Kinky Friedman on Barack Obama, the Girl He Knew in Seattle and Why It's Only Natural for a Jew to Be Against the Death Penalty

kinky friedman.jpg
Kinky Friedman is not like you. You are not like Kinky Friedman. Which is part of the reason why you should go see him play at the Triple Door tonight -- his first visit to Seattle in he-forgets-how-many decades. Because Friedman actually lives up to that cliche you hear bandied about all the time: that of an American original.

He was the first independent candidate for Texas governor to get on the ballot in 159 years. Presumably, you are not. He wrote a haunting song about the Holocaust and winkingly entitled it "Ride 'em Jewboy." Presumably, you did not. He counts both Bush and Clinton as friends. Presumably, you do not. And neither do I. Hell, neither does anyone.

Friedman has published 29 books and authored a Texas Monthly column for years. But the self-proclaimed "Mark Twain of Texas" is still mostly known for what got him attention in the first place: as a wry, irreverent country and western singer with a social conscious bent.

"It's the curse of being-multitalented," he says on the phone from Utopia Animal Rescue, the ranch an hour west of San Antonio he's run for the past dozen years. "A lot of people who read my books don't know I write music. A lot of people who know about my races for governor don't know I write books."

why not kinky.jpg
Campaign material from the 2006 run for Governor.
Be that as it may, a lot of people will still come out to see Friedman on the Go West Young Kinky Tour, which kicked off in Vancouver last night, his first sojourn to this coast in 20 years. Special guests include singer Dwight Yoakham and Billy Bob Thornton, with whom he's collaborating to write another book.

Friedman wouldn't spill on who might join him on stage tonight -- "Most of (the guests) aren't traveling very far," he says -- but he did talk about a lot of other things, many of which would have been sullied by the intrusion of my silly-ass questions. So here now, Friedman unedited, and free to be as Kinky as he wants to be on issues and people including...

Barack Obama:

"I don't think he's got the chops. This gulf crisis has convinced me he's not Winston Churchill, if anyone ever thought he was. Great campaigns do not necessarily lead to strong leaders. Leave it to America to elect as president a black man without any soul.

"The problem, Caleb, is that he's the 'Yes We Can' candidate. I agree that everyone in Washington is no better than Obama. But I'm saying that a great leader would be able to do something, he just doesn't have the chops. FDR was an aristocrat, but if he'd gone to talk to the family of dead miners he would have an impact. So would Reagan, or Clinton or JFK. A lot of it is perception. He doesn't want to be president for all the people, I really believe that.

"I voted for him but I would never do it again. He's a Harvard lecturer. No one should run for president who's from Harvard, Yale or the state of Texas. He's not inspiring me. He inspired millions and lots of them are disappointed for good reason. The climate in Washington is so toxic that it'd be difficult for anybody to get anything done that means anything. They're hall monitors. They've been in politics all their lives. You don't see a George Washington or Thomas Jefferson. You see young republicans and young democrats; they go right into it like a moth to a flame and Obama is one of them. And so are all the other guys by the way."

On the Difference Between Being Important and Being Significant:

"The Rolling Stones are now nostalgia. There was a window of time when they were significant. Now they're just important. That's what's happened to really successful politicians. They managed to be important without being significant. I strive to be significant.

"Significant is Iggy Pop. Tom Waits. Hank Williams. Willie Nelson. Molly Ivins. I'm saying blessed is the match that kindles the flame. It's not always the big...the reason I'm even talking about this, this recent book of mine (Ed.'s note: "Heroes of a Texas Childhood") is 23 profiles of Texans who most Texans or many of them, have never heard of. People like Barbara Jordan and Audie Murphy and Molly Ivins. And what they had in common was how they dealt with failure and tragedy and challenges in their lives. They really went through hell, and how they dealt with that was what made them heroes. It's important that young people know on whose shoulders they stand. If I am ever governor of Texas, this book will be mandatory reading."

On His Last Time In Seattle:

"I remember doing a show in Seattle but I think it's been a long time. Seemed like kind of a country and western kinda place. I'm the worst guy because I've forgotten the first half of my life. I think it was a pretty good show, a pretty good crowd.

"I do remember something about Seattle. There was a kind of a Chinatown area that was really good. Is that still there? (Ed.'s note: It is.) Then there was a girl from out there. A girl in a peach-colored dress who I was involved with for a number of years. It's a gorgeous area, there's no question about it."

On the Difference Between Musicians and Politicians:

"It's a giant step down from musician to politician. One tells the truth, is creative about solutions and is free. And the other one is just the worst kind of people. The worst kind of people are getting into politics. Good people don't want to do it. And we need someone from the outside. Someone besides the Crips and the Bloods. Republican and Democrat have become the same guy, admiring themselves in the mirror.

"There's only three honest guys in Washington anyway, and they're the three everyone thinks are wing-nuts: Ron Paul, Dennis Kucinich and Bernie Sanders. All the other guys fit my definition of politics: 'poly' means more than one and ticks are blood-sucking parasites."

On His Traveling Band:

"There are three of us. It's Little Jewford, who is a Jew who drives a Ford. And then Washington Ratso, from our nation's capital.

"Ratso is a Lebanese friend of mine who I've been performing with sexually, I mean musically, for God knows how long. I met him on the gang plank of Noah's ark. We believe we're the last true hope for peace in the Middle East."

On the Difference Between American Audiences and Those Elsewhere In the World:

"When we tour Australia and Europe those people have great bullshit meters, so when you do a song called 'Sold American,' they really understand that song.

"The audiences in Europe are just smart. American audiences want to be entertained. I think that's another difference between music and politics. Like Willie Nelson says, 'When they come to see you, when you finish you can flip the crowd the bird or you can sign autographs or you can be like Bob Dylan and not sign anything.' That's not true in politics. You have to be so careful with what you say, you have to be always on.

"We toured Europe last year and all the shows were sold out and they were full of young people. The songs were older than the audience. That's a nice thing because it wasn't done by record company flacks or having a hit song. In a big city like Seattle we'll see who salutes, but I think it's going to be a financial pleasure."

On the Death Penalty:

"A lot of people took my candidacy (for Governor of Texas) as a joke, and now they're stuck between the lesser of two boll weevils. I came out against the death penalty a long time ago. When I talk to Christians I always say I'm sorry you have to hear this from a Jew, but remember that's who you heard it from the first time."

On What He'll Sign After Tonight's Show:

"Anything but bad legislation."

comments powered by Disqus