T Bone Presents PEN Award To Kris Kristofferson

Last night in Boston, T Bone presented his longtime friend Kris Kristofferson with the PEN-New England Song Lyrics Award for Literary Excellence, during an evening which also honored the great Randy Newman.

T Bone’s full remarks are as folllows:

From the rocking of the cradle to the rolling of the hearse, The going up was worth the coming down.

Kris Kristofferson wrote that. In two lines, he tells the story of my life, mine and every other artist’s I know. Concrete and abstract at once. Life is a religious question, and Kris Kristofferson has written a Country and Western religion.

If I were asked to come up with a handful of names of whom I consider the best pure songwriters this country has produced, I would have to say that two of them are here in this room today. Going back, I would probably start with Hoagy Carmichael, and Cole Porter comes immediately to mind, and of course, we would have to include Bob Dylan.

But Randy Newman’s song “Sail Away” is as deft a use of true irony as our language has ever produced. No one has brought us more wit and heartbreaking perspective than Mr. Newman, and I want to thank him now for all he has given us over the last fifty (or so) years.

I have seen Kris Kristofferson play live maybe a hundred times. Seeing him in 1970, it was clear that he was an evolutionary step in country music, and no country writer since has surpassed his eloquence. He has written standards, and he has written songs of revolution.

Kris Kristofferson is to American songwriting as John Steinbeck is to American letters.

He paints vivid pictures with plain words.

He is a cross between Hank Williams and Anton Chekhov.

His songs create conscience.

For evidence, I offer this lyric from “Here Comes that Rainbow Again”

The scene was a small roadside cafe,
The waitress was sweeping the floor.
Two truck drivers drinking their coffee.
And two Okie kids by the door.
“How much are them candies?” they asked her.
“How much have you got?” she replied.
“We’ve only a penny between us.”
“Them’s two for a penny,” she lied.
And the daylight grew heavy with thunder, With the smell of the rain on the wind.
Ain’t it just like a human.
Here comes that rainbow again.

One truck driver called to the waitress, After the kids went outside.
“Them candies ain’t two for a penny.”
“So what’s it to you?” she replied.
In silence they finished their coffee,
And got up and nodded goodbye.
She called: “Hey, you left too much money!”
“So what’s it to you?” they replied.
And the daylight was heavy with thunder, With the smell of the rain on the wind.
Ain’t it just like a human.
Here comes that rainbow again.

I am grateful to be here today to give Kris this honor which he so richly deserves. No one has been more generous and encouraging to me, and I am happy to have this chance to let him know how deeply grateful I am to him, and how much he and his work have meant to me over the years.

God bless your very soul, Comrade.

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