Casey leaves the under-ground and stops inside the Golden Crown

For something wet to wipe away the chill that’s on his bones

Seeing his reflection in the lives of all the lonely men

Who reach for anything they can to keep from goin’ home

Standin’ in the corner Casey drinks his pint of bitter

Never glancing in the mirror at the people passing by

Then he stumbles as he’s leaving, and he wonders if the reason

Is the beer that’s in his belly, or the tear that’s in his eye?

Casey’s Last Ride by Kris Kristofferson.

No matter what mood I’m in on a particular day, or in a particular period of my life — happiness, sadness, anxiety, contentment, fury, passion, indifference, love, hate, quiet reflection or a need for a pick-me-up — Kris Kristofferson has written something for me. The master songwriter is my all-time favourite, and I love his music, I love the poetry of his lyrics and how he takes the most profound of life’s loves, challenges and turmoils and makes them simple; he takes simple motifs and makes them profound. You can listen to his songs and hear a simple story and a simple tune. Or you can hear something deep, something perhaps not even intended but you see it there anyway and that’s why his work is true art. For he is that: a true artist. A Kristofferson song can mean whatever you want it to mean to you; a slow, hung-over retelling of a drunken Sunday morning for an addict can reflect your own struggles with depression (sans the addiction), the monotony of life and the world itself — its funny little ways that make it both wonderful and irritating at the same time. Or, again, just a bloke bemoaning a hang-over and the life he lost to addiction. We’ve all felt that same loss of something, whatever the cause. I appreciated Merle in the same way.

I was lucky enough to see Kristofferson perform in Ballarat one night in September 2019. Coincidentally, it was a one-night-only kinda gig and I was on my first day of a solo long distance charity bike ride from Melbourne to Adelaide. I had just ridden 120 gruelling kilometres, only to quickly throw off the school dress — read the story to answer your sudden “WTF?” — to change into my western shirt, jeans and cowboy boots and head down to the Ballarat Civic Hall.

I was enraptured. Some in the audience bemoaned his diminishing performance compared to shows of yesteryear: his vocals struggled and he lost the words to a song at one point (he has Lyme disease which causes memory loss). But not me. I quietly raged inside at their judgment: “He’s in his 80s you bastards,” and just revelled in seeing him live, in listening to him sing his beautiful lyrics and marvel in the true artistry of his work. (He did ultimately retire later that year.) It was one of those days I’ll remember forever, and it ticked off one of my Bucket List Artists, those I want to see live before I, or they, leave this world. I was lucky enough to see Bowie in 2003. Alice Cooper not long after. Pat Benatar in 2010, opened by The Bangles, a nice little two-for-one.

I guess the reason I’m thinking of all this now, tonight, it has struck me that with COVID-19 still raging and international travel still a long way off, especially for us Australians, I stand in great danger of missing my other Bucket List Country Legend.

You hang in there Willie!