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Kinky Victorious

photo by Brian Kanof

Texas music legend, mystery novelist, humorist, and erstwhile political candidate Kinky Friedman returns to Sportsmen’s Tavern

Earlier this year, former Texas gubernatorial candidate Kinky Friedman forced a runoff election for the office of Texas state agriculture commissioner on the Democratic Party line, ultimately losing by eight percentage points. On the eve of embarking on a two-week solo jaunt from Texas to Toronto dubbed the “Kinky Friedman Victory Tour,” the storied songwriter explained his most recent political run to Artvoice.

“Politics’ loss has been music and literature’s gain as far as I’m concerned,” he says, from his home in Medina, Texas. “I was running on a platform to legalize marijuana and hemp in the state of Texas. I guess I should have known. Texas is not quite ready yet.”

While not a pot smoker himself, except while on Willie Nelson’s tour bus “as a matter of custom,” he hammered on the points that we waste millions on the war on drugs, needlessly fill up the courts and prisons and are missing out on an economic boon through taxing the legal use of recreational marijuana as well as commercial hemp production—emphasizing that hemp is an environmentally friendly crop and so on. It’s pointed out that New York is similarly behind other states in the move to end marijuana prohibition. “A lot of ‘em aren’t ready. They ought to look at Colorado and see that they should be ready, though.”

Those who saw Friedman’s performance here two years ago—his first musical performance in Buffalo in 39 years—know they can expect an intimate evening filled with hilarious stories, funny songs and some genuinely touching moments. This time around, fans can expect to hear “Ride ‘Em, Jewboy,” which is a poignant tribute to victims of the Holocaust from his 1973 release Sold American. Many years later he learned of a special fan who listened to it over and over in his prison cell.

“About 1996 I was on a book tour in South Africa doing an interview on a national TV show, when another guest on the show—a politician and anti-apartheid activist named Tokyo Sexwale—said he wanted to talk to me after the show. So he says ‘You know, Kinky, (Nelson) Mandela’s a big fan of yours.’

“I said ‘You’re kidding, man! Which book?’ He said ‘It’s not the books at all. It’s the music.’”

For the 13 years that Sexwale served at the Robben Island maximum-security prison, for terrorism and conspiracy, Mandela was in the cell next to his. Supporters would smuggle in tape cassettes to the political prisoners. One of them was Sold American.

“Tokyo said the song he (Mandela) would play every night before he went to bed—sometimes repeatedly, and he did this for months and months and months—was “Ride ‘Em Jewboy,” he recalls.

The emotion cresting in Friedman’s voice brought his narrative to a moment of silence.

He then cracked wise: “For instance, Joseph Heller’s favorite song of mine was ‘They Ain’t Making Jews Like Jesus Anymore.’ Bill Clinton’s favorite was ‘Waitress, Please Waitress, Come Sit on My Face.’ That stands to reason. But it’s a measure of the man, the fact that for Mandela, that that was the song he liked is really remarkable.”

“This whole thing is almost like a fairy tale. I didn’t talk about it, but I had three people who knew about it: Sexwale, Dali Tambo (son of ANC stalwart Oliver Tambo), and Helen Suzman (Jewish liberal South African anti-apartheid activist and politician). I never met Mandela, but I started thinking about the time that I made that record in Nashville in 1973. We were trying to keep it pure, outlaw country—wondering if there was a hit, and if the DJs would play anything. And they will tell you you never know who you’re gonna reach. The last thing on my mind was that Nelson Mandela would be listening to this song repeatedly in a prison cell on Robben Island.”

Fans of Friedman’s mystery writing will be pleased to learn that he’s putting the finishing touches on a new novel entitled The Hard-Boiled Computer—his first in nearly a decade. He offers a preview:

“It’s the story of two identical twin girls, who are gorgeous—one of whom goes missing. It’s a missing persons case. A lot of it is real stuff provided by my friend Steve Rambam—who has his own TV show premiering on the Discovery ID channel called Nowhere to Hide. Steve tells you how to disappear. And if you want to find somebody who is missing, you have to arrange a disappearance in reverse, sort of. I’m enjoying writing it, and it’s funny. But it’s also pretty much a procedural, you know, on how you would find a missing person,” he says.

Friedman says he’s feeling really good about being out on the road again, and he’s looking forward to returning to the Sportsmen’s Tavern.

“That was a really great crowd there last time—a lot of Levon (Helm) folks and all kinds of people. Hey look, Buffalo’s cool. A lot of these towns are Austin? I call Austin ‘Dallas with guitars.’ That’s really what it’s kind of become. It’s about half a million people who all think they’re cool—and they all come from L.A. That’s what you’ve got. And if you come from Buffalo to Austin you might think it’s great for a while—but it won’t take you long. A place like Lubbock, you know, there’s a real town with real people. Buffalo—a real place. New York and Washington—they’re not real. No, I’m really looking forward to Buffalo. That was a treasure of a crowd last time, and this time will even be better, I think.”

Kinky Friedman returns to the Sportsmen’s Tavern (326 Amherst Street) on August 13 for a 7pm show. Opening will be Buffalo songwriter Buck Quigley, who is also Managing Editor of Artvoice, and the author of this interview. $30 advance / $35 door.

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