The Last of the Jewish Cowboys

The profanity and the profundity of Kinky Friedman.

Remember Ann Richards? The former Texas governor, famous for the giant cotton ball on her head and for warning Girl Scouts about "Prince Charming on a motorcycle with a beer gut and a wandering eye," squirted on through the national cerebellum quickly after she lost the governorship to George W. Bush in 1994.

Musician, writer and Texas icon Kinky Friedman talks a lot about Richards, the last Democrat elected in any statewide race there. He wants to be the next. And so, while he's on tour playing concerts across the country and talking about Willie Nelson's best-selling new book, Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die, which he helped author, it doesn't take much to get Friedman talking about politics. Not just the big ideas—marijuana legalization, education reform, reappropriating state's rights for progressive causes—but also the polling.

"Texas is not a backward state. It's a bipolar state," he says. "You have places like Austin and a number of other areas that are very progressive, and then there's regular brontosaurus material out there in the wide-open space, which is the people I like. This will be a serious race. This will be a race to win, because if we can win the Democratic primary, I'm the only Democrat in the state who can get votes away from the Ron Paul supporters, the Tea Partiers and independents. The election would be easy if we could win the primary—but your readers are probably going into a diabetic coma right now."

Before he can start stumping in Austin and San Antonio, Friedman, who was once introduced as "the first full-blooded Jew to take stage at the Grand Ole Opry," is still writing detective novels, Texas Monthly columns and playing music. Recognizable for his black cowboy hat and the Montecristo omnipresent under his black mustache, Friedman accomplished the unlikely feats of visiting both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush at the White House and recording the only episode of Austin City Limits that never aired, the songs being deemed too controversial.

Those songs—country-fried satire as wildly divergent as the tolerance-promoting "They Ain't Makin Jews Like Jesus Anymore" and the feminist-baiting "Get Your Biscuits in the Oven and Your Buns in the Bed"—are the centerpiece of his current tour. Which is to be expected given that Friedman hasn't released a single in 35 years, and hasn't put out a record of new material in 20. It makes for an odd coalition of fans.

"A lot of young people know these songs, and they were written long before they were born. My buddy Jimmy Buffett is a guy that's very, very successful and one of the top ticket sellers going, but his audience is very narrow-casted—it's middle-aged lawyers who want to go back to a happier time," he says. "But this audience has been really interesting. A lot of these people are not even music fans, they're coming because of the books. And a lot of them are also coming because of politics. And hopefully I can give them something profane, and something profound, and the audience can decide which is which."

There are also a few covers, like the ballad "Kevin Barry," about an Irish-Catholic martyr that Friedman first heard about from Paul Robeson—African-American folk singer, communist, former NFL player, Columbia law grad—when he was 10 years old.

"I never did that song until this Bipolar tour, I just kind of internalized it and I'm not even sure that I have the right lyrics, but I do know that it really goes down well," he says. "It's kind of what folk music should be about, which is something remembered from childhood and sung a lifetime later. This show is a little Will Rogers and a little Townes Van Zandt and a little Woody Guthrie spirit, and it fits in really well with that.” 

SEE IT: Kinky Friedman plays the Aladdin Theater, 3017 SE Milwaukie Ave., on Wednesday, Dec. 19. 8 pm. $30. 21+

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