Before I continue with some bits on Blake, I wanted to share this truly extraordinary bit of literary profiling from the current issue of Rolling Stone. Everything about the opening anecdote to "The Last Outlaw Poet" works perfectly: the selection of the moment, the setting of the scene, the cadence of the prose, the timing of the punchline. They all conspire to produce a powerful (and powerfully funny) introduction to a profile of Kris Kristofferson. But you'll shit your pants when you learn—I'll save that bit of information for the moment. Here's the text:
Up from the basement came one of country music's brightest stars (who shall remain nameless). At that moment in time, the Star had a monster radio hit about bombing America's enemies back into the Stone Age.
"Happy birthday," the Star said to Willie, breezing by us. As he passed Kristofferson in one long, confident stride, out of the corner of his mouth came "None of that lefty shit out there tonight, Kris."
"What the fuck did you just say to me?" Kris growled, stepping forward.
"Oh, no," groaned Willie under his breath. "Don't get Kris all riled up."
"You heard me," the Star said, walking away in the darkness.
"Don't turn your back to me, boy," Kristofferson shouted, not giving a shit that basically the entire music industry seemed to be flanking him.
The Star turned around: "I don't want any problems, Kris—I just want you to tone it down."
"You ever worn your country's uniform?" Kris asked rhetorically.
"Don't 'What?' me, boy! You heard the question. You just don't like the answer." He paused just long enough to get a full chest of air. "I asked, 'Have you ever served your country?' The answer is, no, you have not. Have you ever killed another man? Huh? Have you ever taken another man's life and then cashed the check your country gave you for doing it? No, you have not. So shut the fuck up!" I could feel his body pulsing with anger next to me. "You don't know what the hell you are talking about!"
"Whatever," the young Star muttered.
Ray Charles stood motionless. Willie Nelson looked at me and shrugged mischievously like a kid in the back of the classroom.
Kristofferson took a deep inhale and leaned against the wall, still vibrating with adrenaline. He looked over at Willie as if to say, "Don't say a word." Then his eyes found me.
"You know what Waylon Jennings said about guys like him?" he whispered.
I shook my head.
"They're doin' to country music what pantyhose did to finger-fuckin'."
I would Soltan through that, pointing out the few missteps (like the ambiguous "he" in the "Don't 'What?' me, boy!" paragraph) and the many grace notes (catching Kristofferson's lack of contractions in the same paragraph, then gesturing to the Jennings impersonation via the dropped gs in the last line), but I can't. Do you know why I can't?
I can't because do you know who wrote that? Do you know who so deftly captured Kristofferson's demolition of Toby Keith?
Ethan Fucking Hawke.
If you're like me and unable to accept that Ethan Fucking Hawke can write circles around you, go listen to the playlist Hawke put together to accompany the story and try to comfort yourself with the fact that Ethan Fucking Hawke had the help of a Rhodes Scholar turned Airborne Ranger turned boxer turned singer-songwriter in writing that.