Posted April, 2016
Kinky Friedman. Maybe some of you have heard of him. I’d describe him as the Will Rogers of our day. He is hands down one of the most entertaining and colorful people I’ve had the privilege of interviewing. Ever.
Friedman is one of the most gifted writers of any kind (music, literature, or punditry) I’ve ever read or met. Admittedly, a lot of what he has to say my singe the most sensitive of listeners. However, what he does say – and how he says it – is the most logically thought provoking words you’re ever likely to hear.
An accomplished singer, songwriter, and pundit, Kinky recently released his latest CD, The Loneliest Man I’ve Ever Met and I had the honor of chatting with Kinky by phone at his ranch about this album.
Before we started the official interview, Kinky slid into describing the kind of tour that he was about to embark on shortly after our chat.
“This is a tour on the Hank Williams level as far as driving is concerned. We’re performing 35 back-to-back shows with no nights off and that’s done deliberately to produce the affect that we’re running on pure adrenaline. It’s the idea that will make the show purer and rawer. We’ll see.”
Friedman ran as an Independent for the governor’s office in Texas, securing about 12% of the vote. Because of that, I asked him what he makes of the presidential contenders in both parties and what does he make of the news of Boehner having resigned earlier that day.
“None of it’s terrifically important. I feel that being a musician is such a higher calling than being a politician, anyway, having been both. I think Mark Twain had it right that in America, we have no criminal class except the U.S. Congress. I think he’s correct on that. I think they’re all pretty weak. I think that if musicians ran the place, we’d be in a lot better shape. I know it would, in fact. We wouldn’t get a hell of a lot done in the mornings but we’d work late . . . AND, we’d be honest!”
I was caught completely off guard by his comments so I asked him how, exactly, that would work out and what would really get accomplished if musicians ran our government.
“Say that I had won the governor’s race – a race that I won in every place but Texas in 2006 – let’s say I won and I appointed a number of musician friends to run various aspects of the state. I think you’d have decent people and, you know when you talk about occupations? Have you ever been in a room full of lawyers or real estate people or politicians – whatever – doctors, even, you don’t get that kind of decent feeling that you get when you have a group of musicians together.
“And, they’re problem solvers. They’re creative and, by and large, they’re decent people. The politicians have been corrupt before they even got into politics. They were hall monitors or something in elementary school. They were starting early.
“I’m telling ya, Randy, it’s a kind of bad person that is drawn to politics and that’s exactly what JFK did not want. He’s one of the guys like you and me that got into it to help the country. It’s a thankless waste of time in a lot of ways because the crowd always picks Barabbas. The crowd shouts, ‘Free Barabbas! Kill Jesus!’ They do it every time.
“So, that’s where we’re at and it’s been that way ever since. You give them a chance to elect an Obama or a Rick Perry, and they will . . . or a Jerry Brown or an Arnold Schwarzenegger, whoever – that guy will slip right through. But the Nelson Mandela’s and the Lincoln’s and the Churchill’s – that’s usually a fluke when they’re elected. It’s a twist of fate that gets them there.”
This begged the question as to whether or not Kinky saw a Churchill or Mandela in today’s political circles.
“Hell, no! Do you? Tell me where he is! No, I don’t. I was talking the other day about being a struggling songwriter and how really a beautiful thing that is to be – although I didn’t appreciate it at the time, maybe. But it is. It’s a wonderful thing to be. And to care enough about stuff like watch a movie twenty years ago and watching Willie Nelson signing autographs in the rain; a long line of people there along side his bus, it’s raining and he’s standing out there in the rain and they’re standing in the rain and he’s staying right with them. That was nice to see – autographs in the rain. All we’re talking about is inspiration!”
Since we were mixing entertainment and politics, I asked Friedman if he thought that the entertainment industry was in the role of the dance band on the Titanic.
“That’s an interesting thought. Well, that’s very possible. Speaking of the Titanic, one of my campaign slogans was ‘The professionals gave us the Titanic and the amateurs gave us the ark,’ which is partly true. Yeah, we might be listening to the dance band. Ha! Ha! It’s very possible. But I think we’re probably more resilient than that. I think that life is kind of like a Kurt Vonnegut novel.
“I don’t know if you the story about Nelson Mandela listening to ‘Ride ‘Em Jewboy’ in his prison cell on Robben Island. There’s nothing as farfetched as that, I would think. I mean, when I first heard that, I really could not believe it. If you had told me that he had listened to Bob Dylan there. That they smuggled in a tape, well, that’s not even a story, okay? But the idea that he did get tapes smuggled in and one of them was my first record, ‘Sold American,’ which he had not ordered specifically. It was just whatever they could give him, you know? And, on that record, the song that he played every night late, late, before he went to bed was ‘Ride ‘Em Jewboy’ and this is from the guy in the next prison cell who was his right hand man who they put right next to Mandela in the next cell. That is amazing. That almost makes it all worthwhile. It’s remarkable.
