Thursday, August 05, 2010

Last of the legends

We saw Kris Kristofferson in concert last week. He was great – amazing. And 74! He stood alone on a bare stage with just an acoustic guitar and harmonica for company. This is really all we want of our legends – to stand before us naked (metaphorically of course) and play the old tunes (some new ones if they're good), pouring out their heart and soul to complete strangers.

Kris Kristofferson is one of the last great music* legends. A Rhodes scholar and helicopter pilot, he was a janitor at the Nashville studios where Bob Dylan was recording Blonde on Blonde in 1966. He flew a helicopter onto Johnny Cash's lawn. He acted in and provided music for Hopper's The Last Movie. Starred as Billy the Kid in the Peckinpah movie. Had an affair with Janis Joplin (I'm still not sure of Leonard Cohen's story of sleeping with Joplin because he pretended to be Kris Kristofferson – I mean, didn't she know what Kristofferson looked like? If I was around the Chelsea Hotel in the late 60s and bumped into Janis, could I have gotten away with pretending to be Kristofferson or even Leonard Cohen? Was she that drunk?). He has since starred in A Star is Born, Heaven's Gate – not half as bad as people say it is, even though it destroyed a film studio, Lonestar and the Blade trilogy alongside Wesley Snipes, an odd partnership which sort of works because it's just so incongruous. Kristofferson has been married three times and has eight children.

According to Wikipedia Kristofferson wants three lines from Leonard Cohen's Bird on the Wire on his tombstone: Like a bird on the wire / Like a drunk in a midnight choir / I have tried in my way to be free. I guess he's forgiven Leonard for impersonating him.

But I'm getting worried about my musical legends – they're all either dead or old. Dylan, Young, Cohen, The Stones, Lou Reed, Paul McCartney, Paul Simon, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Al Green, Chuck Berry, Ornette Coleman, Gil Scott Heron (to name just a few) are all either in their sixties, seventies or eighties. Who's going to supersede them? Robbie Williams? The Gallagher brothers? Kylie? The thing with modern pop stars is they're mostly spoilt brats who were catapulted into stardom as teenagers and haven't really lived a life outside of being famous. So they lack that wealth of experience that someone like Kristofferson draws from.

The old legends all contributed to the advancement of music in some way. Nowadays (I realise I'm ignoring newer forms of music here from hip hop to dubstep – perhaps I should look there for future legends) musicians are derivative at best. It's said that while the Beatles took their influences from such diverse places as Victoriana, psychedelia, pop art, surrealism, early rock 'n' roll, ragtime and Indian music (to name just a few), Oasis got their influences from, well, The Beatles.

* There are other kinds of legends too: writers, actors, politicians and sportspeople can all be called legends. The term, like genius and masterpiece, is somewhat bandied around a bit nowadays though. Apparently one can even become a legend for kicking a ball around – this is otherwise known as football. Extraordinary.


Pearce said...

In the version I heard, Cohen ended the story by saying "She never let on that she knew I wasn't him."

I reckon musical legends are still grown, but that they just aren't in the pop mainstream anymore. There's no room for innovation in the top 10 these days.

The one who comes to mind first for me is Mike Patton, first known as the singer from Faith No More but now known for a staggering range of different musical styles that still all bear his unique imprint. Just check out this non-comprehensive list of collaborators:

Björk, Dan the Automator, John Zorn, Sepultura, the Melvins, Norah Jones, Kool Keith, The Dillinger Escape Plan, the X-Ecutioners, John Kaada, Dub Trio, Massive Attack, Alan Moore...

It's crazy. One day he'll be roaring death-metal style with a mathcore band, the next he'll be crooning in Italian with an orchestra.

Admittedly he's the ONLY example I'm coming up with...

Barnaby said...

Well, one's better than none. I haven't heard of him to tell the truth, but will check him out. Thanks.