One of my musical heroes announced this week he’s retiring from the stage. Kris Kristofferson is hanging it up at the age of 84. But what does a handsome, successful, talented and (when he was sober) well-loved artist have in common with Johnny Lycan, who is a 30-year-old werewolf?
Kristofferson has been a lot of things: Singer, actor, songwriter, poet, chopper pilot, Army Ranger, West Point Instructor, and Rhodes Scholar. For what it’s worth, Janis Joplin said he was the best sex she ever had. He came from (although he largely rejected) a family with a long traditional military tradition and became a vigorous peace activist. So where’s the similarity to Johnny Lupul and my silly little novel?
Like a lot of artists, Kristofferson has always been more than a little in touch with the darkest part of his soul. He understood all too well the many sins,(Silver Tongued Devil) betrayals (Darby’s Castle), and just plain bad behavior humans indulge in (too many to count but you have to add in Beat the Devil and You Show Me Yours) if left unchecked. He also related more than most to the desire to do better, (Why Me, Lord?) and how isolating it can feel to fail and have no one to blame but yourself. (Sunday Morning Coming Down.)
And for all of that, he frequently lost the battle with his demons. They might not have been lycanthropic with teeth and razor-sharp claws, but they were big and scary and chased him for most of his life. If he’s not completely beaten the Devil, in his own word he drank his beer for free and then stole his song.
Johnny Lycan is not as smart, certainly not as handsome, and can’t sing to save his soul, but he’s a good man wrestling the werewolf inside him. Kristofferson probably had a name for what was buried in his soul, too. Lord knows he sang about his devils often enough. If you’re not familiar with my own struggling hero, check out Johnny Lycan and the Anubis Disk. There’s a lot of me in him. That battle to control what’s inside me/him/us is what I think Lycanthrope fiction is all about. But maybe that’s just me.
Growing up when Kris was all over the radio I appreciated him on a surface level. As I got older his music began to mean so much more. Help Me Make it Through the Night was every relationship you know is coming to a bad end. The Pilgrim is my friend Kenny Robinson, and I have my own list of others it could be dedicated to, just as he had Billy Swan and Funky Donnie Fritts.
I saw him in concert once, a night with too much tequila that ended with a public shouting match on a wintry sidewalk between me and a paramour, and I was lucky enough to be an extra on the set of “Amerika,” where he walked past me 14 times until they got the shot they wanted.
I met him one time. He was walking back to his hotel alone, hugging himself in a coat not quite up to the March weather and I was headed to the subway. We both stood at the traffic light, waiting to cross Queen Street. I manned up and told him I’d seen his show the night before. His eyes brightened and he gave me that trademark crooked smile. “Yeah,” he said. “That was a good’un wasn’t it?”
Yes. Yes it was. He wished me a good day, and headed off, alone, seemingly happy.
Rumors of his decline have circulated for years, and he’s made it one year longer (so far) than my father did, and I don’t even know what the odds were of that.
As he said, Please Don’t Tell Me How the Story Ends.