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July 28th, 2010 JEFF ROSENBERG | Q & A
 

Kinky Friedman

The songwriter, author and writer talks Callahan, politics and legendary fails.

     
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FROM TEXAS, WITH LOX: Kinky Friedman.
IMAGE: Courtesy of Conqueroo

With the 1973 release of his classic debut, Sold American, singer-songwriter Kinky Friedman emerged with a fully formed, wholly unique Jewish cowboy persona—soo-ee generis, as it were. Hilariously offensive ditties like bigot-baiting “They Ain’t Makin’ Jews Like Jesus Anymore” and feminist-feather-ruffling “Get Your Biscuits in the Oven and Your Buns in the Bed”—which earned him a police escort away from rabid protestors at one ’70s campus performance—assured he’d remain on the suede fringe of the country music scene, while winning famous friends and fans the likes of Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson—and, ultimately, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

Even that bastion of outlaw country, Austin City Limits, deemed his 1974 appearance with band the Texas Jewboys the only program in its history too controversial to air (the set was issued on DVD in 2007, but remains untelevised). In the early ’90s, Friedman swapped his guitar for a Smith Corona, penning a series of popular mystery novels featuring his trademark ornery humor. In recent years he’s become a candidate (for governor of Texas in 2006), entrepreneur (peddling signature cigars and salsa) and philanthropist (or phil-animal-ist, proprietor of Utopia Animal Rescue Ranch). We spoke by phone Saturday morning, our free-range conversation covering music and fiction­—the kind he writes, and the kind spouted by politicians.

But it began with Friedman’s praise for his friend John Callahan, mere hours before news of the Portland legend’s death became known.

WW: It’s been 20 years or so since you’ve been out this way. Was it something we said?

Friedman: Well, I’m not too sure of that. There might have been some isolated gigs on the West Coast, and I might’ve been in Portland more recently, it seems like. Because that’s where I met John Callahan, the cartoonist.

Yes, a cartoonist for this very paper!

Yeah, he is the oracle of Portland. So I think John is attempting to come, or participate in, the show, one or the other. He might sing “Proud to Be an Asshole From El Paso” with us.

You’ve heard his tunes too, right?

Oh, yes. Purple Winos in the Rain is one of my favorites, great CD. He’s got, I think, the closest thing this side of Leonard Cohen, as far as lyrics and music coming together. Very talented; in fact, that’s the curse of being multitalented. And I’ve got the same problem. If you’re like John, if you’re a cartoonist, a genius cartoonist, and you write great music, it’s hard for society to understand. I wish I was good at one thing, like Leo Kottke or somebody. I’d just play guitar, and that’s it. But I’m involved in too many different things. And I just say, if you fail at something long enough, you become a legend.

Have you been touring regularly, just not on this side of the country?

No, I was derailed by politics, and writing the books, and running the Rescue Ranch for animals—utopiarescue.com, for any animal lovers. Politics, especially. I think that if musicians were to run the world, we’d do a much better job than politicians. We wouldn’t get a hell of a lot done in the morning, but we’d work late, and we’d be honest. We’re smarter than politicians. So, how ’bout this idea: We limit them. Limit their terms. Limit them all to two terms: one in office, and one in prison.

Do you plan to run for office again?

Well, does the pope wear a humorous-looking hat? I mean, as long as Willie keeps playin’, I suppose I’ll keep runnin’. But being a politician is a real giant step down from being a musician. Music is a great vehicle for the truth. And politics is not so good. I define “politics” as, “poly” means many, and “ticks” are blood-sucking parasites. But you know that story of Johnny Gimble, the fiddle player? When he was 5 years old, or 6, he told his mom, “Mom, when I grow up, I’m ’onna be a musician.” And she said, “Make up your mind, son, ’cause you can’t do both.”


SEE IT: Kinky Friedman plays the Roseland Theater 8 pm Wednesday, July 28. $25-$40. All ages. For much more with Kinky Friedman, see localcut.com.
 
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