Texas’ famed Jewish cowboy riffs on hard times, the music biz and stray dogs. By Dominick Cross

Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2012

[Editor’s note: This is the longer version of The Independent’s Q&A interview conducted with Kinky Friedman that appeared in the Feb. 15 print issue of The Ind prior to Friedman’s Southern Discomfort tour stop at Vermilionville. Also please note the show begins at 7:30 p.m.]

LivingIND1Kinky Friedman’s name alone puts a smile on your face. The Kinkster’s catchy songs put a tune in your head and like his musings can give you something to laugh about, or even ponder. Come tonight, 7:30 p.m., at the Vermilionville Performance Center, Friedman’s Southern Discomfort tour — this leg sponsored by The Independent — will give you the opportunity to take it all in.

In a recent interview with The Ind, Friedman talked about all sorts of things, but politics was never too far from the table.

The Independent: It’s called the Southern Discomfort Tour. What’s in a name?

Kinky Friedman: Well, it’s kind of a Townes Van Zandt-Woody Guthrie deal. It’s a solo tour: Lee Harvey Oswald, party of one. That’s the kind of tour it is. I haven’t done many of these completely alone, and I have found that it’s really kind of an interesting spiritual experience. You let the mask slide a little bit more in a solo tour. You become who you are.

IND: What do you want people to get from the performance, and from you?

KF: Well today, mostly because of the Internet, the audience has become the show anyway. It always was, actually, the real show was out there. But I think in general, we will not have a nostalgic audience like The Rolling Stones or Jimmy Buffett, two of the biggest entertainment acts in America. They have become nostalgia. I think they categorize them that way.
I really think you’ve got to go see a geezer — I don’t consider myself a geezer — I’m 67, but I read on a 69-year-old level.
If you want to see something really great, you’ve got to see a geezer, somebody older than me. And that would be Willie, or Bob, or Kris Kristofferson, Billy Joe Shaver, Merle Haggard, Levon Helm, someone like that. And I don’t know why that is.

IND: Why did you decide to hit the road again? You said every 10 years you do something like this. Is it time? Are you a man on a mission?

KF: I don’t think I set out with any specific purpose, except to make the thing a financial pleasure. The definition of an artist is someone who is ahead of his time and behind on his rent. I pretty much try to fit that definition as much as I can.
Doing a solo tour you will see something very different than you see with a band. In other words, you can’t fake it. If you’re drunk, if you’re sad, if you’re tired or if your energy is down, that will all show. So it’s interesting. I mean, it’s you and the audience.

(Editor’s Note: Conversation swings back to politics.)

KF: I’m not a great believer in very much today. Any kind of politics today, I really do think that these people in Washington — this is what happens to hall monitors when they die — they become politicians. They just kind of lose it, or they just don’t have that gift of inspiring people, which is all a politician really has for the most part other than being some corrupt bastard.
That’s what a leader should do is inspire…

IND: Even using fear … it’s like we’ve always got to have a boogie-man. Now it seems it’s going to be Iran. What do you think about that?

KF: Yeah, I think it is. And they come by it honestly; I do think …
What were we talking about? Oh, the inspirational value of leadership. We just don’t have anybody in office today that excites or inspires people at all very much. I think we’re getting used to not having it, which is something we’d better get used to.
Obama certainly looked like he was a good candidate. I suppose he is, but he has no leadership or statesmanship skills, apparently. He just doesn’t have the chops. I’ve said if Obama gave a fireside chat, the fire would go out.

(Friedman then discussed Rick Perry and his own ambition related to running for the governor of Texas, blogged last week at the theind.com.)Kinky___-_6

IND: There seems to be a dumbing-down of sorts, and a lowering of our expectations of what we want and expect from politicians, to our own peril … it’s like somebody is pulling some strings there.

KF: I think there’s something to be said for that. I think the dumbing down is endemic in our culture. It’s certainly true of music. Speaking from my own personal experience, you can see these corporate publishing whorehouses; brothels of songwriters in each room trying to write songs all down the hallway.
And then 25 years of this — somebody must be selling something to Tim McGraw or Garth Brooks or somebody — the truth is, in all that time using this method of three people in a room all trying to write songs — a songwriting appointment at 4:45 today — nobody has managed to write “Hello Walls” or “Sunday Morning Coming Down.” Nobody has written “King of the Road.”
So, those words are by very troubled characters in the same little area of Music Row, in the same town. Except these guys were not living with an iPad at their parent’s home. Those guys had it very rough.
What does this tell us? That songwriters today don’t have the ability to write anything that matters? Like in politics, you do not see a Winston Churchill in sight do you? I don’t. I mean, somebody who is ready to make a courageous decision, or an unpopular decision and stand by it. I don’t see it.
And in music, I don’t see it at all. It’s kind of gone away. I’ll go as far as to say it probably won’t see another big star. You’ll just see product. You know, like a Justin, uh, whatever the f*** his name is… Justin …

IND: The kid? Bieber? Beiber?

