Sep 13 , 2019

MUSIC IS ALIVE IN VAN WERT! Just Who Is Bobby McGee?

When Kris Kristofferson was given the open ended title for a song, he roosted on it to see where it would take him. The title came from producer and Monument Records founder Fred Foster. 

Kris Kristofferson shares, "Fred called one night and said, ‘I’ve got a song title for you. It’s “Me and Bobby McKee.”’ I thought he said ‘McGee.’ Bobby McKee was the secretary of Boudleaux Bryant, who was in the same building with Fred. Then Fred says, ‘The hook is that Bobby McKee is a she. How does that grab you?’ (Laughs) I said, ‘Uh, I’ll try to write it, but I’ve never written a song on assignment.’ So it took me a while to think about."

“For some reason, I thought of La Strada, this Fellini film, and a scene where Anthony Quinn is going around on this motorcycle and Giulietta Masina is the feeble-minded girl with him, playing the trombone. He got to the point where he couldn’t put up with her anymore and left her by the side of the road while she was sleeping. Later in the film, he sees this woman hanging out the wash and singing the melody that the girl used to play on the trombone. He asks, ‘Where did you hear that song?’ And she tells him it was this little girl who had showed up in town and nobody knew where she was from, and later she died. That night, Quinn goes to a bar and gets in a fight. He’s drunk and ends up howling at the stars on the beach. To me, that was the feeling at the end of ‘Bobby McGee.’ The two-edged sword that freedom is. He was free when he left the girl, but it destroyed him. That’s where the line ‘Freedom’s just another name for nothing left to lose’ came from. And so the song goes....
Busted flat in Baton Rouge, waitin' for a train
And I's feelin' near as faded as my jeans
Bobby thumbed a diesel down, just before it rained
It rode us all the way to New Orleans
I pulled my harpoon out of my dirty red bandanna
I was playin' soft while Bobby sang the blues, yeah
Windshield wipers slappin' time, I was holdin' Bobby's hand in mine
We sang every song that driver knew
Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose
Nothin', don't mean nothin' hon' if it ain't free, no no
And, feelin' good was easy, Lord, when he sang the blues
You know, feelin' good was good enough for me
Good enough for me and my Bobby McGee
From the Kentucky coal mine to the California sun
There Bobby shared the secrets of my soul
Through all kinds of weather, through everything we done
Yeah, Bobby baby kept me from the cold
One day up near Salinas, Lord, I let him slip away
He's lookin' for that home, and I hope he finds it
But, I'd trade all of my tomorrows, for a single yesterday
To be holdin' Bobby's body next to mine
Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose
Nothin', that's all that Bobby left me, yeah
But, feelin' good was easy, Lord, when he sang the blues
Hey, feelin' good was good enough for me, mm-hmm
Good enough for me and my Bobby McGee

Joplin was still recording her “Pearl” album when she died of a heroin overdose on Oct. 4, 1970. That year, she and Kristofferson had a brief fling. His parting gift to her was a song, then a simple country lament, that obviously needed a gritty Texas woman’s touch to be turned into music gold.

Sadly, Joplin didn’t live to enjoy it. The song and her album went to No. 1. “Me and Bobby McGee” was the second posthumous No. 1 of the pop era, after Otis Redding’s ”(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” in 1968.

“The first time I heard Janis Joplin’s version was right after she died,” Kristofferson recalled. “Her producer, asked me to stop by his office and listen to this thing she had cut. Afterwards, I walked all over L.A., just in tears. I couldn’t listen to the song without really breaking up.”

Dozens of renditions of “Bobby McGee” have followed through the decades, from artists as varied as the Grateful Dead to Olivia Newton-John to Blind Lemon to Pink. An equal number of them have been by women.

“Every time I sing it, I still think of Janis,” Kristofferson said.

Now, from Kristofferson and Joplin to Van Wert. On Saturday, September 28, Tony nominee Mary Bridget Davies brings Broadway's A Night With Janis Joplin to vivid life on the Niswonger stage. Complete with back up singing muses that channel Aretha, Odetta, Nina Simone, Bessie Smith, this is NOT a tribute show! A Night With Janis Joplin is a full-on musical with incredible talent and a band on stage that bring a whole different level of energy and may just take a little piece of your heart. 

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