What Growing Old Can Do
it's got to have feeling to mean anything
These lines come three songs into Feeling Mortal, as Kristofferson sings "Bread for the Body" (purchase/download). Even though they seem to be buried a little bit under the surface, they're like a seed planted in spring, and they spend the rest of the album coming true.
Mortality is a lofty topic for a collection of songs, but if anyone's up for the task, it's Kris Kristofferson. This is a guy who, when he was barely more than 30 years old, summed it all up with the line, "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose." At 76, he grapples with life's promises and defeats through the lens of the aging man in the mirror. That the whole disc starts out with Kristofferson gazing in the mirror at the old man he's become, is no small coincidence. The older we get, the more baggage and responsibilities, the less time we have for self-reflection, the easier it is for time to surprise us with its age and mortality.
Kristofferson, meanwhile, meets the rumination with everything from defiance ("You Don't Tell Me What to Do") to schoolboy flirtation ("The One You Chose"). Of course, there's a good old-fashioned story-song about a ship on the seas - "Castaways" (purchase/download) - thrown in for good measure. It doesn't take much digging to find the metaphor in that one, but Kristofferson doesn't seem worried about verging on cliche, so the song never crosses that line.
A Master at Work
It may seem odd to return to one of his most popular old songs when discussing his newest piece of work, but the album in question here seems to recognize the holistic nature of the music itself. Kristofferson doesn't monkey around here with saccharine poetry or any attempt to remain of the moment. Sure, it starts with seeing things as they are, but then his vision pans out to see where "things as they are" fit into the bigger picture.
Sooner or later I'll be leaving / I'm a winner either way, he sings on the title track, as though to say it doesn't matter the when of anything. Only that it ever once was.