Monthly Archives: March 2004

BIR Racing Season Opens

BIR Racing Season Opens

Race fans at BIR (click for larger version)

Behind the Milwaukee Mile, Birmingham International Raceway (BIR) located at the Alabama State Fairgrounds, is the second oldest active automobile racing facility in America. Originally built as a horse-racing track in the late 19th century, BIR began hosting car races in 1914. But it wasn’t until the Chevrolet brothers introduced their new “Frontenac,” a car designed to race on short dirt tracks, at the 1925 state fair that racing fever truly caught on in Birmingham. By the 1950s, Indianapolis-style open-wheel racing began making regular stops at BIR, featuring stars such as Tony Bettenhausen and A. J. Foyt. Fireball Roberts won the first NASCAR event at BIR in 1958. The track was paved in 1962 and eventually became the official home of NASCAR’s legendary Alabama Gang: Red Farmer, Neil Bonnett, and Bobby, Donnie, and Davey Allison. Perhaps the track’s greatest moment was the evening that racer Nero Steptoe won a 25-lap race after losing a wheel on the third lap. BIR begins its racing season April 2. For more information, call 781-2471 or visit for details. &

City and County at Odds on Animal Control

City and County at Odds on Animal Control

Two years ago, the National Animal Control Association (NACA) reviewed Birmingham Jefferson County Animal Control (BJC Animal Control). The NACA evaluation determined that there was no independent auditing of BJC Animal Control; some impounded animals lacked medical attention; a surprisingly large number of animals were left dead in their cages at the impoundment facility; dogs and puppies remained in their cages during cleaning (which included spraying the area with bleach and chemicals); there was “very poor” sanitation of feline living quarters; and some animals were euthanized with intercardiac injections (directly into the heart) without being sedated first. NACA also discovered that euthanasia had been conducted in the holding area in the presence of other animals (and in view of visitors to the facility on at least one occasion). BJC Animal Control had also failed to verify that euthanized animals were actually dead. According to BJC Animal Control Director Steve Smith, management addressed each problem and implemented new procedures.

The Birmingham/Jefferson County animal control contract, which has been held by Smith since 1997, expired September 2002, and has been extended since then on a temporary basis while several versions of the Request For Proposal (RFP), which details qualifications for bidders, have been considered. The city of Birmingham, which is responsible for nearly three-quarters of the funding, and Jefferson County, which oversees the contract, have been in disagreement over contract details. The Jefferson County Commission sent out updated RFP versions for prospective bidders on March 12.

Birmingham City Councilor Valerie Abbott, who presented a resolution approved by the City Council in July 2003 that sought to include council input in the selection and approval process for the animal control provider, expressed frustration that the council was not included when the RFP was initially drafted, especially because Birmingham currently has the major financial stake in the animal control contract. BJC Animal Control budget projections for Fiscal Year 2003 (based on 2001 and 2002 budget reports) stated that Birmingham paid approximately $733,000 for animal control services, while Jefferson County paid $327,000.

Though some City Council recommendations were eventually included, Abbott remained disturbed by “the very, very short time frame [four-weeks] currently in place for prospective bidders to bid on the animal control contract.” The councilor explained, “That’s still insufficient time for people to put together proposals, get copies of all the applicable state, county, and local laws that apply . . . Normally you would allow months, not weeks, for someone to put together a proposal.” [The RFP had been listed on the Jefferson County Commission's web site for eight weeks prior to being sent out to prospective bidders.] Abbott also complained that a sufficient audit has not been performed on BJC Animal Control. “We’ve never had a central audit. We’ve asked for one, and what we got was a budget,” she said of a March 20, 2003, financial evaluation by Mann, Poarch, Miller, & Key, P.C. “The county somehow thinks that everyone in the city of Birmingham is asleep at the wheel. They sent over this budget and said it was an audit . . . It was totally meaningless,” said Abbott. “We have no way of knowing how much of the money that the current vendor gets is profit, and how much actually goes to providing animal control. [BJC Animal Control is a "for-profit" organization, which is uncommon for an animal control provider, according to the 2001 NACA evaluation.] “The whole idea of doing a new RFP is to get some new proposals. If you’re not going to request proposals from somebody besides the guy you already have, what’s the point? And especially if you’re not going to audit the current vendor to find whether he is being a good steward of the taxpayers’ dollars,” the councilor added.

