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The Return of Kinky Friedman
by Buck Quigley
Country music legend, mystery novelist, American humorist, and former Texas gubernatorial candidate Kinky Friedman comes back to Buffalo after a 39-year absence
The year was 1973, when a 29-year-old singer from Austin, Texas, named Kinky Friedman led his band, the Texas Jewboys, into one of their signature songs at a performance before a crowd of college students in Buffalo. It was the height of the women’s liberation movement, and the satirical nature of his song, “Get Your Biscuits in the Oven and Your Buns in the Bed,” was lost on some of those in attendance. A lot of country stars get mobbed by women, but not many get mobbed by irate women.
“Well, they weren’t just women,” recalls Richard “Kinky” Friedman, from his home in the Texas hill country. “This was a lesbian coalition. And they were fighting with the Texas Jewboys—and they were winning. So, that’s when the police came in and gave us a police escort off campus.
“That was not as amusing as it may sound. During the course of that song they began charging the stage and wrecking the equipment, and it got out of hand. It really would have gotten out of hand if the cops weren’t there. That was the same year that I received the Male Chauvinist Pig of the Year award from the National Organization for Women—1973.
“So this is my triumphant return to Buffalo,” he says. “I’ve stayed away for a fucking lifetime. Which is fine, because Buffalo is my kind of town. I like Buffalo, but I really haven’t been performing on the road that much. Now I’m starting to do that—realizing that being a musician is a very high calling. Especially compared with being a politician. It’s probably true that musicians could better run our country, compared with politicians. We wouldn’t get a hell of a lot done in the morning, but we’d work late, and we’d be on it.”
Instead of running government like a business, we suggest, what about running government like a band?
“That’s a very good idea,” Friedman replies. “Extend the whole thing. Creative solutions to problems. Improvisation. And, when you’re in a room full of musicians, you’re with some really decent people—that’s not true of politicians, or lawyers, or bankers, or real estate guys. No, they’re all full of shit.”
This time around, Friedman is performing solo, hitting two dozen venues throughout the Northeast in the month of June alone. What can audiences expect to experience on what’s being billed as “Kinky Friedman’s Bi-Polar Tour”?
“This will be mostly a musical concert. Kind of a Jewish troubadour strikes again. Solo, like a Lee Harvey Oswald, party-of-one kind of thing. A Woody Guthrie spirit, or a Townes Van Zandt, or Will Rogers spirit. A little bit of Judy Garland in there, of course.
“Most of the songs will be older than many people in the audience,” he predicts. “There’ll be young people that know all the lyrics. A very, I think, eclectic audience—which makes for a genius audience, which makes for a genius performance every time. What I’m really saying is, some people will be there because they were fans in the ’70s—those we refer to as ‘insects trapped in amber.’ And there will be people who’ve read the books. Maybe some political types who’ve seen me on television—which, by the way, when I ran, independent, for the governor of Texas in 2006—we won that race every place but Texas.”
Those who have become fans through reading Friedman’s numerous books will not be disappointed by his Buffalo appearance. “We’ll do a reading, too, from Heroes of a Texas Childhood,” he says. “It’s about 23 heroes of mine from when I was a kid. The book will be available for signing afterward, and of course, I will sign anything—but bad legislation.”
We asked about his future political aspirations. Would he consider running for office again, say, at the presidential level?
“President’s hard. Governor is easy. What I’m giving some thought to is running in the Democratic primary in 2014 for Governor of Texas. That, I think, I would have a good shot at winning if I ran in an old-time, Harry Truman, happy lawyer kind of a style. And if we won that I think I would have a great chance to be governor because I think all of the independents and a lot of the Republicans would also support me.”
Friedman has a lot of life experience to draw on. As a young man he served in the Peace Corps in Borneo, Malaysia. Now, looking back, he seems rightfully proud of his irreverent contributions to country music—a genre that hasn’t always been the most progressive in terms of social commentary.
“Some of these songs, like ‘They Ain’t Making Jews Like Jesus Anymore,’ have really come full-circle,” he says. “People are really understanding them better. Thank the Lord we have songs like that because we’re already drowning in political correctness. I mean, to the point that if a young Richard Pryor walked into the room we couldn’t make a star of him today. We’re at that level, and it’s really too bad. Now, it’s gratifying to be able to play—to be on the road as a musician, do this thing solo, acoustic, with no record label, and have it work. To have people come. That’s really nice after all this time.”
Friedman talks about his transition to writing detective novels in the 1980s at a time when his music career had stalled.
“It was mostly desperation, I think. I was still performing a little at the Lone Star Café in New York, though I was doing a lot of Peruvian marching powder. It was not a particularly good time for the Kinkster. So, at the low point I started writing. I think that might be a key. You want to write when you’re at the low point—desperation level.”
He likens it to the country songwriting scene. “You look at all the songs coming out of Nashville for the last 30 years—have you heard even one good one? No. I mean, nothing new that’s coming out is worth a shit. You’re not hearing [Kris Kristofferson’s] ‘Sunday Morning Coming Down,’ or [Roger Miller’s]‘King of the Road,’ or [Willie Nelson’s] ‘Hello Walls.’ Those were written by drunk, confused, broke guys, you know? Guys who—by definition of an artist—were ahead of their time and behind the trend. Yet that’s who they were—Willie, and Kristofferson, and Roger Miller.”
Friedman’s own catalog of songs ranges from the outrageously funny to the starkly insightful to the sweetly sentimental. Several of his tunes have been beautifully covered by artists like Dwight Yoakam (“Rapid City, South Dakota”), Lyle Lovett (“Sold American”), and Willie Nelson (“Ride ’em Jewboy”)—the latter being a Holocaust lament. What does he think has changed on the songwriting front?
“You look at what’s wrong with the music today and it’s probably the Barry Manilow syndrome. You know, Barry Manilow is more successful than God. He’s very talented. And he writes songs that make you feel good for a short period of time—which is what we want. I’m 67, though I read at the 69-year-old level. I’m not as old as these other guys, so I’m recommending, while you can, see Bob Dylan, or Kristofferson, or Willie, or Merle [Haggard], or Billy Joe Shaver, and you’ll really be inspired. Instead of something that’ll make you feel good for a short period of time, you’ll have something that may last a lifetime. A song that may make you think.”
He pauses, and adds: “It’s too late to see Levon Helm. That’s a loss. Boy, just to see Levon play was to see what rock and roll was. The last of a breed, no question.”
Friedman then perks up when he talks about breeds of another sort. A project dear to his heart is the Utopia Animal Rescue Ranch, headquartered on a section of the family land in Medina, Texas.
“Any animal lover should check out UtopiaRescue.com. It’s a never-kill animal sanctuary we’ve been running for almost 15 years, during which time we’ve adopted thousands of dogs, donkeys, horses, pigs, chickens—any animal at death’s door, stray and abused, we will take. We say money may buy you a fine dog, but only love can make him wag his tail. We all need to be defenders of the strays.”
Kinky Friedman makes his triumphant return to Buffalo at the Sportsmen’s Tavern on Wednesday, June 27, at 7:30pm. Tickets, if you can get them, are $35.blog comments powered by Disqus
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