February 09, 2012
A recent chat with cowboy philosopher, singer/songwriter, novelist, and sometime politician Kinky Friedman reveals the Jewish Texas troubadour to be unconcerned about offending others. Indeed, political incorrectness is his inspiration—Friedman’s original band was called the Texas Jewboys. Known for country folk tunes with titles such as “They Ain’t making Jews Like Jesus Anymore, “Get Your Biscuits in the Oven and Your Buns in the Bed,” and “Homo Erectus,” Friedman released his first album Sold American in 1973. The record included “The Ballad of Charles Whitman,” a song about the University of Texas student who shocked the nation with a shooting spree in 1966 on the Texas campus, killing 16 people. It was the first high-profile mass murder of the TV age. In 1975, Friedman performed on “Austin City Limits,” the only taping in the show’s history to never be broadcast because it was deemed too offensive. An invitation to join Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue in 1976 finally brought Friedman national exposure.
Friedman is best summed up in the chorus of his friend Kris Kristofferson’s song “The Pilgrim, Chapter 33,” a tune about Kristofferson’s favorite characters: “He’s a walking contradiction, partly truth and partly fiction.” Friedman is not shy about shifting his opinions a bit from time to time with a teasing combination of entertainment and brutal honesty. Two years ago, he was singing President Obama’s praises, but lately he’s been quoted as saying he would even vote for Charlie Sheen over Obama.
“An artist should be ahead of his time and behind on his rent.” (click for larger version)
A popular guest on political talk shows, Friedman ran for Texas governor as an Independent against winner Rick Perry in 2006. Friedman is pals with former presidents Clinton and George W. Bush, and has authored more than two dozen books that range from detective mysteries to observations on life. He claims to be the only politician in America who believes in school prayer and gay marriage, and refers to Republicans and Democrats as the Crips and the Bloods. Friedman will appear at Workplay on February 20. Visit www.workplay.com or call 879-4773 for details.
What caused you to sour on President Obama?
I voted for Obama but I’m uncommonly regretful about it because I think he doesn’t have any inspirational quotient, if you know what I mean. If he gave a fireside chat, the fire would go out. And honestly, most of the politicians are just like him. It’s kind of a gift, the ability to inspire people. Churchill had it; FDR had it; Reagan had it. Hell, Ann Richards had it as governor of Texas. Most of these politicians today, they’re perpetually behind the curve. That’s the problem. You don’t see a Churchill in sight, or a Harry Truman, for that matter—somebody willing to make unpopular decisions or courageous kinds of decisions and stand by them.
You got 13 percent of the vote running against Rick Perry in the 2006 Texas gubernatorial election.
Well, I tell you what, I owe a debt of gratitude to Rick. His running for president has sure improved my image. And he’s made George W. look like Thomas f***ing Jefferson. It’s created kind of a strange situation in Texas where all the blondes and all the Aggies are telling Rick Perry jokes. The one thing the Occupy movement has right is that money and greed have destroyed our political system. That’s very true and that’s too bad.
Regarding the Occupy movement, where are all the protest singers today?
I think that is reflected in the general absence of much originality in music. You look at Nashville today, you see these corporate [music] publishing whorehouses where there are guys like me waiting in the hallway for a songwriter’s appointment, trying to write songs. And the results of the last two decades have been dismal. Nobody in all that time has written [Willie Nelson's] “Hello Walls.” Nobody’s written “Me and Bobby McGee,” have they? So to write that kind of stuff—to write “King of the Road”—you’ve got to be pretty f***ed up and broke and not living at your parents’ home with your iPhone. I’m not saying (all) the music sucks today or whatever, but you’ve got to go see a geezer. And I don’t quite count myself there yet. I mean, I’m 67, though I read at a 69-year old level. If you want to see something great, you’ve got to see Levon Helm or Bob Dylan or Willie or Merle or Kris or Billy Joe Shaver. Those guys are all in their 70s and they will inspire you.
You commented that Ron Paul looks like a mad scientist.
He does, but he looks better than Ralph Nader, who looks like a praying mantis. But Paul is probably closer to talking [the truth] than any of the others. But that’s politics. “Poly” means “more than one” and “ticks” are blood-sucking parasites.
Do you have any desire to get back into politics?
Well, if I did, somebody would have to give me millions of dollars. That’s the great equalizer. If I had that kind of money, then I could run as an independent. If I had a reasonably funded campaign, I could win today, I could beat Rick Perry in Texas. But it’s a little too late. When the people had their chance to vote [in 2006, when Perry beat Friedman for governor], only 26 percent of the people voted. That’s what did us in, because everybody else was really for Kinky; they just didn’t think that I had a chance. And that’s what happens to independents quite often.