On Sunday, March 14, the Birmingham News reported that the city and county had reached agreement on the bid specifications for the new contract RFP that was sent out March 12. “[That] might be stretching it a little bit,” said Mayor Kincaid of the reported accord between the two entities. Noting that the city had requested that the issuance of bid proposals be delayed, Kincaid added, “It is my personal feeling that we are not getting our money’s worth.” The Mayor would not rule out the possibility that Birmingham may decide to contract animal control without the County Commission’s involvement. Kincaid said that the county should have given the city more input into the contract, considering that the city contributes the majority of the funding. “That has been a sore spot,” said the Mayor. “We might have had a little bit better dialogue.”

Councilor Valerie Abbott was more direct in her criticism of the County Commission’s lack of consideration for the city of Birmingham. “I am just absolutely appalled at the behavior of the people at the county,” said Abbott, who also acknowledged that Birmingham may undertake animal control independent of the county. “We certainly don’t think we’re getting good service now. And with the attitude of the people at the county, there’s not really any incentive for us to continue to partner with them, because I don’t consider them to be very good partners . . . They’re awfully arrogant and high-handed. That just seems to be the way that they do business.” &

Steve Forbert

Steve Forbert


“Could I have a receipt for that . . . Thank you,” Steve Forbert politely asks a toll booth operator every 10 or so minutes during a mid-day telephone interview as he drives on the Garden State Parkway. He’s currently on the road doing shows to plug his latest CD, Just Like There’s Nothing To It, with Nashville duo Stacey Earle (singer Steve Earle’s sister) and Mark Stuart as his backing group. He first made a name for himself with his hit “Romeo’s Tune” after moving to New York City, where he was something of an anomaly, playing his folk-oriented tunes at legendary punk bar CBGB while opening for groups like The Talking Heads and The Ramones. Forbert’s a pretty forthright guy, and doesn’t mince words when he thinks he’s being fed what he feels are standard interview questions. 

(click for larger version)


Black & White: You turn 50 this year, don’t you?

Steve Forbert: Well, man, you don’t mess around [laughs]. You cut to the quick. Yeah, that’s true, that’s true. That would be December.

We’re the same age, and I was curious if you were in the same pop AM radio world I was as a kid, bubble-gum music and stuff like that?


“I’d heard Patti Smith, I’d heard The Ramones when I went to New York in the ’80s, but it didn’t make me think I should get a weird haircut or spit on the audience and expect them to spit on me. I always liked that folk rock thing . . .”

Yeah, you know, when you’re young, you’re not very judgmental anyway. You’re pretty open. If it was Louis Armstrong, Frank and Nancy Sinatra, or the Blues Magoos, it really didn’t matter to me. You can listen to it now, and with rare exceptions, it’s pretty good stuff.

It really is good stuff. I still listen to Herman’s Hermits.

Herman’s Hermits was an excellent band. When I met Garry Tallent [bass player in Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band who produced several of Forbert's records], and we started working together, that’s one thing we had in common. I said, “I don’t care what anybody says, Herman’s Hermits was a good band.” And he said, “I saw them at the Convention Center in Asbury Park in ’66, they were great!” So from there on out, we had a good time.

There’s been a surge in the number of singer/songwriters in the past decade that tend to sound the same. Do you agree?

