INTERVIEWS

Interview: Kinky Friedman

Before Kinky Friedman became a best-selling author of mystery novels, or ran for the Governor of Texas as an Independent in 2006 (coming in fourth out of six candidates), he recorded some of the funniest country music ever committed to tape. His best known songs include “They Ain’t Makin’ Jews Like Jesus Anymore”, “Ride ‘Em Jewboy”, and “Get Your Biscuits in the Oven and Your Buns in the Bed”, which aren’t exactly hymns to political correctness, but they probably will make you laugh, and might even make you think.

This interview was done by phone on 11/26/12, and was for a preview article for Friedman’s shows on 12/8/12 at the Maverick Saloon in Santa Ynez, California, and on 12/9/12 at Zoey’s Cafe in Ventura California. (Larry Pullen photo)


Jeff Moehlis: Do you have any thoughts on the recent Presidential election?

Kinky Friedman: Very few. I’m not very impressed with any of the people in Washington right now. Lately I think they tend to follow a Neville Chamberlain mode, instead of a Winston Churchill mode. I don’t see anybody there that’s really made any courageous decisions. I would like to see someone like Harry Truman or Barbara Jordan, someone like that, someone with a little bit of Sam Houston’s integrity. And I don’t.

Also, now that… Horseshit! Famous Texas horseshit sneeze. Sorry, Jeff.

I had one joke about Romney, and I don’t even know if that works now that he’s lost. My only political joke is: I have great respect for Romney because of his belief in the traditional Mormon marriage doctrine. That’s not “same sex”, it’s “same six”.

Basically these guys in Washington, we should limit them all to two terms. One in office, and one in prison.

JM: Do you still have any political aspirations?


KF: Well, now that you ask, I’m reviewing the possibility of running for Governor in the Democratic primary. That would be March 2014. I don’t think that Jesus Christ could get elected here as an Independent. So I think that’s the way to go. And I would run as an old-time Blue Dog Harry Truman Democrat. Were I to win that, I think we’d be in great shape. I think we’d get a lot of Independent votes, and a lot of Republican votes as well.

When I ran in 2006, people were so concerned, you know, do you want a comedian in the Governor’s mansion? And now we realize that we’ve had one for twelve fucking years.

JM: What can you tell me about the upcoming tour in California?

KF: Well, when you do a Bi-polar Tour, a fact-finding mission, we’re calling it, a Bi-polar Tour is when we’re doing 28 shows in 27 days. And what that does is it puts you running on adrenaline. There’s really a lot of Woody Guthrie and Townes Van Zandt in this show, and a little bit of Judy Garland as well.

JM: Could you explain the Judy Garland?

KF: There’s just a moment in each show, and I don’t know where it’s going to fall, where the rapport with the audience is Judy Garland-like. I am not gay, all right?

This will be a solo tour, the whole thing. So that really is different from what I have been doing. But it worked beautifully on the East Coast, and I think it’s going to be great in California.

It’s politics, humor, songs. A lot of the songs will be older that most of the people in the audience. And yet, they work. Which either means I was a songwriter of great vision, or that the audience will be a very fractured audience. They’re not narrow-casted. If you went to see a show like my pal Jimmy Buffett’s show, everybody would be kind of a middle-aged lawyer trying to go back to a happier time. But this show that I’m currently doing will draw a bunch of people there because of the music, a bunch because of the books, and a bunch because of the politics. There’s a little bit of Will Rogers in here, too. It should go well. It should be a financial pleasure.


We’ll also have available for the first time in California Kinky Friedman’s Man in Black Tequila. Everybody will get a free tasting, and I think we’ll auction some of it to benefit Animal Utopia Rescue Ranch. I tell you, this isn’t your father’s tequila. This is your grandfather’s gardener’s tequila.

JM: Sounds great. When you’re traveling, what do you miss most about Texas?

KF: Nothing. Well, barbeque and Mexican food. That’s about it. That’s all we eat, anyway. So without barbeque and Mexican food I move on to very, very, very spicy Thai curry and Vietnamese soup.

JM: On the night you’re performing in Ventura, it turns out that Snoop Dogg is also performing in town. Are you a fan of Snoop Dogg?


KF: [laughs] Well, I am now. I think he’s helped the book that I did along with Willie [Nelson] a great deal. I also recommend that everybody pick it up. It makes a great gift for Hanukkah or Christmas. That would be Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die, which is now number 14 on the New York Times bestseller list. I wrote the forward to it.

JM: Willie and Snoop Dogg did the songs together [“Superman” and “Roll Me Up”], and that was a bit of a surprising collaboration although it totally works. What is your most surprising collaboration that you’ve done?