Tell me about the book you’re writing with Billy Bob Thornton.
We’re wrapping up the book with Billy Bob and just starting one with Willie [Nelson]. The Billy Bob book is called The Billy Bob Tapes: A Cave Full of Ghosts. It’s a real honest book, which you don’t see very often. Quite insightful. Billy believes you’re never gonna see another John Wayne or another John Lennon or Jimi Hendrix. You’re never gonna see a star again. You’re gonna see product like Lady Gaga. He believes the audience has become the show, that’s the problem. That’s because of the internet. That’s why he thinks you’ll never see a hero again. Part of the secret is you’ve got to stay hungry and unhappy and worried all the time, and lonely. That’s Billy Bob’s theory. I think he’s right. You know, an artist should be ahead of his time and behind on his rent. The Willie book is called The Troublemaker, and it’s kind of Willie’s “M.O.,” how Willie achieved success by going against what people told him he couldn’t do, and, of course, we also have the new tequila coming out, Kinky Friedman’s Man in Black Tequila. We will have free samples available at the show.
If Johnny Cash were still alive, he’d want a piece of the action with a tequila named Man in Black, wouldn’t he?
Well, Man in Black Tequila salutes Zorro and Johnny Cash. So, he’s getting attribution. So it’s not gonna be a financial pleasure for Johnny Cash but let’s hope it’s one for the Kinkster. Where Johnny is, he doesn’t need the money, he has plenty of coin of the spirit—which, of course, is always more important.
You’re rarely seen without a cigar. How old were you when you started smoking them?
About seven. Since it seems I’ve been smoking forever, I’ve got about two taste buds left, which is how I know how good this Mexican mouthwash is—I can tell how good stuff like tequila is, regardless. This tequila makes me so high I need a step ladder to scratch my ass. You know, there’s a way of drinking tequila where you snort a line of salt and squeeze the lime in your eye, and then drink the shot. That’s the Kinkster cowboy method.
In addition to the music, what should we expect from your show?
We’ll do a little reading from my new book Heroes of a Texas Childhood, 23 heroes of mine when I was a kid. Afterwards, of course, we’ll sign books. I’ll sign anything but bad legislation.
How many of those heroes are still alive?
Two of them—Willie Nelson and a man named Racehorse Haynes, a very famous defense lawyer in eastern Texas.
You’ve recently recorded readings of your books. What was it like revisiting them?
It was quite amazing reading that stuff again. I hadn’t looked at it in 30 years, some if it. Of course, the songs I’ll be singing are older than a lot of the people in the audience. But it seems to work. A lot of the young people do know all the songs. And doing it solo is an unusual thing for me. This tour is kind of in the Townes Van Zandt/Woody Guthrie spirit.
How did you and Jim Nabors become good friends?
We met through Ruth Buzzi, the lady who hit people in the head with her purse on “Laugh-In.” She told me to look him up when I was in Hawaii because I go out there a lot. So I called him and he came over and said, [in a Gomer Pyle voice] “I’d love to show you my nuts!” And, of course, he’s got this big macadamia nut plantation. Speaking for myself, I am not gay, OK? I am not gay.
Here’s a great story Jim Nabors told me once in Hawaii. It was 1964 when the “Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.” show was number one in the country. Muhammad Ali’s mother and little brother were big fans and came out to see a taping of the show. Someone asked Jim if he’d say hello to Cassius Clay’s mom and the kid. So Jim invited the mother and the kid to lunch at the commissary. He really liked the mother because she was kind of a down-home Kentucky gal and Jim was from Alabama and everybody else there was from Hollywood, of course. They had a really great time together that afternoon, took pictures, signed autographs, and hung out. Then he hugged them both, said good-bye, and he never saw them again. 25 years later, he’s in Le Dome Restaurant in L.A., having dinner, and this buzz starts around the restaurant that Ali and his entourage are there. And Jim’s not going to approach Ali because he’s never met the man, and also because there’s all these stories in the media that Ali’s lost his memory and lost his mind from boxing for two decades. So Jim just goes on with his meal and about halfway through he feels this presence behind him and then a tap on his shoulder and Ali is standing there. And Ali leans over to Jim and says, “Thanks for being so nice to my momma and my little brother,” and then he walks off. This shows how long an act of kindness can float around the universe. &