Well, I do. Lucinda Williams was certainly a blast. She was unique. But Lucinda is my age. There are a lot of factors to that. I could go on all afternoon about it. You know, what comes first, the chicken or the egg? Is what people hear on the radio encouraging them to make more music like what they hear on the radio? Or is it just that their roots don’t go back any further than Nirvana or Shawn Mullins? But you know music is gonna change. You can’t expect it to stay the same; it changed every decade in the 20th century. You had your big band era, and then rock ‘n’ roll blew that off the blackboard. Rock ‘n’ roll turned into rock . . . I try to work really hard to craft my songs. I think if you listen to a lot of music, you kinda have a better chance of doing something original because you hit something and you go, “Oh well, that’s been done,” or “No, America did that or Grand Funk Railroad did that.” You search hard to find something that will stand up against all the stuff you’ve heard.

There’s a lot more do-it-yourself home recording these days.

Yeah, but that might be some of the reason you hear a lot of the stuff that’s same-y . . . If somebody wants to make a record, that’s fine. And those people can press you up some CDs; you can get 500 or you can get a thousand . . . so if that floats your boat. You know, everybody has a right to pick up a canvas and paint a picture. And it’s a good thing that everybody has the ability to make themselves a CD and put it in the car and listen to it and see what they think. And that’s fine. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that . . . but when I came up [laughs], there were probably two recording studios in Mississippi, and we’d heard of one in Dothan, Alabama, so we drove over there to see if we could get started there. Before you could even see the inside of a recording studio, you had to be way down the road. You had to have a local following, you had to at least know somebody. And that kind of weeded it out, really. Any of the major record companies, you had to get past an A&R guy that could probably arrange a horn section and produce a record. So there’s another factor.

Has songwriting gotten any easier for you since you’ve been doing it for 25 years?

No, nothing’s gotten easier. It’s harder, the songs take longer, you’ve got more distractions.

Have you got another 25 years in you?

I might, but I wouldn’t go past that. You’ve got some people that are still doing it. Merle Haggard . . . I’ve got a friend that saw him recently and said that he was in complete control and had a lot of spontaneity, and that’s encouraging.

When you recorded “Romeo’s Tune,” did you feel yourself trying to write a hit for a certain market?

I wrote it about a girl in Meridian, but I didn’t want to put it on Alive on Arrival [it ended up on his second record, 1979′s Jackrabbit Slim] because that record was obviously taking shape as the story of coming to the city and trying to adjust and leaving the South. So I wanted to wait. When we recorded “Romeo’s Tune,” a number of people had heard me play it and said, “Yeah, that’s gonna work for you.” So we recorded it three times until we got it to where we thought, “Yeah, okay, that sounds like a hit record.” So I was definitely trying and aware of it, but I didn’t write the song in that regard. I just wrote this song about this girl I had fallen for in Meridian [laughs]. We did work on it to make sure we got a happening version.

You’ve got a song about Rick Danko on your new CD. Were y’all pals?

Yeah, now I don’t want to exaggerate that. We did shows together, and I hung out with him sometimes when I would visit Woodstock for the weekend, just for fun. Woodstock is not much bigger than Butler, Alabama. So you’re gonna run into Rick ’cause he was a party animal. He was just a wonderful guy. It’d make you feel really great to meet Rick Danko, and then the next time you’d see him he’d be the same friendly guy. And I’ve met a lot of people who had the same story to tell. People loved him. And I wrote the song pretty much right after he died.

Tell me why you’re drawn to The Band.

Well, I feel like you’re asking me that question for your paper and not yourself . . . ‘Cause you know, it’s a curious hybrid of a lot of things. It’s obviously rock ‘n’ roll. They have paid so many dues; they have so much knowledge. You know, Levon Helms thinks Garth Hudson is a musical genius. Dylan said that Robbie Robertson was the only guitar player who didn’t affect his digestive system or something. You might remember that weird quote. They had so much talent. I could go on for an hour. It was a time when yet another group of people kind of took all the ingredients out there in American music and made something new out of it, just like Elvis had done and Jimmie Rodgers had done.

O.K., here’s one for me. I’m going to see Del McCoury tomorrow night and was curious to know what you thought about the problems McCoury had with Steve Earle’s cursing on stage, which reportedly ended a European tour the two were doing together.

