Kris Kristofferson is 77 years old — and could still collectively kick all of our asses. If there’s anything listening to his latest effort Feeling Mortal has taught me it’s a weathered, broken down man is not defeated but a fighter in every sense of the word. I can possibly punch harder than Kristofferson being half his age, but could he beat me? Indeed. Partly because he is a Golden Gloves boxer.
Speaking of punching — this record is a gut puncher, for sure. In a leadoff track of the same name, Kristofferson makes it very clear he’s here but he’s also seen the other side and knows what’s coming. Is he scared or has he accepted it? Yes.
With “Feeling Mortal,” you immediately know where we’re headed with lyrics like: “wide awake and feeling mortal, at this moment in the dream that old man there in the mirror, and my shaky self-esteem.” He reminds us that “here today and gone tomorrow” is the way it has to be. I could quote this entire song but it wouldn’t do it justice, or convey to you how every time I hear it I’m covered in goose bumps, sadness and even a sense of feeling proud of him.
This man I have never, and will never, meet evokes a sense of pride in me and he’s the one who’s a Rhodes Scholar, an Army Ranger, Country Music Hall of Famer and one of the Highwaymen, for God’s sake.
The first two tracks “Mortal” and “Mama Stewart” are reflective, melancholy but happily resigned to the way things just are in the circle of life, while “Bread For The Body” is a faster paced, encouraging song with driving guitar work about man getting by “without silver and gold, with bread for the body and song for the soul.” “Stairway To The Bottom” has a nice, whiny steel guitar that starts us off down the road of reflection and regret about decisions and events that left you alone.
There are a lot of life lessons to be had and reflections going on here. Another song worth mentioning is “My Heart Was The Last One To Know,” which is about clearly loving someone but not realizing it until you’re fully in it: “My eyes grew accustomed to looking at you, and my arms found a body they hungered to hold, and the rest of my senses surrendered to you, but my heart was the last one to know.” What a beautiful and clear way to sum up what I think everyone’s experienced once, if not 100 times. We’re so afraid of falling in love, we avoid it and fight it at all costs — only to stop for one second and realize it caught you. Where this song really gets me is when the couple in the song parts ways and once again, his heart was the last one to know.
My favorite song on the album is “The One You Chose,” which finds a smiling, laughing, very alert and spry Kristofferson telling me “I believe I just sang my way back in your heart” exactly at the moment I realized he had. “Rambling Jack” closes us out and is a honky tonk charmer I can picture ole Kris singing perched on a stool, strumming his guitar and telling this story about a fella who’s made mistakes but, that’s life and “ain’t that what matters in the end?” The fact that it’s so apparently an autobiographical song makes it almost like a goodbye letter to his fans, reminding us of his whiskey nights and wasted days — and that he’ll always be out there, which I don’t doubt for even a second.
While every song isn’t a home run, I can safely say every song is at least a ground-rule double. Your time won’t be wasted for hearing each of these songs, and repeating them for years to come. Although his tempo is slowed and voice is craggy, Kristofferson still has “it” in every sense of the word. The lyrics are strong, the message clear and the passion ever-present. I can’t think of a better album to throw on on an overcast Sunday, lazy any day or even a long drive into the sunset.