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For the Good Times - A Tale of Two #1’s

November 2020

Despite my dislike of the music of the 1970s, I occasionally find a nugget or two, mostly among the country-music repertoire, that transcend that ghastly era. One is a gem, penned and composed by Kris Kristofferson. It became a number-one hit by Ray Price in April 1970. This wistful song of parting established Kristofferson as a serious, award-winning songwriter; and it provided musician, songwriter, guitarist and innovator Price with his first smash country-and-western hit in more than a decade, 11 years to be exact.

It is definitely, in my opinion, a song for a man to sing, although I suppose there have been gals who attempted to pull off the lyrics with girl-y gravitas. I really can’t feel a quietly somber sentiment from a female voice intoning the plea:

“Hold your warm and tender body close to mine.”

The smooth baritone of Ray Price was perfectly matched to these lyrics, written by a guy who admittedly used his life experience for poetic profit:

Don’t look so sad

I know it’s over

But life goes on

And this old world

Will keep on turning

Let’s just be glad

We had some time to spend together

There’s no need to watch the bridges

That we’re burning.

Lay your head

Upon my pillow

Hold your warm and tender body

Close to mine

Hear the whisper of the raindrops

Blowing soft, against the window

And make believe you love me,

One more time,

For the good times.

I’ll get along

You’ll find another

And I’ll be here

If you should find

You ever need me

Don’t say a word

About tomorrow, or forever

They’ll be time enough for sadness

When you leave me.

Lay your head

Upon my pillow

Hold your warm and tender body

Close to mine

Hear the whisper of the raindrops

Blowing soft, against the window

And make believe you love me,

One more time,

For the good times.

What strikes me as most masculine about those lyrics, as rendered by Price, is the comforting but plaintive tone of protective maturity, expressing a tender gratitude for what has been, intermixed with the sorrow of acknowledging, and then, later, accepting the loss of a love that is no more.

Kristofferson would go on to write other songs, even sing them himself, but his emotional maturation reached its apex in this first commercially successful song of a love that had left, at least one of the lovers, and perhaps would not ever return to the heart of its intended passion. The pleasure of the fleeting moment valiantly triumphs over any pleasure this man had known with this woman who no longer loves him.

The calm finality of the final repetition of the chorus is the key to the resolution of the lyrics of this song. There is a distinct difference in the tone of the voice that sings the chorus for the second time, as it makes its humble last request — than as is initially uttered.

Achingly simple and mellowly bittersweet, the song proceeds to an ending that encapsulates every sentiment that has been expressed, and not expressed. “For the Good Times” is one of those perfect songs that came along during a time of so much emotional upheaval for so many in the United States, and elsewhere. That creative timing is the fortunate work of an inspired songwriter, one who might not have known the depth of his own talent at that moment.

I especially like the use of sound, juxtaposed against the tactile elements of “raindrops” and “window”. For me, this song achieved classic pop-standard status during an egregious epoch when classics of any kind were under assault. To some extent, they still are.

The female response to this tenderly soothing song of lament for a love that is no more is the flip side of this crooning coin of country music. This ballad was also written and composed by Kris Kristofferson, and what a different tone and tale it tells!

“Help Me Make It Through the Night” was released on the 1970 eponymous album of Kristofferson. It was “covered” a bit later that year by Sammi Smith, on her album with the song title. Her recording became the most commercially successful version of this song, although the number of singers releasing their own lethargic moans must be in the hundreds.

“Help Me Make It Through the Night” was a monster hit, topping the U.S. country singles chart and reaching #8 on the U.S. pop singles chart. The lusty dirge was played on the radio incessantly, on jukeboxes in every diner, bar, restaurant, leisure-suit lounge, and honky-tonk throughout the stagflation nation of the USA.

The ubiquitous nature of this co-dependent downer ditty was farcically oppressive. I found the strong, deep but wondrously controlled voice of Sammi Smith marvelously well-suited to the music. The lyrics nonetheless were self-indulgently depressing, if not narcissistically nihilistic. There could not have been a more striking contrast between the gently profound love and the mature thankfulness voiced in “For the Good Times”, and the utilitarian ethos of the self-serving user in this subsequent alter-ego hit by Mr. Kristofferson.

The dismal, relativistic, hedonistic 1970s were well underway with this introductory theme song. A bad trip, for Kris and a lot of groovies, had begun, and it wasn’t gonna end at the end of this song:

Take the ribbon from your hair

Shake it loose and let it fall

Lay it soft against my skin

Like the shadows on the wall

Come and lay down by my side

Till the early morning light

All I’m taking is your time

Help me make it through the night.

I don’t care what’s right or wrong

I don’t try to understand.

Let the devil take tomorrow

Lord, tonight I need a friend

Yesterday is dead and gone

And tomorrow’s out of sight

And it’s sad to be alone

Help me make it through the night.

I don’t care what’s or wrong.