I side with Del. There may be a place for that, but it’s not in what they’re trying to do. And then Steve just doggedly kept it up even after it had became an issue. It’s just not necessary . . . Tell Del I said hi [laughs].

Did you fit in with the punks and new wave crowd when you first moved to New York?

Yeah, I had a ball. It was good. I got to do a lot of watching. They’d put me on for 30 or 40 minutes, and it didn’t disturb anybody’s equipment. I was playing solo, and then I could sit back and watch The Talking Heads as a trio. It was interesting. It was exciting, but we didn’t know it would be, like, legendary. It was only in the last couple of years that it became history, you know? People ask me, “Why did you play that music in New York in the ’80s?” That’s what I wanted to do, that’s where I was coming from. I’d heard Patti Smith, I’d heard The Ramones when I went up there, but it didn’t make me think I should get a weird haircut or spit on the audience and expect them to spit on me. I always liked that folk rock thing, and then when Gram Parsons came along, he just reinforced it and threw in the country thing . . . The Ramones and I had the same manager. I always seemed to encounter them when they were all four together [laughs]. It was kinda like walking into a cartoon strip. And they were very honest, very frank people. They didn’t mess around. &

Steve Forbert performs at the Blockbuster stage on Saturday, June 19, from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Chomping at the Bit

Chomping at the Bit

Milton McGregor promises to bring horse racing back to Birmingham, but video gambling has to be part of the deal.

The electronic marquee in the middle of the blighted infield at the Birmingham Race Course repeatedly flashed an ironic message: Action Capital of the South. Yet the horse track that encircles the smaller greyhound racing oval is almost completely overgrown by weeds. There’s probably more action on Fourth Avenue North in downtown Birmingham, if one knows where to look. But give Alabama gambling magnate Milton McGregor a gold star for persistence. For several years, McGregor has been Indian-wrestling with state legislators in an attempt to get electronic gaming machines into the Birmingham track.

On February 25, McGregor lured the media to his Birmingham Race Course with the return of live horse racing as bait. McGregor hopes that the prestige and allure of horse racing, not to mention his pledge to kick in $35 to $40 million in improvements as a “facelift” for the facility, will knock down the legislative wall between him and video gambling at the track. Live horse racing ended at the Birmingham facility in 1995. Approximately 3,000 video gaming machines, if allowed, are expected to generate up to $3.5 million; money which can ensure that quality horse races (with minimum purses of $80,000 each day) can be staged at the Birmingham track. McGregor’s goal is to have the horses running by the spring of 2005.

Featured at the press conference were video clips of testimonies from people who had won small fortunes on video gambling. An elderly woman appeared on screen, the excitement in her voice impossible to conceal. “One day I had seven jackpots in one day!” she shouted. “Seven jackpots, $33,000!”

McGregor repeatedly stated that the point of the media gathering was to announce plans to return “quality horse racing” to the state, and not to complain about unregulated Native American casinos operating in Alabama without paying state taxes. Nonetheless, during the next 10 minutes McGregor referenced the video gambling operated by the Poarch Creek Indian tribe several times. “I’m not opposed to Native Americans in any shape, form, or fashion. I’m opposed to being treated differently,” he complained. Insisting that he was only advocating the same kind of gaming for his facilities available to the Poarch Creek tribe, McGregor insisted that his focus was to pay his portion. “I’d never be in a position where I wouldn’t pay my fair share of taxes,” he said, adding that “Native Americans have all forms of machine gambling . . . But this is not about gaming, it’s a tax issue.” He insisted that horse racing would have to be “subsidized” with gaming machines—without that there would be no horse racing.

McGregor noted the difficulty in competing with 32 casinos (in Mississippi), four Native American casinos (in Alabama), and the Tennessee, Florida, and Georgia lotteries. The longer he talked, his references to “Native Americans” eventually evolved into intimations to “Indians.” When asked if he’d like to see a referendum on gaming machines, McGregor responded, “I’d prefer no election [referendum] at all. I’d prefer doing what the Indians do now. They didn’t have an election.”

