Kinky Friedman Takes Contemporary Culture to Task on New Album 

Kinky Friedman on the world today: “Our shit’s fucked up. It might not be fixable this time.”

Kinky Friedman on the world today: “Our shit’s fucked up. It might not be fixable this time.”

Veteran singer-songwriter Kinky Friedman has done it all. Over the course of a career that stretches back to the '60s when he played with the surf-spoof act King Arthur & the Charlottes — a group known for its one and only single, "Schwinn 24/Beach Party Boo Boo") — Friedman has toured with Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue, recorded with Eric Clapton, the Band and Ringo Starr, and appeared on Saturday Night Live and at the Grand Ole Opry. And, oh yeah, he wrote a song that the late Nelson Mandela counted as one of this favorites. Say what?

"He was in prison for seventeen years," says Friedman via phone from his Texas ranch. "The guy in the cell next to him was Tokyo Sexwale. I met Tokyo Sexwale, one of his right-hand men, when I was in South Africa. He told me that Mandela was a big fan. He said, 'We smuggled what we could. I was in the cell next to him, and the signoff song that he played every night was "Ride 'Em Jewboy." That went on for the better part of three years.' The last thing on my mind was that Nelson Mandela would be listening to it in a prison cell. That makes the song and the whole career significant."

Friedman's latest studio album, The Loneliest Man I Ever Met, features originals such as "Sold American," "Nashville Casualty and Life" as well as "Ride 'Em Jewboy." The alt-country album also includes Friedman's take on tunes by Tom Waits, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Merle Haggard and friend Willie Nelson, who produced and performs on his own "Bloody Mary Morning." Guitarist Joe Cirotti, the Willie Nelson Family Band's Mickey Raphael and Little Jewford, and the bandleader of the Texas Jewboys all make appearances. It's his first effort in over three decades.

"Life gets in the way," explains Friedman, who has written a slew of detective novels and once ran for governor of Texas. "I've been writing books and columns. Politics gets in the way, too."

He credits Brian Molnar, who produced the album, with pointing him in the right direction.

"He did the thing at the ranch and found a great guitar player along with an engineer," Friedman says. "They were from Jersey. I called them the Jersey Boys. They're the only sound you hear on the record. There are three original songs and nine interpretative renderings. Elvis never wrote a song and Sinatra never wrote a song. The interpretation is what's happening here.

"I'm not doing this to educate millennials," he continues. "It's a record of songs that I love. The more I play the record, the more it seems like a mirror. 'Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis' might be known by two percent of the audience. It's halfway between Bob [Dylan] and Kinky. It's right in the middle, I think. Of course, 'My Shit's Fucked Up' isn't so much about Warren Zevon dying of cancer as it is a visionary song. It's a perfect description of our country and our world today. Our shit's fucked up. It might not be fixable this time."

That notion — that the world is broken and can't be fixed — inspired the sentiments found on many of the album's tunes. When Friedman ran for governor in 2004, he used a variety of slogans, including "My Governor Is a Jewish Cowboy" and "He Ain't Kinky, He's My Governor." Those didn't win him the election, though they did get him some attention in the media. He continues to follow politics, though he says he's done "picking on Obama."

"Rick Perry, who is my favorite nemesis, is out," he says. "I can't do jokes about him anymore. The crowd always picks Barabbas. You can bet if there's anyone good there, they don't pick them. They'll kill him. There's only one thing I don't like about [Donald] Trump. I prefer Mr. Anonymous. If you give money to a children's hospital, you shouldn't put your name up there in big letters. He's not corrupt. Neither is Bernie Sanders. Those two are not. I don't know, though. We need to limit everyone to two terms — one in office and one in prison. That would go a long way to help."

For the current tour, Friedman says, he'll play material from the new album and delve into his notorious past.

"There will be old favorites," he says. "I can't get around to not doing 'They Ain't Makin' Jews Like Jesus Anymore' and 'I'm Proud to be an Asshole from El Paso.' I will have Joe Cirotti with me, who did some beautiful guitar work on the record. We have a lot of merch. We have T-shirts and sweatshirts. I will sign anything but bad legislation."

Friedman admits the current tour, a month of nearly back-to-back shows that takes him away from his beloved ranch, will be a haul.

"I'm sad about leaving my four dogs," he says. "I explained to them what I have to do. This is a tour on the Hank Williams level. When you're doing back-to-back shows with no nights off, you are going to be running on pure adrenaline. You'll be raw and pure and hearing voices, and all your good angels will hopefully be there with you. It's really a test."


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