Me and you and Bobby McGee

Tribute's just another word for nothing left to lose

Before 1969, Kris Kristofferson's biggest achievement was serving as janitor at the Nashville studio where Bob Dylan recorded Blonde on Blonde. In the space of a few short years, however, Kristofferson's fortunes changed dramatically. In rapid succession, the San Mateo High School graduate won a Grammy for Best Country Song ("Help Me Make It Through the Night") scored a bushel of chart-toppers for artists like Ray Price, Johnny Cash, and Sammi Smith, and acted in films by Dennis Hopper and Martin Scorsese. Then, in 1976, Kristofferson made the fatal error of starring opposite Barbara Streisand in A Star Is Born. Although he'd go on to become one of the most covered musical artists ever, with an estimated 450 people recording his tunes, he'd be forever sullied by that film and its cheesy beefcake poster. While Kristofferson achieved another level of success later in his career -- nabbing country hits with the Highwaymen and starring in John Sayles' Lone Star-- his image would never fully recover. Now, however, two local music impresarios -- Incidental Music's Brad Stark and Jackpine Social Club's Nick Tangborn -- hope to correct that travesty. The question is, does the world need twoKris Kristofferson tribute albums?

"We started independently of each other; we both thought we had that big idea," says Stark during an interview at the SF Weeklyoffices.

Both men were fascinated by Kristofferson's music and backstory, which is far different from those of his Nashville peers. Kristofferson had gone to Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship in the '50s, joined the Army and flown helicopters in the early '60s, and given up both academia and the military to write songs for peanuts in 1965. He didn't have a great voice and he couldn't play especially well, and at first his songs were too weird for the conservative country crowd. Tunes like "How Do You Feel About Foolin' Around" were too sexually frank, while "Jesus Was a Capricorn" featured a rather caustic take on the Messiah's followers. Kristofferson was a hard-drinking and -drugging leftie who once wrote a song for Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Jesus -- it's pretty hard to imagine Clint Black doing that.

Smitten with Kristofferson's outlaw persona and "mature take on adult relationships," Stark started working on a tribute record in early 2000. At the same time, Tangborn came up with a similar idea while drinking with his Listen.com workmate Eric Shea, who offered the services of his country-rock band, Mover. Other locals like Oranger, Mother Hips, and Chuck Prophet soon followed.

Inevitably, Tangborn and Stark became aware of the other's project. After some discussion, the duo agreed to join forces. Unfortunately, it became apparent that the pair had different visions for the album. "I was feeling a little frustrated and said to him, "Are we working together on a shared project or have I given up mine to work for yours?,'" Stark remembers. "[Nick] said, "I thought you were working on mine.'" (Tangborn admits there was a communication problem; both men say there are no hard feelings.)

After parting ways, the two set about finishing their separate records. Tangborn has completed his first: Don't Let the Bastards Get You Down, comes out April 25. The compilation features X frontman John Doe dirtying up "Me and Bobby McGee," formerly local act Dart giving "For the Good Times" an electronica goosing, and S.F.'s Tom Heyman bringing out the bluesy side of "Sugar Man." Perhaps the most remarkable song is by ex-Television guitarist Tom Verlaine, who lends his wavering vocals to "The Hawk," a song originally sung by Marianne Faithful on the Trouble in Mindsoundtrack.

Stark's collection, Nothing Left to Lose, is scheduled to come out in the fall. It includes ace contributions from locals Grandaddy, Crooked Jades, Granfaloon Bus, and Virgil Shaw, as well as numbers by Howe Gelb, Richard Buckner, Souled American, and Diana Darby (whose version of "Jesus Was a Capricorn" is a stunner). It remains to be seen whether people will snatch up both records (or either), but they are decidedly different. Nothingis moodier and leans more towards indie rock, while Bastardsis more upbeat and traditional in sound. As with most tribute records, the hope is that listeners will be inspired to check out the original versions. Fortunately, as Stark says with a laugh, "You can find the Kristofferson albums all for three dollars at Amoeba."

A release party for Don't Let the Bastards Get You Down takes place at Slim's on Friday, March 29, at 9 p.m. John Doe, Mover, Chuck Prophet, Tom Heyman, Polara, Oranger, Mother Hips, and Dart will each perform three songs. Tickets are $12; call 522-0333.

 
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