“The question was posed to me would I’d rather be a guy making millions playing in stadiums all over the country or would I rather know that a song I’d written was listened to by Nelson Mandela in his prison cell. The guy who asked me that said, ‘Well, I’ll tell you my choice, Kinky. I’d rather be you.’ Of course, I’m older than that guy. I gotta think about my goals as a young man which were to be fat, famous, financially fixed, and a faggot by fifty. Some of them I’ve achieved.”
It’s hard to believe that it’s been 39 years since his last album, “Lasso From El Paso”. I asked Kinky what so long to come out with a new studio album.
“Probably because life gets in the way. That pure place, Nashville, of the 60’s and 70’s, I was born a little too late on that one – to hang around Willie and the guys. But it was still a really cool place. Also, politics keeps intruding. It’s an addiction. Recently, Jamey Johnson, the singer, came up to me and suggested that we run on a ticket. I would run for governor of Texas and he would run for Lieutenant Governor and it would be the Kinky Johnson ticket.”
I refrained from laughing because I didn’t know if he was joking. He obviously was.
Continuing on . . .
“Life does get in the way. The animal rescue takes time. I suffer from the curse of being multi-talented. Writing books – more than thirty, now, that I’ve written. That takes time. It’s really been thirty-two years since I recorded and I didn’t see it going anywhere. This record has surprised me because I wasn’t expecting all that much. I don’t know the answer to that. If I saw that people were actually hearing stuff.
“There’s more buzz on this record than any record I’ve ever done except the very first one. This one sounds better. I attribute that – or I blame. Whatever goes wrong, I blame Brian Molnar – the producer who’s from New Jersey. So, he brings down this New Jersey kid named Joe Cirotti – who decimated my liquor cabinet. The kid – of course, a 47-year-old man could be a kid to me – but this kid did great! He really did some beautiful guitar work which is fortunate because that’s almost the only instrument on the record, it’s that sparse. What is added to it, then, is the harmonica genius of Mickey Raphael – Willie’s harp player. The Little Jewford played keyboards on ‘A Christmas Card From A Hooker In Minneapolis’ and ‘A Nightingale Sang In Berkley Square’ – two songs with long titles.
“Jewford is a Jew and he drives a Ford. But other than them – there’s a little bit of stand-up bass put on the record and that’s about it. Even the Willie cut was very sparse. All of it was kind of spontaneous – the Frank Sinatra method. If you don’t get it on one take, we’ll try two and after that, **** ‘em and feed ‘em Fruit Loops, you know? After that, to hell with it.
“We have a really good cut, actually, that we didn’t put on this, which is Mickey Newberry’s ‘San Francisco Mabel Joy’. That is a killer cut but, you know, enough’s enough. The album borders on the melancholy, perhaps. I think melancholy is very important. It’s a linkage between classical music and really great country music. I mean, anybody wants to be an artist better than others.
“Step one is to be miserable. Not unhappy or you’re not going to create anything. That’s pretty sure. You look at the guys now and go, ‘Well, how come Bob Dylan or Kristofferson or Willie is not writing at the level that they used to write at? How come we’re not getting ‘Hello Walls’ or ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ or ‘Sunday Morning Coming Down’ out of those guys?’ I do think it’s an interesting question and I would say that, probably, enough success and fame will distance you from your art. That’s for sure. So you can show up. You still do shows. The shows can be inspiring and great. I don’t mean to take away from these guys because if you want to get inspired, Randy, you and I could go around and see bands all day and we wouldn’t. We’d see a lot of derivative bands with really good musicians, perhaps. So, the guy sounds like Stevie Ray Vaughan. So the guy sounds like Roger Miller. That’s not what we’re looking for, here. I mean, we’re looking for an original.
“Maybe the gene pool is just dried up of talent. I don’t know. There’s a hell of a lot of good musicians and their hearts are in the right place. They want to be Townes Van Zandt when they grow up. There’s nothing wrong with that. But, for some reason, where Willie says all the dreams go down in Nashville – the kid with a pickup truck and guitars and a suitcase full of song lyrics. That’s where he goes. But, unfortunately, when he gets there, he sees that the guys making records and making all the money and all the success is going to guys their religion is click tracks and songs written by committee of four and five people. It sounds like background music for frat parties. Other than that, it’s fine.
“I kinda took a page from ‘Red Headed Stranger’. This is real sparse. It’s stripped down to the soul. On many of the cuts - there’s no drums on anything. There’s no bass on anything. Some of it’s out of sync – out of rhythm. That is a deliberate effect.
“On ‘Bloody Mary Morning,’ we want that to sound like it’s done in a West Texas bar room and that it’s spontaneous. We want that to come off. Now, listening to it, it’s close plus we’ve got a great couple of passages by the jazz cowboy, Willie Nelson, on Trigger (Nelson’s fabled, beat up acoustic guitar). Trigger rides again on this. That song, Willie told me, that Glen Campbell gave Willie twenty-five thousand dollars - back in the old days when it was a hell of a lot of money – so he would publish all of Willie’s songs for that year. The problem was that year Willie only wrote one song and Glen was not happy about that. The song was ‘Bloody Mary Morning’ which did not knock Glen’s **** to his watch pocket but it’s always been right up there with