KF: Justin Beiber. Or Lady Gaga. You’ll see them, but that becomes the instant product.

IND: Do you think that’s what comes with progress, with things being easier …

KF: Well, that’s what Willie said. Willie said things were really tough then. Really rough. That’s why he thinks they were able to write like that at the top of their talent.
There’s no doubt there’s a lot of young musicians out there, songwriters that have talent. I think what’s changed is us. The culture has. We have cultural ADHD.
Of course, everybody is so politically correct that if a young Richard Pryor walked in the room, we couldn’t make him a star today. We could not make him a mainstream success. No way. So thank the Lord we have “They Ain’t Making Jews Like Jesus Anymore.”

IND: The animal rescue issue. I’ve read about your Utopia Animal Rescue Ranch and I’m all for it. But it seems like people get more involved with animals because it seems they at least appreciate the care and help that they’re getting.

KF: I personally find, and I agree with you, I find that my only friends have become stray dogs and old carriage horses. I think what we’re doing here with Utopia Rescue is some of the best stuff I’m involved with. This has been about 14 years. We’ve adopted thousands of dogs by now. And we still survive on the kindness of strangers, so any animal lovers can check out utopiarescue.com.
We’ve adopted a lot of dogs out-of-state, too, and maybe, more interestingly, created a rippling effect with it. People have come to see the rescue ranch, which is a never-kill sanctuary, maybe best described as a happy orphanage.
This is not like the Humane Society. This is open air pens, trees, grass — all kinds of animals who never really had a chance — love to be here. If you adopt one of our animals, he or she will look back over its shoulder wistfully — they really don’t want to leave Utopia, that’s for sure. It’s been great work.
Not to put down the Humane Society, but when you have millions of dollars and all that, and you the keep dogs in little tiny prison cells, concrete and steel, and you got a big, fancy gift shop … and I think they do euthanize, but at least their hearts are in the right place. There’s all kinds of people who don’t care at all.
It’s great work. Of course, I am the Gandhi-like figure. In other words, I don’t do much work. I just promote. But that’s all looking pretty good.

KF: I think even though the title of the tour is the Southern Discomfort tour, I think the South has a certain cultural heritage. I don’t know what it is, the air is heavier out there than it is in the rest of the country. And there’s ghosts in it. And I think that’s good.

That’s like an idea Billy Bob (Thornton) has in his book Cave Full of Ghosts - The Billy Bob Tapes. This one I’ve been working on, but I’m just beginning another one with Willie (Nelson) that I call The Troublemaker.

IND: Now, are you a ghostwriter, a co-writer? What’s you involvement with these books?


KF: I’m kind of a Jiminy Cricket, kind of producing the book, shall we say. If a person writes a lot of stuff and it’s good and it gets there on time, that’s my job. Seeing that it gets there and it’s good. That’s what the editor wants. Hopefully keeping everything together is the idea.
Willie has done a great job. And Willie and I have just started so I can’t answer whether I’m a ghostwriter or not. I mean it’s something worth doing together. If Willie were to write “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” then, yes, I would absolutely produce something.
But I don’t think that’s going to happen, I think we’re both tuned into The Troublemaker. All the trouble-making aspects of a … everything from Jesus to Groucho Marx. Know what I’m saying?

IND: Yeah. They were considered trouble-makers, weren’t they?

KF: Yeah. Well, this is the problem. I was talking about the culture, about us, that is a problem. It may not be Washington, or Nashville, or Hollywood. That’s the problem. All of them have been dumbed down, you're right.
There’s not a Churchill, or a John Lennon, or a John Wayne in sight.

IND: Can it be fixed?

KF: Yeah, well …

IND: Or corrected?

 KInky_Tour_photo
                                                   Photo by Nicole Weingart

KF: Yeah. I think the pendulum will swing. I’m waiting for that to happen. When you look at the whole culture today, you can see we’ve taken a giant step backwards. It can just be those six old people that I’ve mentioned is where the inspiration is.

