They ain't making performers like Kinky anymore

For Kinky Friedman, being able to draw a crowd after 40 years in the business is “very satisfying.” Now, the outspoken Jewish country song...


For Kinky Friedman, being able to draw a crowd after 40 years in the business is “very satisfying.”

Now, the outspoken Jewish country songwriter and performer is embarking on a Southern Discomfort tour that takes him through the Deep South in a new way. While he was best known for being in the band with the Texas Jewboys in the 1970s, this is a solo tour. When seeing a performer solo, Friedman said, one gets to really see who the performer is, and “the solo nature of this gets the lyrics across.”

He will visit a lot of places “I haven’t been to in a very long time, or that I haven’t been to at all.” The performances will mostly be music, with some humor and politics thrown in, as well as a reading from his new book, “Heroes of a Texas Childhood,” which he will have available for signing, “and I will sign anything except for bad legislation.”

That was one of his campaign slogans in 2006 when he ran for governor of Texas, coming in fourth in a six-man race. After last year, he was said to be swearing off running for office but now says “I don’t know. Rick Perry’s run for president has really improved my image. It’s made George W. look like Thomas freakin’ Jefferson.”

The Texas Jewboys were known for pushing the envelope with some of their songs, or shredding the envelope altogether. When he ran for governor, the lyrics of “They Ain’t Making Jews Like Jesus Any More” became an issue because of the presence of the word “nigger.”

“I was surprised how people completely distorted that when I ran for governor,” he said. Inspired by a bar-room brawl in the Texas Hill country, the song is actually an anti-bigotry anthem. “I was called a racist because of those lyrics. You can’t explain it. You get defensive and I couldn’t believe it.”

He noted the irony in that he was the only candidate against the death penalty, and the only one who was a part of the civil rights movement, “that actually picketed segregated restaurants and other places… and yet they hung me out as a racist. Of course, they think Mark Twain was a racist.”

He noted that in many places, there are efforts to get “Huckleberry Finn” banned because of that word, which completely misses the importance of Twain’s novel. “It’s the first novel that takes a guy like Jim and makes him the guy with humanity, dignity and honor, and he’s surrounded by scoundrels and hypocrites who are all white,” he noted.

He decries political correctness. “Nigger,” he asserts, “is a lot nicer word than going around saying ‘the n-word.’ That’s about the worst thing — it goes against everything Lenny Bruce believed, and Richard Pryor believed.”

He tells audiences “If a young Richard Pryor walked in here tonight we couldn’t make a star of him in this country. The same is true of Mel Brooks, George Carlin, Lenny Bruce… and that represents a cultural step backwards, a giant one. I thank the Lord we still have ‘They Ain’t Making Jews’.”

Last summer he toured Australia, and noted that the audience “laughed when something was funny and cried when something was sad. They didn’t look around to see what the rest of the audience was doing.

“In America that’s what you see,” he said. “Our puritanical roots are showing. We ‘re just hung up politically, racially, sexually, spiritually. Maybe one of the most hung up societies on Earth.”

But he keeps trying. “Blessed is the match that kindles the flame. The pendulum has to swing back on political correctness,” he said.

A song’s life is interesting, he noted. “Get Your Biscuits in the Oven and Your Buns in the Bed” actually started a riot during a 1973 performance at the University of Buffalo as a “crazed group of lesbians” attacked the stage. “It may sound humorous… they were winning. They were smashing things, beating up the Texas Jewboys,” and the campus police had to escort them out of town. He was soon awarded the Male Chauvinist Pig of the Year by the National Organization for Women because of the song. “That one today is now a harmless feminist ditty,” he said.

Another well-known Friedman song is “Ride ‘Em Jewboy,” perhaps the only country song written in tribute to victims of the Holocaust. He wrote it while in the Peace Corps in Borneo, working for “11 cents an hour. Best job I ever had.”

The up-front nature of the Jewboys caused some problems in the Jewish community. “Store chains owned by Jews, Jewish executives at record companies. We had a sweet record deal blown down like that by just the name Texas Jewboys or by some of the songs,” he said, and his father also wasn’t fond of the band’s name.

But that has turned around also. At a recent show in Tucson, he was amazed at how many in the audience were Jewish — probably half the crowd. He hopes that during this tour, the Jewish communities in the South will help him achieve his two favorite words in the English language — “sold out.”

Being Jewish, he said, “is very subliminal sometimes. It has to do with interweaving your life and your art.”

He bemoans the current state of the music industry, saying there are few out there with staying power. You’re not going to see a young John Lennon come along today, because acts become “a product instantaneously, like Justin Bieber or Lady Gaga. They’re not stars, they’re a product. If they wrote beautiful stuff, you’d never know it.”

Nashville is filled with “corporate whorehouses” filled with songwriters who churn out product. “Everything they do is derivative. It’s selling, someone is recording it, so it’s making money. It manages to be important without being significant.”

And yet, in decades of that process “no one has written ‘Hello Walls,’ and no one has written ‘Me and Bobby McGee’,” he said. “Three stoned drunk guys, Willie Nelson, Roger Miller and Kris Kristofferson, wrote so much classic stuff in a short period of time in the same town.”

To really see an inspiring show these days, “you gotta go see a geezer these days.” He added, “I don’t count myself in that category, at least not yet.

“I’m 67 but I read at a 69-year-old level.”

After the Texas Jewboys broke up, Friedman did a series of detective novels with himself as the main character. In addition to politics and his interest in animal rescue, he now has his own cigar line, which is being run by former sidekick Little Jewford, and includes cigars named after his Utopia animal rescue ranch, Willie Nelson and the Texas Jewboy.

“Heroes of a Texas Childhood” profiles 23 Texans who were and are very influential in Texas history. Of the 23, he said, “you probably know more of them than most college graduates in Texas,” he said, critiquing the lack of historical awareness among today’s youth. “They don’t know on whose shoulders they stand,” Friedman said, and noted that if he had been elected, the book would have been required reading in the public schools.

This tour debuts Friedman’s newest venture, Man in Black tequila, “the best Mexican mouthwash you’ll ever drink.” It salutes Zorro, Paladin and Johnny Cash.

He will be at Vermillionville in Lafayette on Feb. 15, the Red Dragon Listening Room in Baton Rouge on Feb. 16, Duling Hall in Jackson on Feb. 17, the Maple Leaf in New Orleans on Feb. 18, Workplay in Birmingham on Feb. 20, the Auburn Unitarian Universalist Fellowship on Feb. 21 and Proud Larry’s in Oxford, Miss., on Feb. 23.
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Southern Jewish Life: They ain't making performers like Kinky anymore
They ain't making performers like Kinky anymore
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