Kinky Friedman,
The TVD Interview

Kinky Friedman is a bona fide legend and Renaissance man. The country singer-songwriter responsible for such great songs as “Ride ‘em Jewboy” and “They Ain’t Makin’ Jews Like Jesus Anymore,” the author responsible for a score of mystery novels starring one Kinky Friedman, private detective, and a candidate for higher office on several occasions, you never know what Friedman is going to get up to next.

His latest triumph is a studio LP, his first in well over three decades, called The Loneliest Man I Ever Met. And it’s a surprise. Absent are the hilarious off-color tunes that made him notorious–the target of attacks by feminists, the Jewish Defense League, and Austin City Limits, which made Kinky’s the only show it ever declined to actually broadcast.

Instead of ribaldry and casual blasphemy, The Loneliest Man I Ever Met is a dead serious affair, featuring three completely wholesome Kinky originals and a handful of G-rated covers by the likes of Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Tom Waits, Warren Zevon, and several others. Okay, so the Zevon song (“My Shit’s Fucked Up”) isn’t G-rated. But Kinky wouldn’t be Kinky if he didn’t step over the line at least once.

I got a chance to talk to Kinky by phone, and he was in prime form, quoting Winston Churchill and the “Hillbilly Dalai Lama” Willie Nelson and in general declining to edit anything that came out of his mouth. It’s what makes him so endearing. The fella just obviously doesn’t give a shit.

I began the interview by asking him why he decided to record a studio LP after decades of silence. He replied, “These aren’t frat party songs. I chose them to be played for a dead sweetheart, a lost cat, a silent witness. I did it for the angels on my shoulder. Friends of mine. This album is romantic. And I’ve always said true love often results in a hostage situation. If you’re going to be a great artist, you’ve got to be tragic. I wish I was a struggling songwriter.”

Speaking of his reinterpretations of other artists’ material—he objects to the term “covers,” saying his takes are “no more covers than Father Damien was a cover of Jesus Christ”—he singled out his version of Tom Waits’ “A Christmas Card From a Hooker in Minneapolis,” telling me, “It’s more a mirror than a song. Hopefully you’re going to realize that many of us make fabrications of our life. Her whole life is a lie except for the last line.” He then confessed, from out of nowhere, to liking Barry Manilow. Flabbergasted, I said, “I like ‘Mandy.’” He replied, “We are the only two white straight males who like “Mandy. Then, to appease folks who might take that the wrong way he added, “I was the first major candidate [during his run for Governor of Texas in 2006] to come out in support of gay marriage. I said why shouldn’t they be as miserable as the rest of us?”

He recorded the LP under the aegis of the Thirty Tigers label, saying, “They’ve come up with a way that you own the whole record. It’s a lousy business. That’s why Willie says he smokes pot; to keep down the rage.” Speaking of Willie, he duets with Kinky on the LP’s opener, the heartbreaker “Bloody Mary Morning,” while Willie’s sister Bobbie Nelson accompanies them on piano. The recording was memorable because Friedman got high with Nelson: “I don’t smoke pot, so I’m really at a handicap there. I was so high I needed a stepladder to find my ass. Willie provided the talent, the studio, and the time, and I gave him an Air Force One Zippo in exchange. I’ve slept in the White House under two presidents, but I am not gay.”

This led him to make some comments on political correctness, which he thinks has gone too far. “We used to call Italians greasers. Now we have to call them Lubricanos. I’ve often said that some of my goals were to be fat, famous, financially fixed, and a faggot by 50.” I asked him whether he really wanted to be quoted saying that, and he replied, “Friedman’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” He then added, “Jim Nabors is a friend and he’s gay. He just got married a couple of years ago. He had the No. 1 show, The Jim Nabors Hour and it got pulled out from under him because of rumors about him and Rock Hudson.”

“Now,” he says, “things have gone too far in the other direction. I played “They Ain’t Makin’ Jews Like Jesus Anymore” [which includes the word “nigger,” along with a bunch of other derogatory terms] at B.B. King’s club in New York City last year and the all-black staff there loved it. They didn’t give me any shit for it. There’s too much political correctness. You couldn’t make Blazing Saddles now, for instance. I feel the same way about smoking bans. Things are the way they are because our shit’s fucked up. It’s ridiculous and it’s going to be very spiritually dangerous for us.”

But back to the recording process. The bulk of the songs were recorded at Friedman’s ranch, with minimal instrumentation. (In addition to Nelson and his sister on one song, the recording includes sole remaining Texas Jewboy Little Jewford (aka Jeff Shelby), guitarist Joe Cirotti, and Mickey Raphael, Nelson’s harmonica player). And Kinky knew what he wanted. “I told Mickey that I wanted a palpably early skinny Bob Dylan Jewish harmonica sound. Mickey replied, ‘This isn’t karaoke.’”

Kinky also credited producer Brian Molnar of NYC’s The Naked Hearts for providing the proper ambience. “Brian is the reason we have a record. He brought an old microphone and it gave us an intimacy it wouldn’t have otherwise had. I can’t believe how Brian did this record. I don’t even know how he got that voice out of me.”

Friedman had nothing good to say about the New Nashville: “Today’s country songs are bland as hell. They sound like they were written by committee. We live in a Miley Cyrus world, we really do. I was born at the wrong time. I want to be with that crowd around Gram Parsons when he died. Bob Dylan (with whom he played on the second leg of the Rolling Thunder Revue) told me I started too late.”

As for the forthcoming tour, Friedman said, “Willie is recommending 33 shows in 33 nights. That way you’re running on pure adrenalin. I’ll be mostly playing solo, but there will be a nice Jewish boy, Joseph Cirotti, joining in on guitar.” He asked me about The Hamilton, where he’d be playing in Washington D.C. on October 12, and I told him it had a small dance floor. This seemed to disconcert him. I told him not to worry, that people would crowd the dance floor, wanting to get as close to him as they could get. He still seemed nervous. It was a unique thing, to hear this paragon of self-confidence express even the slightest hint of self-doubt.