I mean I know that Barry Manilow has made more money than God. And he’s certainly made more money than, say, Merle Haggard. But Barry Manilow writes songs that make you feel good for a short period of time, right?
And Merle and Kristofferson write songs and they make you think. And those songs last a lifetime. So, that’s what I strive for … and I’m not knocking Barry Manilow, but when we run out of this crop of heroes, I don’t think there’s going to be any left.

This is a point that Billy Bob makes. He’s not saying that songwriters today suck, because if he says that, he gets 10,000 emails that say you’re a bitter old dinosaur, you’re a walking extinct, you know, all this kind of stuff. Some people are really angry and they think they’re film critics, or whatever.
And the combination of political correctness and the Internet, I think, have led us to the point where we can go around looking at a lot of music and it’s hard to find what we think is greatness. Or what we thought of rock and roll.
Let’s say Lafayette is a music town; it’s like Austin. You’re still hard put to find something that’s not just derivative, you know, young people that want to be Buddy Holly. But they’ve got their hearts in the right place; problem is, they’re not going to be Buddy Holly.
I mean, he was born in a great emptiness. He wasn’t born when they had all these bands and stuff around, or the 400 things you can see on television.

IND: Like American Idol …?

KF: Yeah. And the American Idol thing has killed Buddy Holly. Just as the crowd kills Jesus every f***ing time. Every time. Politics and music and film and all art today in America, the culture, the crowd says, “Free Barabbas! Kill Jesus!” Every time.
Barabbas, of course, he doesn’t call. He doesn’t write. In 2000 years, he hasn’t saved a soul. Yeah. Poor Barabbas. He hasn’t even won a football game in all that time.
And Jesus, of course, as we know, was a good Jewish boy who got in a little trouble with the government. And Jesus might be spending a little too much time with Tim Tebow. That might be the problem. Maybe he need to get back to the …

IND: He switched allegiances, huh?

KF: Yeah. Although I’ve become a Tim Tebow fan myself, a Denver fan. But that could account for the fact that the world is going to hell. Because He has been working with Tim a lot this past year.
That’s the kind of troublemaker Willie and I had in mind.

IND: I can’t wait to see it. You got an ETA on that?

KF: There’d better be. We need to have it ready by June. We’ve both been working on it. So, we’ll see what happens.
The Billy Bob book is done. I think it’s slated for Father’s Day. It’s a very honest book. Not your celebrity autobiography. So, if you want to add Hollywood to the problems with Nashville and Washington, read what Billy Bob’s got to say about it. It’s amazing. You know, he’s right.

He’s done this movie, Jane Mansfield’s Car, with Robert Duvall and well, it’s ready now. I think it will be at festivals stuff very shortly. But, boy, I’ve just seen snatches of it, but this is really an irreverent, outrageous, and brilliant film.

As Billy points out, much of the movies made this year will be $300-million video game movies aimed at 15-year-olds. But the other plot line will be, you know, the chubby kid with curly hair that brings a goat to Las Vegas and screws all the chorus girls. That’s the other plot line.
So, you know, I have some hope for the future. It could be that Charles Bukowski is right: “The human race just doesn’t have it.”

But in the meantime, I think it’s going to be guys who are buried in pauper’s graves, you know, people like … well, Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Mozart - guys like that who are going to lead the way. People whose lives are completely and inextricably woven with their art.

That’s what Alan Ginsberg had. That’s what Townes Van Zandt had. Hank Williams had it. In other words, they didn’t dress up like the band, Kiss, in bizarre outfits and then the next morning, being at the country club playing golf clubs with the record executives.

Those are the kind of trouble-makers that are who they are. Yeah, that’s pretty important, I think.

(Editor’s note: The Kinkster went on to remind The Ind that he’ll have some of his “Man in Black” tequila on hand. A portion of the profits will benefit the Utopia Animal Rescue Ranch.)

KF: I only have about two taste buds left, but they are having one helluva party. And I can tell the difference in tequilas. After three or four shots of it, it starts making me so high, I need a step ladder to scratch my ass.
Man in Black tequila salutes Zorro, Paladin, and Johnny Cash. Those three guys not only wore black, but they had a moral clarity that’s absent today in Washington. And Nashville. And probably everywhere in between.

If people like Zorro, Paladin and Johnny Cash were running the country, I think we’d be in great shape. Add Audie Murphy and Barbara Jordan to that bunch and you’ve got people with some spiritual integrity, instead of politicians from both parties.

