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April 19

The Mystery Behind Kris Kristofferson’s “The Pilgrim: Chapter 33”

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“I started writing this song about Chris Gantry, ended up writing about Dennis Hopper and Johnny Cash… Norman Norbert, Funky Donnie Fritts, Billy Swan, Bobby Neuwirth, Jerry Jeff Walker, Paul Siebel… Ramblin’ Jack Elliot had a lot to do with it.”

[This is the spoken-word intro of Kris Kristofferson’s “The Pilgrim: Chapter 33.”]

It’s common for songwriters to try and disguise the identity of those folks they write about in their songs, if only to preserve the mystery a little bit (Jim Beviglia, 2015).

Kris Kristofferson must have known that his song “The Pilgrim, Chapter 33” was undeniably airtight that he names all those who partially inspired the song in the spoken-word intro. Among those he mentioned are the artists who played on his 1971 album, The Silver Tongued Devil And I. It was Kristofferson’s second album, which contains The Pilgrim. Also, it includes the names of Johnny Cash, Jerry Jeff Walker, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Bobby Neuwirth, and Dennis Hopper.

The Mystery Behind Kris Kristofferson's "The Pilgrim: Chapter 33" 1
Kris Kristofferson (Photo by atlanta.eventful.com)

Kristofferson and His Song Insights

Just like other artists, Kristofferson writes all his songs in a distinct, tasteful manner. His inner outlaw spirit may have had an influence on this. But still, there’s no denying that he and his music is one of the finest. Let’s take a look at one of his songs, which was most probably inspired by a Christian allegory.

It is indeed true, Kristofferson writes with pure talent mixed with emotion. “The Pilgrim: Chapter 33” is an insightful song that draws emotions letting you believe that Kristofferson saw a lot of himself in the character as well.

In an interview with CMT in 2007, he said,

“Well, there were a lot of people that the pilgrim stood for or that I felt fit into that category, and most of them were people who were serious about songwriting, but an awful lot of us just looked like we were out of work.” 

In comparison with all great songwriters, Kristofferson ingeniously knows how essential those lines are in his song. Thus, he delivers an opening couple that delves inside oneself, stirring beliefs and ideas about what “the Pilgrim” is all about.

The Song: Inspired by a Christian Allegory, John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress

After the song’s release, many have speculated about the inspiration for this song. Based on the title and obviously, many suggest that it was from a Christian allegory. Specifically, it was from John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, which he wrote while he was in jail.

While Kristofferson did not directly affirm to any of these thoughts, he particularly added “Chapter 33” to the title to make it more mysterious. And he, definitely, succeeded in stirring the listeners’ minds. Well, Kristofferson’s strategic idea of playing through the minds of his listeners is indeed effective. As for the identity of “The Pilgrim”, it matters not, because Kristofferson’s portrait of himself is resonant enough that we know his triumph and heartbreak by song’s end, even if we don’t know his name.

Listen to Kris Kristofferson as he narrates and sings, “The Pilgrim: Chapter 33.”

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