I don’t try to understand

Let the devil take tomorrow

Lord, tonight, I need a friend

Yesterday is dead and gone

And tomorrow’s out of sight

Lord, it’s bad to be alone

Help me make it through the night.

So uplifting! So inspirational!

I’ve some advice for the depressed lonely-heart: It’s not SAD or BAD to be alone — it’s the human condition! And a friend ain’t what you‘re needing! The euphemism was an insult to true friendship, long before the user-friendly Millennial barter system of friendship-with-benefits.

Every single time I heard someone whining those shallow, less-than-honest words, put to a rather monotonous melody, I turned off the radio; left the room — be it a barroom, restaurant lounge, dining room, office room, or even waiting room to whatever it was I was waiting for. I clicked off every tacky talent show, every tinny t.v. show where the singer sob-crooned the hollow elegy.

The song was sprung upon a morose America in 1970, but during that entire decade, it was the theme-song sob story of so many adults that I purposely prolonged adolescence just to avoid entering such a dismal demographic. What in the world of America was going on?! I know: the ‘70s!

The lounge singer and the lounge lizard became ecstatically bonded through this melodic bilge. I, the lowly, low-paid waitress, had to serve their Manhattans, with the maraschino cherries, and witness the tragic scene!

At the time, I worked a variety of hideous waitress slots in Washington, D.C., the city with the most bars per capita. There was one restaurant-lounge in D.C. called The Embers, darkly becoming The Dying Embers for lack of oxygen, as divorced men and divorced women, those parents without partners, looked for love in only that place, and smoked and drank and oozed despair on the way to where, I still shudder to think.

I can safely say that for at least five years, I did not wear any ribbon in my hair, lest the adornment be misinterpreted as a tactile code for some creep with his v-necked polyester shirt showing chest hair that needed grooming. And not by me!

That blasted bummer ballad menaced my sense of fortitude and fight against all of the misery that the flower-power Baby Boomers had poofed upon the rest of us!

As time mercifully passed us non-groovies by, the malaise of that decade became transformed into the mighty industry and innovation of the 1980s. Matrimony even made a comeback in America, if not elsewhere in the world. The Boomers aged into unripened whiners of different songs, what I don’t know, because I still tune out as much as possible of their din and drone and pompous griping.

Kris Kristofferson was a songsmith of rare talent. His early songs were wrought from the heart, a heart that was able to boldly feel its own pain and compose with the angels from that pain. Sadly, very sadly, his muse got mixed up with all that he’d initially sought to escape in life. Therein is a tale of sorrow, the kind of melancholy he knew well, but then he needed more and more of the heart-ache from which to presumably write from the heart. And, oh yes, attract the shining glare of the spotlight, with him in the center of the stage. It’s a very sad merry-go-round, one that often never ends, for the creative artist who whores his creativity, and the art, for fame and fortune.

I’m not saying that financial success and renown ruin the spark of genius in an artist. I am saying that the Gift is one that must be cherished, more than money.

A military “brat”, college jock, and U.S. Army veteran who proudly completed Ranger School, Kristoffer Kristofferson resolutely left a post teaching literature at West Point to pursue a career as a songwriter. This momentous decision was a rebel stance from a guy who probably enjoyed deviating from the norm, especially a norm that had been so structured for him. His early compositions show the mark of a man making his mark in a way that was natural and gifted, and brilliant. Later attempts to re-invent that brilliance must have been tormenting to a free spirit that no longer felt free, mostly because of the ugly entanglements of his own ego.

It’s a horrible trap, feeding clap-trap to your Muse, trying to make the good times last forever. Good times don’t last forever. They last while they last, and then, if you are brave enough to honor them, you can live off of their immortal memories in a way that transcends the original moment. That surrender to reality is how art is created. That tender mercy to your heart conceives a song such as “For the Good Times.”

To expect the élan, and the magic, and the love to stay — just the way it was, and never change; to demand that souvenirs remain eternally freeze-framed in the Moment — such an attitude, in a very lamentable way, denigrates that priceless duration of time that is a memory, a moment in time. And that moment asked only to be lived and savoured. Trying to continue to squeeze souvenirs out of a well that has run dry, and to re-live minutes that were here, and have gone, leads a person away from the wishful stardust of “For the Good Times” and straight to the gloomy glitter-ball of “Help Me Make It Through the Night.”

It’s difficult for anyone to make it through that kind of night, the dark night of the soul that F. Scott Fitzgerald knew intimately. If you can let go of the good times, and treasure every pleasure, every tear, every smile, and every lesson that they gave to you, then the night is not to be survived, but to have and to hold with blissful slumber. You can dream of those sublime times of yesteryear that can lead to a magnificent tomorrow.

The past is not meant for anyone to cling to, but to draw inspiration from, for the morrow. Paradoxically, it is only by letting go of what you’ve had, that you can fully caress what you will always possess. That selfless parting from what-has-been is the boundless source of inspiration for what-will-be — for the good times, for the bad times, for all time. Those occasions are songs waiting to be written, and sung, and heard, in a world where memories truly do last forever.


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