Short Stories

‘Help Me Make It Through The Night’ By: Liam Nolan



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Frank Sinatra was born in Hoboken, New Jersey, and was a dyed-in-

the-wool city boy. Kris Kristofferson, one of the greatest songwriters of all time,

was born in Brownsville, Texas, and grew up to be what Americans

call “an army brat”. His father was an officer in the United States

Army Air Corps (he was to become a 2-star general), and the family

moved from base to base as dictated by the military authorities.

So what’s the connection between Old Blue Eyes and Rhodes

Scholar Kristofferson?

Answer: Well, it was something Francis Albert said, and Kris

read, that prompted Kristofferson to write what many music insiders

call his masterpiece.

Here’s how it came about: while working as a helicopter pilot

Kristofferson came across an Esquire interview with Sinatra.

It revealed that when asked what he believed in, part of Sinatra’s

answer was, “whatever helps me make it through the night.”

That phrase struck a cord with Kristofferson. The chopper pilot

with the complex brilliant mind loved words and ideas. As a high

school student, he had won a prize, and acclaim, for his short story

writing ability. He loved the poetry of William Blake. He was a more

than useful football player, and was a Golden Gloves boxer.

At Pomona College he focused on creative writing, got a degree

in English literature, and was awarded a Rhodes scholarship to study

at Merton College at Oxford University, where he got a masters.

During his teenage years he had developed a passion for country

music, and whilst at Oxford he began to try his hand at writing

country songs. Under the name Kris Carson, he performed at a few

local gigs. But at the back of his mind he had ambitions of becoming a


However, because his father and mother hoped he’d pursue a

military career, he joined the United States Army. The army taught

him how to fly helicopters, and then posted him to Germany.

Naturally aware of his academic qualifications in the field of

literature, they gave him an early promotion to the rank of captain,

and ultimately the offer of a literature lecturer’s job at West Point

Kristofferson declined the offer, resigned from the army, and set

his eyes set on a career as a country songwriter/singer. He worked

for a while as a helicopter pilot, and flew helicopters for companies

servicing offshore oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. That, and his declared

intention of trying to become a recognised songwriter/singer,

infuriated his parents.

They disowned him. Indeed because of a scathing letter his

mother wrote to him saying he had always been a tremendous

disappointment, that he had rejected everything she and Kris’s father

stood for, and that she was ashamed of him, he would, towards the

end of his life, tell an interviewer, “God knows my mother was an

asshole. And my old man was gone most of the time.”

In between helicopter jobs he took himself off to Nashville with

aims and hopes of making it in country music. He’d work for a week

at piloting, and the next week spend in Nashville where he’d hang

around music publishers’ offices and recording studios. He worked in

one of the latter as a janitor, emptying ashcans and wastebaskets, and

sweeping floors.

He spent hours pitching his songs in Nashville. No one was

interested at first, and he once landed a helicopter in Johnny Cash’s

garden with the aim of attracting Cash’s attention.

And then came the incident of reading the Esquire interview

with Frank Sinatra, when the phrase “help(s) me make it through the

night” leaped out at him.

Kristofferson wrote the song sitting on the platform of an oil rig

out to sea in the Gulf of Mexico, gazing at the stars. Strumming a 12-

string guitar, he found that the song came to him “pretty quickly.”

Back in Nashville he did what he always did — made demo tapes

and handed or sent them around to singers and their agents. One of

those to whom he spoke about the new song was Bobby Bare, and

Bobby liked it enough to cut a recording of it.

Shortly afterwards, appearing in a show in Philadelphia, Bobby

got talking to one of the artistes who was also on the bill — Sammi

Smith from Oklahoma. She was 27 years of age, was relatively

unknown, hadn’t yet made the big time. She told Bobby about a new

song that she felt “had some potential.” It was “Help Me Make It

Through The Night.”

For Sammi Smith, it became a monster hit. It won her a Grammy

for Best Country Vocal Performance — Female. Her performance on

the song is still regarded by some as one of the finest in country

music. Sadly, she died in 2005 at the age of 61. (R.I.P.)

Bobby Bare’s recorded version was held back, and he admitted

later that he thought it perhaps wouldn’t have been the enormous hit that Sammi’s was.