Do the math and he's pushing 70 — but Kris Kristofferson is ageless.
True, his hair and beard have long gone gray, and his singing voice is grittier than ever. But when he's on stage now, in his black work shirt with its tails hanging over his black denim pants, accompanying himself solo on guitar and harmonica, he's never looked or sounded better.
Indeed, ladies more than half his age still shriek when he eases into "Help Me Make it Through the Night," the Sammi Smith country crossover pop hit from 1971 — the same year Janis Joplin made Kristofferson's "Me and Bobby McGee" a posthumous No. 1.
And based on his latest album, This Old Road, Kristofferson is also more musically alive and lyrically vital than ever, too. His first studio set of new songs since 1995's A Moment of Forever (likewise produced by Don Was) not only continues the singular mix of personal and political work that virtually redefined the practice of songwriting in Nashville in the 1960s (for which he has been justly rewarded with inductions into the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame), but brings him up-to-date: "I want nothing but the endin' of the war," he sings in "In the News." On "Wild American," he singles out personal heroes like Steve Earle and Native American activist John Trudell while declaring, "When they burn your brother down in the name of freedom/I don't care if it's left or right/It's wrong."
Of course, Kristofferson himself has long ago achieved hero status, both as singer/songwriter and humanitarian. This stature has now been further certified with the release of The Pilgrim: A Celebration of Kris Kristofferson, a 17-track compilation of classic Kristofferson songs sung by Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, Rosanne Cash and Shooter Jennings, among others.
Meanwhile, his movie stardom, which commenced in the 1970s with hits like Barbra Streisand's A Star is Born, maintains full throttle with key roles in films like last year's The Jacket with Adrien Brody and Keira Knightley. And after a hiatus from concert performing, he has returned to the road to find adoring audiences hanging on every word, be it song lyric or off-the-cuff commentary.
"I'm not going to dazzle you with fireworks," he acknowledged at a nevertheless electrifying recent acoustic show, fittingly held at New York's Ethical Culture Center. He followed with the typically Kristoffersonian wisdom of "Heart" and its closing line, "The heart is all that matters in the end."
As none other than former BMI President Frances Preston once said, "You really have to see Kris Kristofferson every time you can. He sings the truth."