KF: Well, probably this Willie book. This was two years in the making, and getting Willie to sign on to do another book at 80 years old… I think he’s probably right what he told Matt Lauer on the Today Show last week. When Matt asked him, “Why would you write a book at age 80?”, Willie said “Because my good friend Kinky Friedman paid me a lot of money.” Wasn’t really my money, but if I hadn’t have been there it wouldn’t have happened. So it did happen, and I’m very happy to see this book doing so well. This is a good book, too. This has got a lot of little insights and stuff. Well worth picking up.

By the way, at the shows I’ll do a reading from Heroes of a Texas Childhood. Twenty-three heroes of mine from when I was a kid. That’ll be available after the show for signing, and of course I will sign anything but bad legislation.


JM: Going back in time a little bit, are there any stories from your tour with Bob Dylan and the Rolling Thunder Revue that you’re willing to share?

KF: Well, the really good ones are probably best unshared. You know, that was a great tour, and it was a great experience. Playing for 50,000 people – it’s very easy. When you walk on the stage, you’re already a star. As Robert Frost said, “Hell is a half-filled auditorium.” When you’ve really go the crowd already there, it’s pretty easy.

We went to Mexico once. We took a break from the tour. It was Bob and me and Dennis Hopper. We went to Yelapa, a little island that has no electricity or anything. On the plane we had to fly coach, because there was no first class. I was sitting on one side of Bob, and on the other side was just a girl that was on the flight, who was getting very excited that she was sitting next to Bob Dylan. She started shouting, “I’m sitting next to Bob Dylan! I can’t believe it! I can’t believe it! I’m sitting next to Bob Dylan!” And Bob leaned over to her and said, “Pinch yourself.” I remember that.

Then we went out on the beach, in Yelapa. There’s maybe hundreds of people on the island, not many really, and there seemed to be no one on the beach. We sat out, and Bob opened up his guitar case, and just like magic people started gathering around. Pretty soon there was a crowd. He just put the guitar away, and he said he really like it better when people were talking and eating while he was playing. He liked the old days better.


JM: Along the same lines, any stories you’re willing to share from hanging out with Led Zeppelin?

KF: Yeah, that’s a very long time ago. The guy who was bugled to Jesus, who was he, John Bonham?

JM: Yeah, John Bonham, the drummer.

KF: The drummers always go first. I mean, they’re the craziest. Keith Moon, too. Bonham I liked. We just drank Black Mary’s all the way, which was a Bloody Mary with about one-third Worcestershire Sauce in it. Maybe that’s what killed him. It certainly stunted my growth.

Then I urinated backstage next to Jimmy Page. I also urinated next to Groucho Marx and Donald Rumsfeld.

JM: [laughs] That’s quite a collection.


KF: Once I took a Nixon, you know, took a dump backstage in Colorado on the Bob Dylan tour… There were three outhouses there, three porta potties. I was in the middle one. Just as I was coming out the other two doors opened as well, and on my left was Joan Baez, and on my right was Alan Ginsberg. Letting the possum out. It was a spiritual bond. Joan Baez and Alan Ginsberg there.

JM: There was some synchronicity there, I’d say.

KF: Yeah, there was something there.

JM: What advice would you give to an aspiring musician, or an aspiring author, or in your case, an aspiring politician?


KF: The advice is easy – stop before it’s too late. I remember the story of Johnny Gimble, one of the greatest fiddle players who ever lived. When he was about five years old he told his mother, “Mama, when I grow up I’m gonna be a musician.” His mother said, “Well make up your mind son, because you can’t do both.” And that’s about right. In spite of what Johnny Gimble’s mother said, it’s still true that that being a musician is a much higher calling than being a politician.

That’s what makes the Bi-polar Tour fun, is you sail as close to the truth as you can, without sinking the ship. So there will be songs like “They Ain’t Makin’ Jews Like Jesus Anymore”, and “Ride ‘Em Jewboy”, “Get Your Biscuits in the Oven and Your Buns in the Bed”, “I’m Proud to be an Asshole from El Paso”. And a bunch of others. It’s pretty incredible – these songs do more than hold up, they really connect.

It’s been a long, long time since I’ve done this much touring. There’s 35 shows lined up in Europe, starting in April. And then Australia. So what the hell? I mean, it’s a privilege to be able to do this.

I don’t know, I would say part of the success is the tequila. That does help me. Kinky Friedman tequila, Man in Black Tequila. It makes you feel good for a short period of time. It’s kind of like Barry Manilow music. That’s what the culture wants, and that’s what I want. Of course, what I’m striving for is what some of these geezers are doing, like Willie, and Piss Pisstofferson – Billy Joe Shaver calls him Piss Pisstofferson. And Billy Joe Shaver, and Bob Dylan. And of course the late, great Levon Helm. These guys, they write songs that might make you think, and that might last a lifetime. Barry Manilow does songs that make you feel good for a short period of time. And he’s of course richer than God.

