The Greatest Rolling Stone Article Ever Written

Tim Case turned me on to this back in April and it has stuck with me all these months.  The “star” that Ethan Hawke is referring to is Toby Keith.  Here’s The hook.

Standing backstage at the Beacon Theatre in New York, leaning against a crumbling brick wall in the dark, I could barely see Kris Kristofferson standing to my left. Willie Nelson was in the shadows to my right. Ray Charles was standing beside Willie, idly shifting his weight back and forth. A bit farther along the wall were Elvis Costello, Wyclef Jean, Norah Jones, Shelby Lynne, Paul Simon and respective managers, friends and family. Everybody was nervous and tight. We were there for Willie Nelson’s 70th birthday concert in 2003.

(Check out “The Essential Kris Kristofferson,” Ethan Hawke’s guide to 20 key Kristofferson tracks)

Up from the basement came one of country music’s brightest stars (who shall remain nameless). At that moment in time, the Star had a monster radio hit about bombing America’s enemies back into the Stone Age.

“Happy birthday,” the Star said to Willie, breezing by us. As he passed Kristofferson in one long, confident stride, out of the corner of his mouth came “None of that lefty shit out there tonight, Kris.”

“What the fuck did you just say to me?” Kris growled, stepping forward.

“Oh, no,” groaned Willie under his breath. “Don’t get Kris all riled up.”

“You heard me,” the Star said, walking away in the darkness.

“Don’t turn your back to me, boy,” Kristofferson shouted, not giving a shit that basically the entire music industry seemed to be flanking him.

The Star turned around: “I don’t want any problems, Kris — I just want you to tone it down.”

“You ever worn your country’s uniform?” Kris asked rhetorically.


“Don’t ‘What?’ me, boy! You heard the question. You just don’t like the answer.” He paused just long enough to get a full chest of air. “I asked, ‘Have you ever served your country?’ The answer is, no, you have not. Have you ever killed another man? Huh? Have you ever taken another man’s life and then cashed the check your country gave you for doing it? No, you have not. So shut the fuck up!” I could feel his body pulsing with anger next to me. “You don’t know what the hell you are talking about!”

“Whatever,” the young Star muttered.

Ray Charles stood motionless. Willie Nelson looked at me and shrugged mischievously like a kid in the back of the classroom.

Kristofferson took a deep inhale and leaned against the wall, still vibrating with adrenaline. He looked over at Willie as if to say, “Don’t say a word.” Then his eyes found me.

“You know what Waylon Jennings said about guys like him?” he whispered.

I shook my head.

“They’re doin’ to country music what pantyhose did to finger-fuckin’.”

My only thoughts are, it ain’t just country music, it’s this country.  I like Kris, I may not agree with his politics any more than I agree with those of Sean Hannity, but Kris was an Airbourne Ranger, he saw combat and more than any one of these loud mouthed fucks he has earned the right to speak his mind. And he doesn’t let people forget that.

30910cookie-checkThe Greatest Rolling Stone Article Ever Written

The Greatest Rolling Stone Article Ever Written

Share This

6 Responses

  1. Awesome article. I have to agree with the shallowness of “young country”. It doesn’t say much to me. I had no idea Kris Kristofferson wrote all of that music. I’m going to have to download some of his music now.

  2. Mike: That is such an amazing piece. Kristofferson performed in my hometown last summer, we’re one of the small-town stops between New York and Boston. No opening act. No band. Just him, a guitar and a harmonica. It was a quiet but powerful evening. By himself he’s not a very good guitar player and several times he fumbled trying to get to the harmonica – even joking about how clumsy he was. And, now that he’s pretty near 70, well, he’s an old man, standing up there on skinny legs and looking fragile. But his voice was good and his lyrics are just wonderful. Except for the joker who kept yelling “Yeah, let’s get stoned” during Sunday Morning Comin’ Down (Wishin’ Lord that I was stoned) and the woman behind us who insisted on singing harmony, loudly, it was a fine show. If you love roots music and want to see an icon while he can still do it, catch him.

Leave a Reply