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