Bard With Booze

The great Kinky Friedman arrives in Tucson, solo, to do some sellin' and singin'

For more than 40 years, Kinky Friedman has perfected his unique combination of country-music-making, fiction-writing, playwriting, political aspirations, pointed satire and snake-oil showmanship.

But when we call him at his Texas ranch, Friedman is concerned most with his sartorial choices for his upcoming concert jaunt. "You caught me with my pants off," he says. "I have been trying on different pairs of pantaloons."

The Hanukkah Tour, as it's dubbed, will be "14 crazy nights in 14 cities," Friedman says.

Although famous for his band Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys (a play on the name of the classic Western swing group Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys), the Kinkster is going it alone for the current tour—which he finds both scary and liberating.

"By the time I get to Tucson, to paraphrase Jimmy Webb's song, I may be wheeled in on a gurney."

The gurney will arrive Friday, Dec. 9, at Plush. Local singer-songwriter Hank Topless will open the show.

Born in 1944, Richard S. Friedman moved with his parents as a young child to Echo Hill Ranch, near Kerrville, Texas. He still resides there today, even though he also has donetime living in New York City, Nashville and Los Angeles.

He graduated in 1966 from the University of Texas, where his dorm roommate was the bawdy singer-songwriter Chinga Chavin, creator of the pivotal 1970s album Country Porn. According to legend, it was Chavin who gave Friedman his famous nickname, a nod to his curly hair.

Post-college, Kinky served two years in the Peace Corps in Borneo. "I got paid 11 cents an hour to do agricultural labor. It was one of the best jobs ... well, it was the only job I ever had."

Friedman came to prominence as a singer-songwriter and bandleader in the early 1970s, riding the new movement of country rock, and penning songs that alternated between social commentary and silliness. He often focused on cultural conventions and religious references, exposing hypocrisy and supercilious pursuits along the way.

Among his most-memorable tunes have been "They Ain't Makin' Jews Like Jesus Anymore," "The Ballad of Charles Whitman," "High on Jesus," "Wild Man From Borneo," "We Reserve the Right to Refuse Service to You," "Get Your Biscuits in the Oven and Your Buns in the Bed" and "Ride 'Em Jewboy," perhaps the only country song about the Holocaust. He also did a popular version of Chavin's "Asshole From El Paso," a parody of Merle Haggard's "Okie From Muskogee."

During his 1970s heyday, Friedman not only performed onstage alongside Bob Dylan during the Rolling Thunder Revue tour; he also appeared on Saturday Night Live and at the Grand Ole Opry.

When his music career temporarily slowed in the 1980s, Friedman turned to writing and began a series of Chandleresque detective novels featuring a private dick named Kinky Friedman. He also has written a play, Becoming Kinky: The World According to Kinky Friedman, which had its premiere earlier this year in Houston.

Currently, he's finishing a book with Billy Bob Thornton and preparing to write one with Willie Nelson. Kinky figures he has published more than 30 books. "Not bad for a 67-year-old who reads at a 69-year-old level," he says.

Starting in 2001, he wrote a popular column in the magazine Texas Monthly, which was suspended so he could run for governor of Texas in 2006. He lost to Rick Perry, about whom he says, "Let me tell you something about Rick Perry: Blondes and Aggies tell Rick Perry jokes."

Kinky has run for political office as a Democrat and as an independent, but today considers political parties to be little more than "the Crips and the Bloods, the bullies of the playground."

About losing the governor's race, Friedman is content to say "the crowd always picks Barabbas," a reference to a thief who was spared from crucifixion in the Christian gospels. As a gesture at Passover, Pontius Pilate offered to commute the death sentence of either Barabbas or Jesus Christ.

Friedman long has admired the story of Jesus. But he has many heroes, or at least people he speaks about with respect: JFK, Gandhi, the Dalai Lama, Winston Churchill, Mel Brooks, Lenny Bruce, John Lennon, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., Judy Garland, Roger Miller, Audie Murphy, Barbara Jordan, Kris Kristofferson and Billy Joe Shaver.

Another of Kinky's passions has been animal rescue. He is the founder of Utopia Animal Rescue Ranch, also located near Kerrville. "It's for stray, abused and aging animals, a never-kill sanctuary," he says. More than 1,000 dogs have been saved at Utopia from euthanasia.

Friedman's philosophy on animals is: "Money may buy you a dog, but only love and affection can make him come to you."

An avid cigar-smoker, he also peddles a line of cigars that bears his name. Ever the traveling salesman, Friedman will have lots of goodies on hand to hawk at the concert, including his recent books and tour posters.

And even though he still writes on a portable typewriter, Kinky is embracing technology, or at least asking fans to pay for it. He'll have with him the new Kinky Jump Drive, which holds three complete Kinky Friedman audio books (read by him, naturally). Also available for sale will be the new Kinky Nano, an MP3 player that contains more than 200 of his songs, as well as examples of his live performances.

Also among Friedman's latest efforts is his forthcoming, top-shelf Man in Black Tequila, which he is preparing to roll out commercially in January. He'll have some samples available at the Tucson concert.

With the tequila, "We'll try to project an aura of Zorro, Johnny Cash and Paladin. It's the best-tasting Mexican mouthwash I've tried," Friedman says, allowing that he has tried more than a few.

Unlike many authors, the Kinkster doesn't insist you buy his latest book to get him to sign it. He is always happy to meet with his fans and exercise his Sharpie. "And I will sign everything except bad legislation."

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