The Loneliest Man I Ever Met
Label: Avenue A Records/Thirty Tigers
Release Date: October 2, 2015
Review Date: September 27, 2015
Nobody could invent a character quite like Kinky Friedman, the stogie-waving, black-hat-wearing Texas Jewboy singer, storyteller, tequila purveyor, animal rescuer and full-time iconoclast. Though renowned for penning some of outlaw country’s most outrageous songs, authoring bestsellers and running for governor of Texas, his 45-year career includes touring with Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue; recording with Clapton, most of the Band and Ringo Starr; appearing on Saturday Night Live and at the Grand Ole Opry; and writing one of Nelson Mandela’s favorite songs. He also became the protagonist of his own crime novels, because even he couldn’t invent a character that could out-kink Kinky Friedman.
But what he hasn’t done in over 30 years is record a new studio album.
Friedman’s The Loneliest Man I Ever Met, releasing October 2 on Avenue A Records/Thirty Tigers, might be one of the longest-awaited follow-ups in recent memory. Not that fans have complained; the continued popularity of tunes such as “Sold American,” “Nashville Casualty and Life” and “Ride ’Em Jewboy” (the Holocaust-referencing song that soothed Mandela in prison) prove Kinky is that rare talent whose work withstands the test of time. Friedman still delivers those songs — interspersed with his inimitable blend of politically incorrect quips, jokes and tales both tall and true — to appreciative audiences around the world.
Still, there were more sentiments he needed to express — his own and those of colleagues such as Tom Waits, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Merle Haggard and his pal Willie Nelson, who produced and performs on his own “Bloody Mary Morning.” The album’s opening song, which also features Willie’s sister, Bobbie, on piano and Kevin Smith on standup bass, is rendered as a spare duet, their traded lines punctuated with Nelson’s Spanish guitar-picking. Conveying both immediacy and intimacy, it sets the tone for the other 11 tracks, all produced by Brian Molnar and featuring guitarist Joe Cirotti, with harmonica by Willie’s Family Band mate Mickey Raphael and piano contributions by Little Jewford, Kinky’s sidekick since his first post-Peace Corps job — bandleader of the Texas Jewboys.
Though songs such as Waits’ “A Christmas Card From a Hooker in Minneapolis,” Haggard’s “Mama’s Hungry Eyes,” Dylan’s “Girl from the North Country” and Friedman’s own “Lady Yesterday,” not to mention his 20-year-old, never-recorded co-write with Tim Hoover, “I’m the Loneliest Man I Ever Met,” seem filled with melancholy, despair and regret — and certainly, loneliness — Friedman suggests they’re something else: Romantic.
He explains, “What I’ve tried to do is interpret some of these songs. But it’s not like Tony Bennett sings Willie Nelson; it’s more spiritually halfway between those people and me. So if you’re not a little bit melancholy, maybe you should be.
“A happy American creates nothing great,” he adds. “My definition of an artist is someone who’s ahead of his time and behind on his rent. If you can figure out how to stay that way, you can write the great shit that Kris [Kristofferson] and Willie were able to do. Look at what shape Willie was in when he was writing in Nashville — he had three little kids and was just broke, living in a trailer park. Willie wrote ‘Night Life, ‘Funny How Time Slips Away’ and ‘Crazy’ all in one week — a terrible week in his life.”
That’s what country music was all about, according to Kinky, before it came “homogenized and trivialized and sanitized.”
Railing against such perceived evils — whether cultural, political, social or in any other realm of human experience — is one of Friedman’s favorite pastimes, which is why he calls Warren Zevon’s “My S***’s ****** Up” possibly the album’s most important song. The late Zevon wrote it as a commentary on his own failing health, but Friedman finds it a perfect allegory for the current state of world affairs. As a man who has traveled much of the planet, quotes Winston Churchill, calls two presidents pals and now labels himself “governor of the heart of Texas” (as chosen by voters everywhere but in his home state), he’s in a position to know.
But in most cases, the selections, which also include a lesser-known Cash song that was Friedman’s father’s favorite (“Pickin’ Time”) and two Great American Songbook tunes (“Wand’rin’ Star” and “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square”), reflect more personal feelings.
To Friedman, they’re significant works by significant people, and he wants others to hear them. That’s one big reason why he’s gearing up for yet another of what the calls his “bi-polar” tours.
“I enjoy being on the road,” he says, noting his latest foray, launching October 9, includes something like 30 dates without a break. “You can imagine what shape you’re in,” he adds. “It’s kind of stream-of-nervousness.”
But Friedman also likes getting out there and meeting people, which, he notes, is a good thing, “because if my career goes south, I may become a Wal-Mart greeter.”
Yeah, the rim-shot lines flow just like that from a guy once characterized as the Frank Zappa of outlaw country. But he kids, of course. Because as soon as he finishes this tour, he’ll likely start another, signing copies of his soon-to-be-released who-done-it, The Hard-Boiled Computer (a title that carries no small dose of irony, coming as it does from a guy who claims not to own an email or text account and who will remove the cigar stub from his mouth long enough to insist, “Real cowboys don’t tweet”).
His other schemes — joining ISIS or planning the perfect country-music death — likely won’t work, either, because he’s also busy creating a series of TV movies based on his mysteries, with Billy Bob Thornton playing the role of Kinky.
There’s also the Utopia Animal Rescue Ranch to think of, and perhaps turning those summer-camp cabins into the Shalom Retirement Village for old musicians.
“Maybe I’ll just have to get back to songwriting,” he says, stifling a sigh, “so the next one will have more Kinky originals.”
Though “hurry up” apparently is not part of his lexicon, it’s safe to assume we won’t have to wait quite as long for those. If he sticks with career plan A. It’s worked pretty well so far.
Look for the full Boomerocity interview with Kinky in a couple of weeks!
The Loneliest Man I Ever Met