwriter backstage after the show.
“Hey,” he said. “Anyplace nearby where we can get a drink?”
I took him to Vanzos, a popular bar near the Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville campus. With his long hair, beard and a floppy hat, Kristofferson fit right in. No one noticed the singing star in their midst. We got drunk and closed the place.
I’d smoked my brain the night before,
On cigarettes and songs I’d been pickin’.
But I lit my first and watched a small kid,
Cussin’ at a can that he was kicking.
Then I crossed the empty street,
‘n caught the Sunday smell of someone fryin’ chicken.
And it took me back to somethin’,
That I’d lost somehow, somewhere along the way.
Thought of Kristofferson today while editing a video of Dale Cash singing “Sunday morning Comin’ Down” at the Johnny Cash Birthday Celebration in Floyd last month. He told me in the backstage interview that he wrote the Pilgrim with several friends in mind, including Johnny Cash, Dennis Hopper and Jerry Jeff Walker. He dedicated another song, “To Beat the Devil” to Johnny and June. Listening to “Sunday Morning Coming Down” while editing the video brought back a lot of memories, some good, some bad.
On the Sunday morning sidewalk,
Wishing, Lord, that I was stoned.
‘Cos there’s something in a Sunday,
Makes a body feel alone.
And there’s nothin’ short of dyin’,
Half as lonesome as the sound,
On the sleepin’ city sidewalks:
Sunday mornin’ comin’ down.
Like too many lady friends from that period of the 70s, the young lady who introduced me to Kris Kristofferson’s music tired of my drinking, partying, womanizing and moved on. It would be 19 more years before I would walk into a church basement in Arlington, Virginia and take the first of 12 steps with Alcoholics Anonymous. Amy, who met and married me during those wild days in Illinois in the 70s, stuck with me. Without her I would not be sober today.
Kristofferson also faced faced the demon of alcoholism years ago and remains sober today. We kept in touch with periodic notes after that drunken night in Illinois. After we both went into recovery, I sent him a note.
“Congratulations on beating the devil,” it read: “Let’s meet soon for a drink…of coffee.”
“You’re on,” he wrote back. “I’ll buy.”
Haven’t got around to that cup of coffee yet but I hope to some day. In the meantime, I’ll pull up “The Pilgrim” on my MP3 player and remember when:
He’s a poet, he’s a picker, he’s a prophet, he’s a pusher
He’s a pilgrim and a preacher and a problem when he’s stoned
He’s a walking contradiction, partly truth and partly fiction
Taking every wrong direction on his lonely way back home
I found my way back home. So did Kris Kristofferson and Johnny Cash. May others find their road as well.