Kris Kristofferson has a song called To Beat the Devil. If you haven’t listened to the lyrics lately, they’re about a recommendation from the devil on the meaninglessness of trying to change the world with your music, and Kris’ response to that challenge. The Devil’s argument goes like this:
“If you waste your time a-talkin’ to the people who don’t listen,
“To the things that you are sayin’, who do you think’s gonna hear.
“And if you should die explainin’ how the things that they complain about,
“Are things they could be changin’, who do you think’s gonna care?”
There were other lonely singers in a world turned deaf and blind,
Who were crucified for what they tried to show.
And their voices have been scattered by the swirling winds of time.
‘Cos the truth remains that no-one wants to know.
Well, to be honest with you, I’ve felt that way a lot. There are definitely times when it seems like nobody’s listening, nobody cares what I’m saying, and it wouldn’t really matter much if they did.
But I tell you what: that’s defeatist thinking. I used to say that in order to change the way people think, you first have to make sure they’re thinking. That’s a bit of a downer, too. It’s a cynic’s approach to life. That everything sucks. That there is inevitably a need for either bitter coating on the sugar pills, or sugar coating on the bitter pills. The cynic lives their life believing that human beings, and this must needs include themselves, are intrinsically no damned good. And what, pray tell, is the point of that? Better, I think, to retain at least a little optimism, or at least perseverance and stubborness of purpose, if you can’t muster a bit of a smile, so that like Kristofferson, you can say:
And you still can hear me singin’ to the people who don’t listen,
To the things that I am sayin’, prayin’ someone’s gonna hear.
And I guess I’ll die explaining how the things that they complain about,
Are things they could be changin’, hopin’ someone’s gonna care.
I was born a lonely singer, and I’m bound to die the same,
But I’ve got to feed the hunger in my soul.
And if I never have a nickle, I won’t ever die ashamed.
‘Cos I don’t believe that no-one wants to know.
If we’re not supposed to affect the world at all, if we really are just a moment’s ripple in the ocean, then what’s the frickin’ point?
Light up another cigarette, crack open one more beer
Let’s drink to those who lived and ended up with a career
Who suffered the indignity of having their gold panned
Who didn’t end up dying quite as young as they had planned
Light up another cigarette, and pour out one more round
Let’s drink to those whose wasted years are not yet underground
Who suffered the injustice of not suffering enough
Who didn’t end up dying to send their record sales up
Can you still be a martyr to a cause that no one knows,
a prophet in your own home town, a sheep dressed in wolves’ clothes,
if they all know you struggled, but still managed to survive
playing double sets in some old, empty dives?
Light up another cigarette, line up another shot
Let’s drink to those poor devils that the critics have forgot
Who didn’t spend their short, sweet lives in angst-inducing pain
Who stayed on at the grindstone and instead lived on in vain.
Light up another cigarette, tap that last pony keg
Let’s drink to those who carried on, and had to learn to beg
Who suffered in the shadows, while some comets came and went
Who paid the tab when others left, their money still unspent.
Can you still be a martyr in obscurity, unknown,
if your splash isn’t big enough, if your death cult hasn’t grown,
if they see you still living, and assume you haven’t cried
as much as those brave legends who all died?
Light up another cigarette, and fill up one more glass
Let’s drink to those whose lives are more than a grand epitaph
Who pay the price for living by pretending not to die
Who write the songs we all sing when the caskets roll on by.
27 NOV 2005
I’ve always been obsessed, thematically, with silence, journeys, and the contexts in which real “life-changing” epiphanies occur. It seems to me that one of these places is on the road touring (and it seems to be backed up by what I’ve read of folks who spend a LOT of time on the road). You either figure yourself out, or lose yourself, somewhere out on the interstate.
The title is an acknowledgment of Kris Kristofferson as a motivating force for me as a songwriter. It’s a Dylan-like off-the-cuff expression, yet intended as an homage to a type of singer-songwriter that really no longer exists.
In the back of the bus
watching cigarette butts in the ashtray
as the lights from the middle
of nowhere recede in the night
There’s a song on radio, softly it’s playing,
while some local preacher continues his praying
but forgiveness comes slow
to those who believe they are right
In the back of his mind
thoughts collide with the words that he’s forming
as the melody reaches
a sleeping form in the next row
There’s a song on radio, maybe he wrote it,
Maybe the next time the gun won’t be loaded
but memory serves only those
who believe it is so
In the back of his head
his eyes turn to observe through the window
As the fly-over country he’s crossing
slips under the road
There’s a song on the radio, sales figures pending,
It’s all about paying for years of pretending
but time sure ain’t money,
you never get more than you owe
In the back of the guidebook
it mentions a beautiful cavern
As the ice ages ravaged,
it found itself left underground
There’s a song on the radio, selling its wonders,
And out in the night there’s a brief clap of thunder
But hearing a warning is not much
like heeding its sound
In the back of the bus
with the strings of his guitar still humming
As the slow dawn approaches
and opens a wearying eye
There’s a song on the radio, worn out and faded
From one more lost cowboy who thought that he made it
But thoughts are the last thing you need
when you’re trying to get by
Stage lights just prove
that you came from the shadows.
They’re never a permanent high.
Posted in Opinions, Poems, Songs
Tagged America, epiphany, influences, inspiration, Kris Kristofferson, Lefty Frizzell, nature, songwriting, touring, transportation, travel