As for the tunes on his new LP, Friedman said, “I wrote “The Loneliest Man I Ever Met” 20, 30 years ago. Tompall Glaser did a cover of it. I also wrote “Lady Yesterday” and “Wild Man of Borneo.” As for his interpretations, he defended them, saying, “Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, and Sarah Vaughn never wrote a song. And Willie said he got his vocal styling from Frank.”

He said “’My Shit’s Fucked Up’” is starting to get some airplay,” then speaking of the late Zevon said, “Warren and myself and Steve Goodman were all born in Chicago and nobody can compete with us except Amsterdam, which gave us Van Gogh and Ann Frank.” I’m not sure if he was being serious. I think he was being serious.

I asked him about past controversies, and he was dismissive. When I asked him what led Austin City Limits to permanently bar his episode he said, “You’ll have to ask them. I did just what they said. I did the regular show. They made a stink of it. Now they put it out as a video.” Regarding The Jewish Defense League he said, “They took offense at our name and made bomb threats. Then they saw the show. Some of them still come.” On the subject of Israel, he was as controversial as ever, in particular regarding President Obama’s policies on the Jewish State. “As a Red Sea pedestrian, the one country in the Middle East, which is full of dictators, that Obama has really tried to get rid of is Israel. He’s the kind of man who would take selfies at Nelson Mandela’s funeral.”

And speaking of Nelson Mandela, Kinky says, “I learned Nelson Mandela was listening to Sold American [Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys’ 1973 debut LP) in his prison cell.” Kinky spoke with feeling about the impact a song can have, saying, “You never know who is going to hear a song. You never imagine that Nelson Mandela is going to listen to your songs in a prison cell. His favorite was “Ride ‘em Jewboy.” There was this Jewish lady, the only Jew in the Parliament in South Africa, and the only member of the South African government to visit Mandela in his prison cell. I think she slipped him the tape. I also found out Mandela’s favorite singer was Dolly Parton.”

Speaking of “Ride ‘em Jewboy,” the world’s only country-western Holocaust song and a miracle of song craft, Kinky said, “I think Christians really relate to the song. I think Jews are a little are uncomfortable with it. At least the uptight ones.

For a past player in American politics, Kinky sounded very pessimistic. He said, “The crowd picks Barabbas and kills Jesus. They do it every time. That’s why we have the people we have. Something Donald Trump is not capable of is dying in the gutter. Although he still has time. Hillary’s an empty pants suit. She’s the wrong candidate. I don’t think there is a good candidate.” He then said, “Rick Perry’s gone and there’s no point on picking on him anymore. He knows how to play the system without quite being a crook. Like Mark Twain said, ‘There is no criminal class in America except for the U.S. Congress.’” For hope and inspiration Friedman has been reading books by and about Winston Churchill. “He was a very funny guy. About John Foster Dulles he wrote, ‘Dull, duller, Dulles.’ And he was a poet. He wrote, ‘History with her flickering lamp stumbles along the trail of the past.’”

I concluded the interview by asking him whether this new, less lewd Kinky LP could be called “The Other Side of Kinky Friedman,” in tribute to the Bob Dylan album of the same name. He replied, “I don’t think the millennials know or give a shit, or the people who listen to country radio give a shit, and I sure don’t give a shit.” Then Kinky, being Kinky, bid adios with an off-color Willie Nelson joke. He said, “Willie said if you’re going to have sex with an animal, it might as well be a horse. At least that way you have a ride home.”

Kinky Friedman’s The Loneliest Man I Ever Met is in stores now via Avenue A Records/Thirty Tigers.

Kinky Friedman Official | Facebook | Twitter
PHOTO: BRIAN KANOF

Kinky Friedman on Tour:
Oct 12 WASHINGTON, DC, The Hamilton Live
Oct 13 ANNAPOLIS, MD, Ram’s Head
Oct 14 STANHOPE, NJ, Stanhope House
Oct 15 SELLERSVILLE, PA, Sellersville Theater
Oct 16 ALBANY, NY, The Linda — WAMC’s Performing Arts
Oct 17 BUFFALO, NY, Sportsman’s Tavern
Oct 18 MONTREAL, QC, Petit Campus
Oct 19 TORONTO, ON, Hugh’s Room
Oct 21 NORTHAMPTON, MA, Iron Horse Music Hall
Oct 22 NEW HAVEN, CT, Cafe Nine
Oct 23 SOMERVILLE, MA, Johnny D’s
Oct 24 PAWLING, NY, Daryl’s House Club
Oct 25 BORDENTOWN, NJ, The Record Collector
Oct 26 FALL RIVER, MA, Narrows Center for the Arts
Oct 27 NEW YORK, NY, B.B. Kings
Oct 28 PIERMONT, NY, The Turning Point
Oct 29 FORT WORTH, TX, Texas Council of Social Studies
Oct 30 COLLINSVILLE, CT, Bridge Street Live
Oct 31 RINGWOOD, NJ, Live at Drew’s House Concert
Nov 2 COLUMBUS, OH, Woodlands Tavern
Nov 3 CLEVELAND, OH, Wilbert’s
Nov 4 EVANSTON, IL, SPACE
Nov 5 ST. LOUIS, MO, Off Broadway
Nov 6 KANSAS CITY, MO, Knuckleheads
Nov 8 CHARLESTON, WV, Mountain Stage
Nov 9 NEWPORT, KY, Southgate House
Nov 10 NASHVILLE, TN, Bluebird Cafe

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