Letter to Kris Kristofferson
A letter to Kris Kristofferson, from John Williams
I have long admired Kris Kristofferson‘s songwriting and his music. I’ve been to many of his concerts over the years and the performances with Rita Coolidge were very intimate and touching, but I never really thought of meeting him.
In 1981 I was building an addition to an existing major hotel in North Hollywood where almost all country music performers stayed when they were performing in the area, whether in a large venue like the Universal Amphitheater, the Greek Theater or at The Palomino Club.
I’d watched as so many popular performers made their way through the parking lot to the tour buses or vans, and occasionally to their car. I never gave a thought to stopping any of them, what could I possibly say that wasn’t contrived, something they hadn’t heard hundreds of times?
Late one morning I was walking past the elevator lobby of the existing building and as I glanced towards the elevator I noticed Kris Kristofferson stepping into the elevator. Just the sight of him sparked my interest because he was the one performer that I wanted to meet and could approach with a different conversation.
Only a few minutes later Kris emerged from the hotel with Willie Nelson and his entourage, and they all boarded Willie’s tour bus and left the parking lot, leaving me feeling briefly frustrated. The work day generally wrapped up at 3:30 in the afternoon but being the senior Superintendent on site I had additional work to attend after the workers left.
About 4:00 I caught a glimpse of movement outside my office window and raised up to see the tour bus returning to the parking lot. If ever I was going to meet Kris, this would be the opportunity to say a few brief words.
I walked calmly to the bus and was waiting for the driver to open the door, very nervous about what I’d say and trying to be calm enough not to stutter or stammer through my only chance. The door opened slowly and members of the entourage began stepping out of the bus, and shortly thereafter Willie Nelson stepped out followed by Kris and Mickey Rafael.
I slowly approached Kris and tried to call to him without yelling or being obnoxious. Kris immediately withdrew in a near panic, and crossed his arm in front of his face, wincing as he drew back. It was June, 1981, and only six months earlier John Lennon had been summoned by a fan and assassinated as he returned home in New York, and apparently the manner of surprise, even though it was calm, struck a defensive chord in Kris.
The others standing nearby didn’t flinch, and Kris quickly recovered and smiled, as I slowly approached, explaining that I had named one of my sons for him, and I asked if he could take a minute to write a few words for my sons baby book. I quickly felt a bit foolish because, in my haste to reach the bus across the parking lot, I hadn’t brought a pen or paper.
After hearing my request Kris smiled and apologetically explained that the bus ride was late and that he was supposed to be at his daughter’s recital, which had already started. I smiled and thanked him, shook his hand and stepped back.
Almost instantly Willie and Mickey began admonishing him, and a few others chimed in emphasizing that I had named my child for him… a true honor. Kris nodded and asked if I had something to write on, but I explained my ineptitude and said that I had pen and paper across the parking lot, in my office.
Kris immediately began walking that direction and I hurriedly strode beside him trying not to engage in meaningless small talk. Kris began asking questions about my job and the building under construction, and we exchanged a few words before reaching the office.
Once he had paper in hand he asked why I gave my son such a name.
The mood was light and easy and it was comfortable for me to respond honestly; because I admired him as an artist, his music, his writing, because what he had done has had an effect on my life.
Kris smiled and asked how I spelled the name. I told him that I maintained the “K” and two “f”s. He look upward from the paper without raising his head much, smiled, slowly turned his head from side to side and wrote for my son,
“Thanks. Kristoffer, I hope you don’t have as many problems with that name as I’ve had. Kris Kristofferson”
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We chatted for a few more minutes and he put his hand on my shoulder and thanked me for thinking of him and told me that he felt honored. I’m sure I offered some clumsy reply, but can’t recall exactly what I said. Kris and I walked out the door of my office, down the steps, shook hands and he left to see his daughter.
The next morning I was making my rounds around the construction site and as I passed Willie Nelson as he warmed up, stretching before heading out jogging.
Willie spoke out and asked whether I was the person who named my son for Kris. I confirmed that I was that person to which Willie replied that I couldn’t have chosen a finer man to name my son for. I thanked him, we wished each other well and I went on my way.
Many years later my son, Kristoffer, had the opportunity to catch a moment with Kris and was able to get Kris’ autograph on his photograph (attached). My son wanted to recap my story, but time and circumstances didn’t allow.
A hobby of mine is painting musicians, and my media is black and white acrylic paint on stretched canvas. I have attached a picture of one of my paintings, one that I cherish.
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