The Crips and the Bloods are perpetually hiding behind the curve, right up to the president. That’s where they like to be, behind the curve; lead from behind. And that’s just not going to get it.
And you can compare that to Churchill who could see beyond the horizon. He had the kind of political genius. He was grappling with the future because he was the only one who could see it.
The problem with a lot of these politicians is that they’ve got Neville Chamberlin written all over them. They just want to appease.

IND: Yeah, that’s a scary thought. Don’t know what it is, but it’s more about them getting re-elected, than what they were elected for.

KF: Absolutely. That’s the problem, so, I don’t know how to solve it. One way is never re-elect anybody. That’s pretty good. Start this year. Start with Obama. But you know, that’s not the answer for everything.
The Crips and the Bloods are the problem. George Washington would be horrified if he could see the little town that was named after him. He really would because the best people, the best minds and hearts we have are not getting into politics.

IND: I know that and I hear that all the time. But that’s what frustrates me. That’s why they need to get into it. We’ve got to penetrate that bubble … somebody’s got to step up.

KF: I got in and the Democrats called me a racist ‘cause I used the N-word in a song. And, frankly, Mark Twain used the word 200 times in Huck Finn. And yet, he created a black character, a slave, Jim … the first time it had been done, a character of honesty and dignity and humanity surrounded by white people who were hypocrites and scoundrels with the exception of Huck himself.
Only the people on that raft, Huck Finn and Jim, really had any kind of moral clarity about what was right and what was wrong.

IND: Yeah, that book getting blasted was P.C. run amok …

kinky_and_kacey
Kinky Friedman and Kacey Jones

KF: There’s a woman named Jocelyn Chadwick, a black scholar, a Mark Twain scholar. She devoted a lot of her life defending Huck Finn to libraries and boards of education around the country. She felt the character of Jim was so strong that it did not need to be sanitized. Instead of calling Mark Twain a racist, as the Democrats call the Tea Party, and Bill Clinton, and Kinky Friedman and anybody who addresses the subject - she says that Huck Finn was attacked equally from the Right and the Left. That is what she found very interesting. The extreme Left and the extreme Right want to get rid of Huck Finn.

I really don’t know what the answer is, but I think Barbara Jordan would’ve joined the Tea Party because they love the Constitution and that was her Bible. So had she been in charge of the Democrats, they would’ve embraced the Tea Party and runaway with the whole thing.

But that crowd kills Jesus every chance it gets. It’s a miracle when you get a man of the people in there like a JFK or a FDR, like a Churchill - you can also put Ronald Regan and Ann Richards in there - or Huey Long.

All of them had spunk. All of them, oddly by the time of their deaths, they had a bond with the common man. And it’s interesting because Churchill, and FDR, and JFK were really aristocrats  … and something changed that, something  happened, and that’s called statesmanship. They became statesmen. They became leaders. After they were dead, they were mourned by the people.

The common man became their constituents. And that’s a beautiful thing. I mean, that’s very rare in politics. I don’t’ see it anywhere today, I can’t think of an elected official I respect or admire - there are some good ones, yes …
I think Obama thinks legislation is the key. And it’s not. Perception is the key. Inspiration is the key.

When something happens like the Iranian Revolution, you can imagine what a JFK, or a Churchill or a Ronald Regan would have been able to do. You don’t have to start a war. Those kids on the streets of Tehran, which represent a majority of people of that country and their future, were all shouting, “Obama. Where are you ?”

That’ the question. And it’s not just Obama. He’s just the latest example of some kind of cultural ADHD that we have. Something’s wrong.

Anyway, we’ll try to get it all straight on the 15th. On Wednesday night, we’ll get all these matters straightened out physically, politically, culturally, sexually.

You know, I have not quite achieved the goals I set out for myself many years ago, which I were to be fat, famous, financially fixed and a faggot by 50.

IND: Well, there are trade-offs…

KF: Yeah. Yeah. I’ve achieved some of those goals, but others have alluded me - fat, famous, financially fixed and a faggot by 50 - they’re worthy goals. But I’m still working on them. Most of them.
Remember what I said: Find what you like, and let it kill ya. That’s the motto of Man in Black tequila.

Kacey Jones will open the show at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $35 for reserve seating; $60 tickets include a meet-and-greet with the performer. For more info, call 233-7000. For more on the Kinky interview, visit www.theind.com.

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