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Friday, 25 November 2011 11:05

'Most of these songs today suck' An interview with Kinky Friedman

'Most of these songs today suck' An interview with Kinky Friedman facebook.com/pages/Kinky-Friedman/182758791772472
Written by Kris Embry
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Kinky Friedman has said that "only Jews and cowboys can wear their hats indoors. Try to be one or the other." And Kinky should know.

Not only is he both Jewish and a cowboy, but he wears a lot of hats. A country singer, humorist, mystery writer and former politician, he even has his own line of cigars. Friedman is, in his own words, "multi-talented."

I had the chance to talk to Friedman recently, and he spoke at length on a variety of topics including country music, the sorry state of American politics and his "Hanukkah Tour," which he will bring to Off Broadway on December 2. He answers his phone, "Start talking."

Kris Embry: If I'm not mistaken it was your birthday yesterday [November 1]? Is that correct?

Kinky Friedman: Don't remind me. I'm 67 though I read at the 69-year-old level.

Well, happy birthday, anyway. I have to admit I thought of you mainly as a writer. But you began your career primarily as a musician. Is that still your first love?

Yes, but I'm ambivalent about performing, about being a country singer. And anybody who uses the word ambivalent should never have been a country singer in the first place. But yeah, this is something that is dear to my heart, doing a solo tour like this. And it's also the curse of being multi-talented. That never helps. I'm going to do a reading from the book, "Heroes of a Texas Childhood," which is the latest, and we'll have that book available as well. And of course there'll be the music, the songs, then we'll dabble in some politics. That was a great crowd last time at Off Broadway. I don't remember when that was, but back a ways ago.

So you're not touring with a band?

No, this will be solo.

You've certainly toured around a lot in the past. Do you still enjoy being on the road doing this sort of thing?

I do, and that's why I'm doing this. That's why the "Hanukkah Tour" is happening. And of course it's a financial pleasure touring solo. I noticed Kristofferson just did a solo tour, and really that's what you want. You want to be able to hear him sing "Me and Bobby McGee" by himself. You know, we don't need some hot mandolin player from Los Angeles with him. That's not very important. And I find the songs really hold up. "They Ain't Makin' Jews Like Jesus Anymore" tells us a lot about what's happened to our country in terms of political correctness.

Right. Well, I saw the picture advertising the show. It looks like it's going to be a pretty orthodox affair.

(Laughs) I suppose, yeah. We will have those posters available, too. And, of course, I will sign anything but bad legislation. So, a very nice gift for Hanukkah or Christmas.

A couple of your nonfiction books feature cartoons by John Callahan, who is a very funny cartoonist. How did you end up working with him?

John was an old friend of mine, and John was bugled to Jesus, I think last year.

Yeah, that's right.

And I was in Portland and we did kind of a memorial show. But John, along with the tragedy of being a quadriplegic, which is never easy, especially for someone like John, who was such a vibrant spirit. Ah, but the crazy never die. Callahan's cartoons are worth the price of admission. And that is in the book "What Would Kinky Do?" I have a few of those left, but not many. I hope they last 'til St. Louis.

Some of your books are now available as eBooks. But you don't even own a computer. I take it you're not a very hi-tech guy.

You'd be correct. Yeah, that's right, but there is gonna be a hi-tech aspect to this show. There is a thing called the "Kinky Nano" with over 200 songs of mine, many of which are just impossible to find. That will be available at the show. And we may have some audio books as MP3s. We may have that available, as well as the actual books and the posters. So we'll have all of that stuff, it makes great Christmas presents for sick people.

You mentioned politics earlier, and, of course, you ran for governor of Texas in 2006. Any plans to run for office again in the future?

Well, I certainly hope not, but it's kind of a Woodstock thing down here in Texas. Everyone I meet, that comes up to me at airports, claims they voted for me, which is impossible, or I would've won. Or the election was rigged, which is very possible. But I have left my last will and testament, which is when I die I'm to be cremated and the ashes are to be thrown in Rick Perry's hair.

