Q & A: Kinky Friedman on Folk Music, Politics, Mass Murder, and His Bipolar Tour

Rapping with Kinky Friedman is always a great experience.  He’s been a guest on my Dirty Roots Radio show twice prior to this interview.  The process isn’t without its challenges, though.

You don’t so much “interview” Kinky as you just wind him up, give him a topic, and let him go.  When it works well, it’s much like a late-night talk show host feeding lines to a comedian to lead him into pre-planned jokes.  Other times, Kinky’s laid-back Texas attitude and slow delivery can make for long pauses while he loads his next one-liner.  If you’re not careful, you step on them.

This conversation was a blast and we talked about everything from folk music, to mass murderers, politics, and Mike Tyson.

This interview was to promote his Kinky’s upcoming show at the best venue in all of St. Louis, Off Broadway, on Saturday, December 1st.  (Tickets: http://offbroadwaystl.com/)

For more information and other dates on his Bipolar Tour, visit Kinky’s website at www.KinkyFriedman.com.

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RYAN MIFFLIN: Brother Kinky!

KINKY FRIEDMAN: Hello Ryan, how are you?

I’m good, sir.  How are you?

Looking forward to seeing you Saturday night at Off Broadway in St. Louis!

Ditto that.  As we get started here, I always have my guests introduce themselves in their own words.

Hey folks.  Kinky Friedman here, the friendly Jewish cowboy, with a Texas toast: Here’s to you with a Mexican mouthwash.  Here’s to honor…..get on her and stay on her!

How do you define yourself when you have to fill out a job application?  I mean, you’re a singer-songwriter, a novelist, a satirist, a humorist, a politician…

And beautician!

There you go…

It’s a curse of being multi-talented, Ryan.  That’s the problem.  If I was just good at one thing I’d be enormously successful.

So you spread yourself too thin, then.

That’s correct, absolutely.  Mostly, though, I’m a defender of strays.  My only friends are stray dogs and old carriage horses.

You take care of such beasts out at your ranch, right?

Yeah, we’ve got a rescue ranch for animals here, Utopia Animal Rescue Ranch, or www.UtopiaRescue.com, and we’ve been running it about 15 years and we’ve rescued thousands of animals in that time.  So, any animal lovers can go to the website and check it out.  It’s been great work.  I always say money may buy you a fine dog, but only love can make him wag his tail.

Are you still doing your cigar enterprise as well?

Well, the cigars, yeah…Kinky Friedman Cigars…KFC.  But what’s overtaken that a bit is the tequila.  Kinky Friedman’s “Man in Black” tequila, which is the best Mexican mouthwash you’ll ever gargle.  This is not your father’s tequila.  This is your grandfather’s gardener’s tequila.

You know, Ryan, here at “Man in Black”, we salute Zorro, Paladin, and Johnny Cash.

That’s the holy trinity right there, right?

Yep.  If we had people like that leading our country today, we’d be in great shape.

Since you bring that up, there’s not too many people who I would put this question to, because it’s so broad and ridiculous, but I want to ask…You don’t have to be an expert to look around and realize that the whole country – and probably the world – has lost its collective damn mind.  Where did we go off the rails, and do you have any thoughts on what we need to do to get things back in order?

Well, I’ve suggested limiting all elected officials to two terms; one in office and one in prison.  I think that would be a good start.  It’s just something about politics.  Poly means more than one.  And ticks are blood-sucking parasites…so that’s what we have.  And they’ve spent billions of dollars and we’re right back where we started from.  All those politicians seem to be more like Neville Chamberlain than Winston Churchill.

So, I’m confining myself to Texas, looking at the 2014 governor’s race.  But not running as an independent, this time running in the Democratic primary as an old-time blue dog Harry Truman Democrat.  And if I could win that thing, I think we’d be in the cat bird seat.  I think we’d have a very good chance to win a lot of Independent, Libertarian, Ron Paul, and Republican votes.

You had a good showing when you ran for governor of Texas back in ’06, right?

Yeah, it was 600,000 people.  But Jesus Christ could not get elected as an Independent in Texas.

So, that’s something I’m looking at, but I’ll tell you it’s a much higher calling being a musician than being a politician.  We all recognize that.

I’m really looking forward to the Bipolar Tour coming up.

You’ve been touring a lot recently.  I think you’ve been through my neck of the woods (St. Louis) about three times in the last three or four years.