Jockey Shane Sellers, one of the nation’s top riders who currently races out of the Fairgrounds horse track in New Orleans, also addressed the gathering. According to a press kit distributed by Ballard Advertising, whose address is listed on the packet as the same as that of the Birmingham Race Course, Sellers is a “big NASCAR fan and Dale Earnhardt fan” who has released a music CD featuring his composition “Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Earnhardt.” The jockey, who has 13 Kentucky Derby mounts to his credit, told the media throng that “on-track gaming has been the biggest boost to the racing industry” and has allowed jockeys such as himself to return to Louisiana to make their living. Sellers concluded with a glance in McGregor’s direction as he softly said, “God bless you, Mr. McGregor.”

Outside, a dozen or so men who look like they’ve been out of luck for years milled around the gate at the entrance of the race track at 10:30 a.m., waiting for simulcast betting from other horse and dog tracks around the nation to begin. When asked if any in the group were excited about the prospect of live horse racing returning to Alabama, they collectively shrugged their shoulders and returned to studying their racing tip sheets. Maybe this will be the day their $33,000 jackpot comes in. And maybe these guys were the ones who jockey Shane Sellers should have asked God to bless. Because without them, Milton McGregor might not have amassed the fortune with which he has lined his expensive suits. &

All-American Jewboy

All-American Jewboy

Author, humorist, beatnik, and professional hanger-on Kinky Friedman takes his show on the road to promote his new book.

Penning a variety of oddball country songs that celebrate his life as the world’s most famous Jewish cowboy (“Ride ‘em Jewboy,” “They Ain’t Makin’ Jews Like Jesus Anymore,” and “Get Your Biscuits in the Oven and Your Buns in the Bed”), Kinky Friedman has been making records with his band, The Texas Jewboys, since the early 1970s. His most fondly remembered tune is “The Ballad of Charles Whitman,” an ode to the Texas architectural student who killed 16 people from a tower at the University of Texas in 1966. Friedman has also written 17 dark comedy thriller novels that feature himself and dozens of famous friends as characters. He loves animals; has a wealth of pals that includes President Bush, former President Clinton, Willie Nelson, Robert Duval, and Bob Dylan; and is currently considering a run for governor of Texas. “I have no skeletons in my closet,” Friedman readily admits. “The bones are all bleaching down at the beach.” He’s already designed his bumper sticker: He Ain’t Kinky. He’s My Governor.

Friedman currently has two new books he’s peddling, The Prisoner of Vandam Street and Curse of the Missing Puppet Head. He will sign copies of his novels at Alabama Booksmith on Thursday, March 18, and then deliver a lecture of sorts at the Reynolds-Kirschbaum Recital Hall at the Alys Stephens Center later that evening. As to whether or not he’ll read excerpts from his novels, tell jokes, give a stump speech, or sing, we have no idea. Neither does Friedman.

Author Kinky Friedman relaxes with a few of his buddies in Texas. (click for larger version)

B&W: Ever been to Alabama before?

Kinky: Yeah, the Jewboys played with B.J. Thomas in 1973 in Dothan. I played with the Rolling Thunder Revue in Mobile . . . I know the most famous man from Alabama—Jim Nabors. He’s a pretty good American, a funny guy. I just saw him last month in Hawaii. He was telling me that he went to this dinner given by an Asian friend of his in Hawaii. And when he showed up, he was the only white guy there. Everybody else was Oriental. So they sat Jim at the table, and the guy to his left looks like a guy from his health club. So Jim turns to the guy and says (with a Gomer Pyle inflection), “What actually do you do?” So the man says, “I’m the president of South Korea [laughs].” And then Jim says, “Well, I knew that, what else do you like to do?” That’s my Jim Nabors story.

B&W: Your publicist said that you were in Vietnam recently.

Kinky: Yes, just got back a week ago. I was visiting my sister, who’s head of the American Red Cross in Hanoi . . . It’s a beautiful, magical place, 80 million people. No Starbucks, no McDonalds, nothing like that . . . They love Americans.