I strive to follow the model of these geezers. They’re older than me, and I look up to them for wisdom and advice. Once in a while I get it from Willie. Willie gave me some good advice recently. He told me, “If you’re gonna have sex with an animal, always make it a horse. Because that way, if thing don’t work out at least you know you’ve got a ride home.”

JM: [laughs] Words of wisdom. It sounds like you’re touring quite a bit now. Do you have anything else in the works? New books, or new CDs coming out?


KF: Yeah, there is one that will available on the tour, The Bi-polar Tour Live from Woodstock. That’s the latest. So we’ll have that, and we’ll see how the Willie book does. Maybe we’ll even do another mystery now, after the success of this one. This is turning out to be a real financial pleasure for the Kinkster.

JM: That’s good to hear. When you say “Live at Woodstock”, which of course is recently recorded, it makes me wonder, what were you doing when the original Woodstock concert was going on?

KF: I think I was in Borneo in the Peace Corps. Yeah, I missed out on that.

JM: Well, it turns out that I wasn’t born yet, so I missed it, too.

KF: The other thing is, I meet almost everybody in the crowd when they come in. Kind of like a Walmart greeter, that I might become if my career goes south. You hear some great stuff before and after the show. A young guy comes up to me and he says, “It’s nice to see somebody who’s enjoying his life.” And another one said, “I like the way you’ve lived your life.” You know, it is a spiritual kind of thing, traveling very light, with no pickers, nobody there with you.

There will be a guy opening the show who is terrific, a mad Hungarian, Brian Molnar from New Jersey. A terrific singer-songwriter. He’ll open the show. But basically, I have some wisdom to impart to the folks. One of the things that I like to remind them is that “Jesus Loves You” can be very comforting words, unless you hear them in a Mexican prison.

JM: [laughs] Do you want to set the record straight on anything about your music, your writing, or anything to do with your career?

KF: No, just doing this forty years later without ever having a big hit is really a privilege. It’s remarkable. And I enjoy it. And I think I suffer from the curse of being multi-talented. That’s always been the problem. Being an author, and a musician, and running a rescue ranch, which by the way for any animal lovers is utopiarescue.com.

I should say that Man in Black Tequila, which I hope everybody will be able to drink some of this Mexican mouthwash – I tell you, it’s the best Mexican mouthwash you’ll every gargle. Man in Black salutes Zorro, Paladin, and Johnny Cash. And everybody will be able to have a swig of this, and then I think we’ll auction some of it off to benefit Utopia. It’ll be a good night. I’m looking forward to both Santa Ynez and Ventura, where I’ve never been.


JM: Are they making Jews like Kinky Friedman anymore?

KF: Somewhere they are. They don’t seem to in America. American Jews are not very inspirational, with the exception of some of the rebels, the Bob Dylans, the Lenny Bruces, that crowd. Most of them seem pretty politically weak, and they’re not an inspirational group. I don’t know, one would think that they would support Israel more than they do, maybe. But we don’t need to get into all that.

JM: That’s a long conversation.

KF: The best thing about being a Jew is being on the outside looking in. That’s an important angle. If you can stay there, you might make a good artist. If you can stay outside of the country club like Lieutenant Columbo, and observe what they do.


JM: Is it correct that you recently did a tour of Australia with Van Dyke Parks?

KF: We sure did. Seventeen shows, and every one of them I would say could be described by my favorite two words in the English language, “Sold out”. He’s the greatest. He’s a fucking genius.

JM: He seems to operate on a higher plane.

KF: We call that masturbating tiny baby chipmunks. Van Dyke is an old friend, and a real inspiring guy. They don’t get any more talented than Van Dyke Parks.

JM: Where are you speaking to me from?

KF: Right from the heart of Texas. A ranch. My private, cluttered sanctum in here. Yeah, about an hour from San Antonio, two hours from Austin. One of the reasons they call me the Governor of the Heart of Texas. One of the reasons.


I think there’s a real shot, because there’s been a political drought in Texas for 22 years, ever since Ann Richards, where one party has controlled every single statewide position. That’s never any good. That’s ripe for corruption and sloth, and that’s about all we’ve had. I hope to break that political drought. I hope to be the rainmaker.

JM: My brother lives in Texas, and he said that Ann Richards looked like my grandmother. So that of course made me instantly like her.

KF: Ann looked like everybody’s grandmother.

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