Yeah, this one is totally solo.  It’s kind of like Townes Van Zandt, Woody Guthrie…a little bit of Judy Garland in there.  It’s been working really well.  It’s kind of an idea I borrowed from Willie, which is running on adrenaline and the audience.  Its 28 shows in 27 days.

Wow.

So, we’ll see what shape I’m in by the time I get to St. Louis.  Right now everybody down here has the Texas Jew flu.  I don’t know what the hell it is.  I think its allergies.

So, in what other ways will this tour be similar or different to others that people may have seen?

Well, I make the practice of not having any new material.

But there’s some old material that I haven’t done, like “The Ballad of Kevin Barry”, which almost nobody knows.  I learned it when I was about 10 years old, off a record by Paul Robeson, who was the greatest voice of the age.  Also a black communist.

And so we have Paul Robeson, singing to this little Jewish kid in Texas – me – about an Irish-Catholic martyr who was hung by the British and was only 18 years old…“a lad of 18 summers”…a medical student, and that would be Kevin Barry.  When I learned that song around 1960, it was so beautiful, I kind of took the song inside of me and I never recorded it or played it on any stage until this Bipolar Tour.

I think that’s what folk music is all about.  It’s kind of come back to me over a lifetime.  I’m not even sure if the lyrics I have are the same that Paul Robeson sang.  But it’s been really an effective song.

And, of course, there’s “They Ain’t Makin’ Jews Like Jesus Anymore”, which is kind of an anthem against political correctness.

Sure.

And I remind the audience that “Jesus loves you” can be very comforting words…unless you hear them in a Mexican prison.

We’ll have a reading from a book, “Heroes of a Texas Childhood”, 23 heroes of mine when I was a kid.

And afterwards, we’ll sign books.  I will sign anything but bad legislation.

I wish more people had that mentality.

That’s the truth.  Politics has really let us down.  One problem is what JFK said, “What you need in politics is money, money, and money.”  Those are the three things you need and money has completely corrupted the system.

Here in Texas, I think I’ve got a real chance, if I can be serious for the primary.  People were concerned [in ‘06] that they didn’t want a comedian in the governor’s mansion, and now they realize we’ve had one for about 12 years; his name is Rick Perry.

I don’t know…I just find that being on the road with just a guitar and a book….it is a high calling.  And it’s as close to the truth as you can sail without sinking the ship.

We’ll do a lot of other songs; “Get Your Biscuits in the Oven and Your Buns In the Bed”, “Proud to Be An Asshole from El Paso”, “Ride ‘Em Jewboy”, “Wildman from Borneo”.  Lots of others.  And there are some stories that go along with them.  I think it’s going to be a real good night in St. Louis, so come on down to Off Broadway…Saturday, December 1st.

I’ve got to watch what I’m doing on the Bipolar Tour because there is NO time off.  I’m a little ill coming into it, so I may be wheeled in on a gurney by that time, so we’ll see.

I saw Kris Kristofferson, one of your old buddies, at the Fox Theatre in St. Louis last year and he was almost completely voiceless.  I don’t know what he’d been dealing with, but he pushed through, man.

Yeah, we like to call him Piss Pissed-Off-erson.  But he’s a great one.

And I wonder why you have to go see a geezer to get inspired, you know?  The young people are not without talent.  But you gotta see Merle or Billy Joe Shaver or Bob Dylan or Willie or Kris.  Too late to see the late, great Levon Helm, of course.  But those kinds of people really inspire you.

I think part of our problem as a country is that we kind of…well, we’re like Kinky Friedman tequila.  I call it the Barry Manilow drink, because it makes you feel good for a short period of time.  That’s what Barry Manilow’s songs do!  He’s very talented and he’s made more money than God.  But it makes you feel good for a short period of time.

I prefer to see Billy Joe or Kris or Willie or Bob or Merle or someone like that.  Those songs might make you think and they might stay with you a lifetime.

Speaking of songs making you think, many of your signature songs were recorded before my time.  I wasn’t around to see the reception to “They Ain’t Makin’ Jews Like Jesus Anymore” or “Get Your Biscuits In the Oven and Your Buns In the Bed”.  You almost can’t imagine someone doing a song like that nowadays – maybe Randy Newman, but not many others.  Did you come up against a lot of opposition or people just taking those things completely wrong at the time?