Friedman is currently thinking about running for Governor of Texas. He’s already designed his bumper sticker: He Ain’t Kinky. He’s My Governor.

B&W: Were you in the Vietnam War?

Kinky: No, I was in the Peace Corps in Borneo, where I worked for several years as an agricultural extension worker helping people who have been farming successfully for more than 2,000 years.

B&W: Have you seen The Passion of the Christ yet?

Kinky: No, but you know, it’s doing pretty well. It might make a pretty good book!

B&W: Did it strike you as odd when Bob Dylan became a born-again Christian?

Kinky: Yeah . . . but actually, not with Bob. Bob says that art should not reflect a culture, it should subvert it. And he’ll try anything. So that’s one thing he tried.

B&W: Were you tempted to follow him?

Kinky: No. And it’s funny, because I’m not a very religious Jew at all. I’m not a practicing Jew, or as many people have commented, if I am, I need to practice a little bit more. I’m just a Jew in terms of the trouble-making aspect of the Jewishness, which is something that probably started with Jesus and Moses and descended all the way down to Groucho Marx, Karl Marx, Lenny Bruce.

B&W: I guess you’ve heard about our Ten Commandments judge here in Alabama.

Kinky: Roy Moore? He sounds like my kind of boy. The kind of man we need in my campaign for governor of Texas in 2006. The current governor has a hell of a lot of Gray Davis potential. I’d like to get the politicians out of politics. I’m a writer of fiction who tells the truth . . . George W. and Bill Clinton are fans of mine. I promise not to kiss any babies, I’ll just kiss their mothers. During the Friedman administration I’ll probably be spending most of my time in Vegas.

B&W: If you were elected president, would you free Tommy Chong? [Chong is currently serving a nine-month sentence for his affiliation with a company selling bongs featuring his autograph on the Internet.]

Kinky: President? That’s too hard a job. Too much work. I just want to be Texas governor . . . But I would certainly free him if I was. I’ll put in a good word with George next time I see him, because that’s ridiculous. Really ridiculous . . . I urinated next to Donald Rumsfeld a few months ago in Washington. I told him that he was not the most famous person I’ve ever urinated next to. That was Groucho Marx. But he was very nice.

B&W: Groucho or Rumsfeld?

Kinky: Rumsfeld. Groucho was not very nice. It was toward the end of his life.

B&W: How was sleeping at the White House?

Kinky: It was great. Laura is terrific. She was really my friend before I ever met George. I’ll tell you, it’s a looser ship than was run by Hillary Clinton, as far as smoking goes and things like that. You wouldn’t think so, but the Bushes are much looser about it. With the Clintons, you couldn’t smoke a cigarette or cigar anywhere.

B&W: Did you sleep in the Lincoln Bedroom?

Kinky: No, I visited the Lincoln Bedroom. I bounced on the bed a little bit. I was in a family compound on the third floor. When I visited the White House when the Clintons were there, Bill tried to get me a movie deal. That was very sweet of him. He brought in whatever the hell this woman’s name is who’s head of Paramount. He sat me next to her and she tells me during the meal, “The President says your books are great and that they’d make great movies. But who do you see playing Kinky?” I told her I see Lionel Ritchie. And negotiations broke down from there. But Bill tried.

B&W: Tell me about your animal rescue efforts on your ranch.

Kinky: It’s our fifth year and there are more than 500 animals that we’ve adopted out by this time. All kinds of abused and stray animals. We’re a “never kill” sanctuary. It’s really been great. If I’m elected governor, I’ll make this a “no kill” state . . . for animals, not criminals.

B&W: Does that mean you’ll put an end to hunting?

Kinky: No . . . Well, I might, but I’m not going to campaign that way. And of course you know my views on abortion: I’m not pro-choice and I’m not pro-life, I’m pro-football!

B&W: Did you ever cross paths with Gram Parsons?

