Cultural contrarian Kinky Friedman rides a fresh burst of musical creativity into Santa Monica
By Andy Vasoyan
What do you call a man like Kinky Friedman? Raconteur, satirist and troublemaker all apply — but such descriptions only scratch the surface of more than four decades in the public eye as a musician, writer, political candidate and cultural provocateur.
Kinky Friedman and his band The Texas Jewboys (“Kinky” refers to his hair) toured with Bob Dylan during the first wave of country rock in the 1970s — not long after the National Organization for Women named Friedman “Male Chauvinist Pig of the Year,” likely over a country-western tune called “Get Your Biscuits in the Oven and Your Buns in the Bed.” (His “Austin City Limits” special was deemed too offensive to broadcast).
Friedman, now 73, has written 20 mystery novels and kept a regular column in Texas Monthly until running for governor in 2006 as an anti-establishment independent. Friedman didn’t beat Rick Perry, but he got more than half a million votes.
On Saturday, Friedman visits McCabe’s Guitar Shop to celebrate the launch of a hardcover biography — Mary Lou Sullivan’s “Everything’s Bigger in Texas: The Life and Times of Kinky Friedman” — and play music from his new album, titled “Resurrection.”
The Argonaut: Can you tell us a little about the book?
Kinky Friedman: On the cover of the book we’ve got this Bob Dylan quote, and here’s what he says: “I don’t understand music. I understand Lightnin’ Hopkins. I understand Lead Belly, John Lee Hooker, Woody Guthrie and Kinky Friedman.” I think that says a lot … although what I’m finding out is people don’t even know who the f–k these people are! I mean they don’t know who I am either, but they don’t even know Woody Guthrie! I’m the only one alive from the group. Everyone I love and respect and am inspired by died broke and miserable, for the most part.
You’re a very funny guy — you can make people laugh — and here you are talking about dying miserable?
Well, you have to be! Being miserable is very important if you want to be an artist, quite seriously. If you want to be an artist and you’re a happy camper, you’re like the guy who sits down and says “I’m gonna write the great American novel” — and doesn’t. Those things are done by guys trying to pay the rent, like Herman Melville with “Moby Dick.”
And I was going to wish you a belated happy birthday.
Thanks. I can’t f–kin’ believe it. I’m losing my hearing, and I am 73, though I read at the 75-year-old level. If you’re going deaf, you can make up more interesting things than what people are really saying.
My other option is to get one of those antique ear trumpets.
You’re only two years older than President Donald Trump, of whom you’ve been supportive. How would you say that’s going?
I think he’s doing fine. As Billy Joe Shaver reminded me, Jesus rode in on a jackass. Trump in a way is like that. What I mean when I say Jesus rode in on a jackass is that no one expected anything out of Trump, and they mocked him, but it could well be that he grows into the office. It could well be that he becomes something; not just the guy bragging about his golf courses and country club. Now remember, Lt. Columbo was always outside the country club, on the outside looking in. That’s where you want to be, especially as an artist or a writer.
Is that where you feel you come in?
The one thing about the biography is that it chronicles a guy — who I guess is myself — on this Quixotic journey, with his band called The Texas Jewboys, with songs like “Asshole From El Paso,” “Get Your Biscuits in the Oven and Your Buns in the Bed,” and “They Ain’t Makin’ Jews Like Jesus Anymore.” I guess I’m a bit like Jesus: I’m a skinny Jewish guy, I’ve never been married, never had a job. All I do is travel around the countryside irritating people. I’ve been against political correctness from the start.
Is there any particular time you can remember irritating the hell out of someone?
That’s a very small piece of my life and what the book is about, but yeah, I did irritate a lot of people. The name of the band alone irritated the record company. We would have had a record deal with Warner Brothers back in 1973, but the CEO was Jewish, and he said “I love this record … but what would I tell my mother?”
How does that relate to your audience? There are a lot of devoted Democrats in Santa Monica.
Well, I think you do it like Willie Nelson does, which is that you don’t know his political views on stage. That’s how it should be, even though that’s part of who I am. I think we stay above the political casino, if possible. But I’ve got a liberal bend to me too. When I was seven I was campaigning for Adlai Stevenson. I’ve liked Bill [Clinton], and I always have. But I don’t respect him, not like I once did.
How long do you plan to keep writing songs on such a prolific pace? Just keep churning and burning?
I think that’s the Willie Nelson approach, yeah. Of course, he’s my shrink. He called one night last year at about three in the morning, and he said, “Kinky, what are you doin’?” I told him I was watching “Matlock.” He said “That’s a sure sign of depression. Turn him off and start writing.” I got inspired, and wrote about 13 new songs in the space of about three months, because I was pretty lonely and miserable at the ranch by myself. After I finished, I called Willie back, spoke to him about the songs, and then asked how he was doing. He said a little up, a little down, and then he stopped and said: “By the way, Kinky, what channel is ‘Matlock’ on?”
Kinky Friedman performs at 8 and 10 p.m. Saturday (Nov. 18) at McCabe’s Guitar Shop, 3101 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica. Tickets are $35. Call (310) 828-4497 or visit mccabes.com.