Oh, hell yes.  The Texas Jewboys were misunderstood by just about everybody they could be.  We kept telling them, just listen to the song, you know?

But today, political correctness has, I think, pretty well won out everywhere.

Although, I must say, these songs have gone over very well.  So, the kind of people who are coming to see me…a lot of them are political types, a lot of them are music fans, and a lot of them are fans of the books.  So you’ve got a kind of mixed bags.  And you’ve got a lot of people who weren’t even born when the songs were written, but they know them.

It’s a genius audience.  And that makes a genius performance every time.

That’s as opposed to a very successful commercial band like the Rolling Stones.  The people who see them are pretty much coming to see nostalgia.  They want to hear “Satisfaction”; they don’t want to hear the new album.  It’s like that with my pal Jimmy Buffet.  His audiences are middle aged lawyers that want to go back to a happier time.  That’s nostalgia.  And it works.  I mean, it’s very successful.

But I like to be forward-looking.  I like to embrace the future, even if it slaps me in the face.

What else are you working on now?

Well right now, Ryan, we’re riding high with the book I did with Willie Nelson, “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die”.

Loved it!

It’s now number 14 on the New York Times bestseller list and number 30 on Amazon.  So it’s on its way up like a rocket ship and if it goes up high enough, it’s going to be a financial pleasure for Willie and myself.

It was great working with him.  But, you know, Willie does not believe in the concept of an editor.  It’s kind of childlike, but there’s a lot of truth to what he’s saying.  I mean, if he wrote a song, would he give it to me and say, “Kinky, you edit this”?  No, you don’t do that!  And it’s the same with a book.

I think he’s right.  I told him my definition of an editor is someone who takes something great and makes it good.  That’s what they do.  But this one got away with a lot of good stuff in it, so I’m pretty happy with that one.

We’ve got that and we’ve got the tour.  And if I survive that one, there’s a 35-city, non-stop, Bipolar Tour of Europe.

Part of the reason it’s called the Bipolar Tour is the “Ballad of Charles Whitman”, about the guy who climbed the Texas Tower and shot about 27 people back in the ‘60s.  He was the first mass murderer, really, who caught on with the imagination of the American people.  There’ve been a lot of imitators.  People like to say that Charlie was probably bipolar, because he wasn’t weird or anything.  He was just really a normal, good guy.  Everybody liked him until he climbed the tower and killed all those people.  They say if we’d known about “bipolar” back then in the ‘60s we could have given him medication and so forth.

But the truth is…my theory is that either nobody’s bipolar or everybody’s bipolar.

Little deep there.

My friend Ratso is working on a book with Mike Tyson.  And Tyson’s been studying philosophy lately.

I’ve heard that.

So, Ratso tells him, “Hey, my friend Kinky Friedman says ‘It’s a small step from the limo to the gutter’.”  And Mike Tyson says, (in a Tyson-imitating squeaky voice) “That’s deep!  That’s deep!”

Anyway…

Well, we’ll put a link to the show info out there and try to get some folks over to Off Broadway on Saturday.

Yeah, it’s coming right up!

Are you gonna get down there, Ryan?

I hope to be able to.

Well, look, if you do, let’s have us a tequila drinking contest, OK?

Sounds good!

This Kinky Friedman stuff…you’ll really like it, I guarantee ya.

That sounds wonderful to me.

In the meantime, find what you like and let it kill you.

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I don’t consider myself a big success in many areas.  But I just received a personal invitation to drink tequila with the great Kinky Friedman.  That’s gotta count for something, right?

For more on Kinky Friedman’s new “Man In Black” tequila, visit www.ManInBlackTequila.com.

Other Kinky info…

Kinky Friedman Cigars and Special Blend Coffee: www.KinkyCigars.com

Kinky Friedman’s Utopia Animal Rescue Ranch: www.UtopiaRanch.com

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Ryan Mifflin is the host of Dirty Roots Radio, a "Quentin Tarantino-ization of a spaghetti western style old-school record show" featuring renegade country, vintage gospel, raw blues, greasy soul, punk, and funk.

Tune in to Dirty Roots Radio every Thursday night from 8 to 10 p.m. (central) on WGRN 89.5 FM. Listen online from anywhere in the world at www.wgrn.net.

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Created by No Depression Feb 17, 2009 at 9:06pm. Last updated by No Depression Sep 24, 2012.