Kinky: No, I didn’t, but I’m a great admirer of his. And I’ve always said that I’d rather be a dead Gram Parsons than a live Tim McGraw . . .

B&W: You’re a dead ringer for Warren Oates in the photo Don Imus took for the back of The Love Song of J. Edgar Hoover.

Kinky: I take that as a great compliment. Imus and I met at the bottom of both of our lives. [Imus makes no secret that he had a serious cocaine habit at one point in his life.] I met him when we did a show together at the Bottom Line [famous New York City nightclub]. He’s a sick f**k.

B&W: What prompted you to switch from singing to writing?

Kinky: Desperation. I was in New York doing a lot of Peruvian marching powder, and pretty broke and playing the Lone Star Café once a week. I took a twirl on the writing—Greenwich Killing Time [Friedman's first novel]. I think about 25 publishers passed on the manuscript, and by that time, of course, we knew we had a pretty hot property [laughs]. And sure enough. So now this is about the 17th book that I’ve turned out . . . uhh, I mean ‘carefully crafted.’ I write on a typewriter. I’m getting a little tired of the characters, so I’m killing them off in the new book. Number 18 will be the end of the Kinkster. It’s called Ten Little New Yorkers. Unless we hear the great acclaim from the literary world that we must bring the Kinkster back, we’ll let him rest in peace.

B&W: You often cast your famous friends as characters in your novels. Anyone you haven’t cast that you’d like to?

Kinky: Bill Clinton, he wants to be a cameo character. He’s read all the books. I just don’t know how to work him in. Maybe I can work him into this last one. Now George . . . I’ve been told by a number of the press that I’m the President’s favorite author, but, of course, I always like to point out that he’s not that voracious a reader [laughs]. But Bill Clinton was.

B&W: Do you think that George sometimes gets a bad rap from your liberal friends?

Kinky: Yes, absolutely. I think he’s a smart guy. And I think that as far as foreign policy goes, I’m pretty much in agreement with him. On domestic policy, I’m pretty much not in agreement with him. I’m not a John Ashcroft fan.

B&W: Do you approve of gay marriage?

Kinky: Yeah, sure, why not? Cowboys are frequently secretly fond of each other. What the hell. Probably most of the people who vote for me are gonna be homosexuals anyway.

B&W: Are you still a vegetarian?

Kinky: No, I jettisoned that some time ago. I got rid of that. Probably not a good campaign quality to have here in Texas . . . I’m good for three minutes of superficial charm. So if I work a house quickly, people love me.

B&W: Did you ever consider yourself a hippie?

Kinky: No I didn’t, I always considered myself a beatnik.

B&W: Do you miss the ’60s?

Kinky: I missed them when they were happening. I was in the Peace Corps, and I wasn’t around. Probably saved my life. Maybe not. You gotta find what you like and let it kill you.

B&W: Do you remember where you were when Charles Whitman started shooting people from the tower at the University of Texas?

Kinky: Sure I do. I was at the camp for boys and girls that my parents ran here at our ranch. Yeah, that was quite an amazing thing. And that’s probably one of my better songs. That may be one of my better efforts [laughs extensively].

B&W: That was in 1966, and I was 11 years old and . . .

Kinky: You were jumping rope in a schoolyard, and I was selling dope in a schoolyard.

B&W: Did you ever play the Grand Ole Opry?

Kinky: Yeah, of course. Played it in ’73. Played it a couple of times, actually. We had Dobie Gray on with us. Billy Swan and the Jewboys were with me. After we performed, Reverend Jimmy Snow, Hank Snow’s son, introduced me as the first full-blooded Jew to ever appear on the Grand Ole Opry. The crowd went wild. &

Kinky Friedman will sign copies of his latest novels at Alabama Booksmith at 4 p.m. on Thursday, March 18. Call 870-4242 for details. He will give a “lecture” at the Reynolds-Kirschbaum Recital Hall at the Alys Stephens Center at 7 p.m. Admission is $34. For more information, call 975-2787 .