Photo: Michael Ochs Archive/Getty
In her new memoir, Just Kids, Patti Smith tells of a night in New York when she saw Kris Kristofferson — an Oxford-educated, ex-Army songwriter struggling to make it in Nashville — sing his tune “Me and Bobby McGee” for Janis Joplin, who soon recorded it. His own first take on Please Don’t Tell Me How the Story Ends: The Publishing Demos 1968-72 (Light in the Attic) starts out as Smith surely heard it: gravel-coated baritone and spare acoustic guitar. A budget church organ and chorus soon creep in, and there is full-band action in “Border Lord” and “Slow Down.” Kristofferson harmonizes with himself in “Come Sundown” like he’s pitching it to the Everly Brothers. But in near-naked tracks like “The Lady’s Not for Sale” and “Duvalier’s Dream,” Kristofferson sounds eerily like a Dixie Leonard Cohen: lonesome, growling and tenderly incisive. Nashville soon got the idea, although Kristofferson sings “Enough for You” (”It’s just a shame to know/I’m not enough for you”) like he’s still on the outside looking in.