Kris Kristofferson: Please Don't Tell Me How the Story Ends (The Publishing Demos 1968-72)

[Light in the Attic Records]

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It’s hard to remember a time when Kris Kristofferson wasn’t a singing/songwriting icon and ubiquitous entertainment presence, parlaying his musical fame into a prolific if somewhat scattershot acting career. And even as Kristofferson’s film and television work devoured more of his time and attention, the songs that he conceived and birthed in the turbulent ’60s and ’70s grew in stature, claiming a rightful place among the most influential and affecting songs of the 20th century.

But long before his work as both a songwriter and performer was recognized for its inherent greatness and his songs were translated by some of the most potent voices in musical achievement (Johnny Cash, Janis Joplin, Ray Price and Bob Dylan among them) Kristofferson was a struggling songwriter with an astonishing résumé: football and boxing standout at SoCal’s Pomona College, Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, Army captain and Airborne Ranger. He traded all of that for menial jobs in Nashville for a shot at Music Row’s brass ring. That’s the period that is celebrated on Please Don’t Tell Me How the Story Ends: The Publishing Demos 1968-72, a time when Kristofferson was, as singer/songwriter Kinky Friedman describes him in the collection’s liner notes, the most talented janitor in Nashville.

Please Don’t Tell Me How the Story Ends offers 16 of Kristofferson’s rough cut gems, recorded on his own or with a handful of Nashville buddies with the express purpose of exposing his work to the city’s publishing movers and shakers. The collection begins naturally enough with Kristofferson’s most renowned song, “Me and Bobby McGee,” a song he wrote on something of a dare from Nashville music exec Fred Foster, with whom he split the songwriting credit for giving him the idea.

And while a good number of Kristofferson’s classics are absent here, Please Don’t Tell Me How the Story Ends is packed with engagingly raw versions of some of his best songs, including the tremulous guitar/voice Country hymn of the title track and “The Lady’s Not for Sale,” the loping Country/Blues of the stripped but powerful “Border Lord,” the naked take on the then-shocking musical roll call on “If You Don’t Like Hank Williams,” the vulnerable heartbreak ode “Enough for You” and the oddball swing-and-stomp of “Getting By, High and Strange,” with two flubbed starts punctuated by Kristofferson’s stoned profanity.

The charm of the songs on Please Don’t Tell Me How the Story Ends is precisely in their unpolished state; Kristofferson’s directions to his backing band, production cues, do-overs and offhand comments all combine to make this a wonderfully unadorned compilation. At the conclusion of “Enough for You,” Kristofferson notes with succinct pride, “Was that just perfect?” And the resounding answer is “Yes.”

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