You ran as a Republican in that race…

No, no, I didn't. I ran for governor as an independent.

My mistake.

If I'd run as Republican, well, first of all I don't have the money to be a Republican. You have to have millions to win a Republican primary. If I'd done that I probably would have won, because I have equal support amongst Democrats and Republicans. But you can't get past the primary system, that's really the problem. Those people are purists, they don't care who can win. They just care who shares their views on abortion or something like that.

Your political ideas seem to take a pretty common sense approach to things. What do you think the country needs today?

Well, never reelect anybody, that's a good starter. And I think my definition pretty well holds true of politics. Poly means more than one and ticks are bloodsucking parasites. And that's what we have, basically. People who at one time might've really cared about the country, but right now the only ones who care about the country are the independents and the libertarians. The Democrats and the Republicans, whom I call the "Crips" and the "Bloods," they're just out for power, power and money. And greed. That's how they operate. The Occupy people have that one right.

But greed is the primary focus of most politicians. And these are bad people. Bad people are getting into politics, the good people are staying the hell away. And I don't blame 'em. Myself, I've been called a racist based on the song, "They Ain't Makin' Jews Like Jesus Anymore," which is really an anthem against bigotry.

Here's the problem with politics. Once they call you a racist and the newspapers run with it, "Friedman accused of racism," or whatever, you know. It's kind of shocking the first time you wake up in the morning and see that, and you can't defend it anymore. You can't, once something goes viral, that you are a wife beater or a hit-and-run driver or whatever it is, you can no longer defend yourself. You can go on all the talk shows you want and say, "I didn't do it," but they'll still [say you did]. And the reason for that, I think, is the Internet generation. I mean this new generation, the audience has become the show. The audience and the bloggers are all experts on everything and they've never done anything. And the result is, if you want to see a great show, you've got to see someone older than me. I mean, if you want to be inspired you've got to go see Merle Haggard or Willie Nelson or Bob Dylan. Kristofferson or Billy Joe Shaver. Levon Helm.

That's the only point I'm making, that we could go through St. Louis or Austin, Texas and look at all the young bands any given night and we would never find a young John Lennon, you know, or a young Janis Joplin. They're just not there. You know, there's good musicians, but the songwriting's the same way. I was talking to Willie last week. Willie and I are doing a book called, "The Troublemaker." And I was saying, "How come nobody can write "Hello Walls" today? Nobody can write that song, 'cause it's too good. It's too clever. And it was written out of hard times.

Well, we've got hard times again now.

Yeah, we've got hard times, and I don't understand why the songwriting isn't better. You look at Nashville and they have all these corporate whorehouses, the publishing companies, where three guys sit in a room and they have songwriting appointments, and everything sounds derivative, doesn't it?

It does.

Yeah, now Billy Bob [Thornton], who I'm just completing a book with, he says that if he tells the truth, which is that most of these songs today suck, they all say, "Ah, you're bitter. You're a dinosaur." Or, worse than that, of course. But I think it's true. I think the young people today were born too late and they know it. And every time they see a show, like if they go see Levon Helm, they say, "My God, that's where I should've been." But it's sad, and that's why you don't look for good movies to come out of Hollywood anymore, do you? And you don't look for good politics to come out of Washington.

No, not really, and that's unfortunate, too.

George Washington would be ashamed to see what they've done to the town that bears his name.

I think you're right. I want to thank you for taking the time to talk to me. We look forward to seeing you in St. Louis for the "Hanukkah Tour" in December.

Yeah, we will try to get all the requests that we can of the old songs because that's about all that I play. Most of those songs are older than the audience, not all of the audience, but a lot of the audience. But they seem to know them and that's great. I think it's going to be a hell of an evening. Anybody who's got any questions or any requests or anything like that will be, of course, embraced into the show and I think it's going to be a really good night, the "Hanukkah Tour." And I'll just leave 'em with this advice: Find what you like and let it kill ya.

Kinky Friedman performs at Off Broadway on Friday, December 2.

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