2002.08.21 It's time to get Kinky

Written by David Green.

By RICH FOLEY

The 2004 presidential election is still far in the future, but for those looking for a fresh face on the political scene, how about possibly the only person to count both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush as personal friends and admirers? I’m referring, of course, to Texan country singer/mystery writer Kinky Friedman.

Like many who claim to be Texans, Kinky wasn’t born in the Lone Star State, instead entering this world in Chicago, Illinois.

“Lived there one year, couldn’t find work, moved to Texas, haven’t worked since,” is how Friedman puts it.

Originally named Richard, he earned his rather creative nickname due to his extremely curly hair, though it would fit him even if he were bald.

After fronting a band named King Arthur and the Carrots in high school, Kinky joined the Peace Corps and was sent to Borneo where his assignment was to distribute seeds to farmers. However, Kinky claims no seeds ever arrived during his stay, so he is remembered by natives as “the man who brought Frisbees to Borneo.”

After returning to the U. S., Kinky formed a new band he called the Texas Jewboys. Members included Rainbow Colors, Little Jewford and Snakebite Jacobs. Kinky found the going pretty tough for a Jewish country group, saying the band “never quite reached the tour bus level. The closest I came was a blue [Chevrolet] Beauville van, out of which the Texas Jewboys poured like a thousand clowns at every honky-tonk, minstrel show, whorehouse, bar and bar mitzvah throughout the South.” Of course, when you’re singing songs like “They Ain’t Making Jews Like Jesus Anymore.” a tour bus is probably too much to hope for.

Kinky gained a cult following, however, with singers like Eric Clapton, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and Ringo Starr appearing on his albums. He even got a guest shot on Saturday Night Live, but nervous executives at NBC insisted on billing the group as Kinky Friedman and His Band.

It wasn’t the first time Kinky had trouble with the group’s name. Many record stores refused to carry his albums, objecting to the word “Jewboys” even though Kinky was Jewish. At one point, he considered changing the group’s name to “The Exxon Brothers,” but a certain oil company was said not to be amused.

After touring in the late 1970s with Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue, Kinky went solo, eventually settling in Kerrville, Texas, which he calls “the kind of place where Jesus could walk in with three nails and somebody’d put him up for the night.”

Tired of life on the road and looking for a career “that wouldn’t require my presence,” Kinky wrote a mystery novel, featuring a retired country singer turned detective named Kinky Friedman and the names of many of the real-life Kinky’s friends as other characters in the book.

The first novel was well received and according to Kinky, he has “churned out, er, I mean carefully crafted” one book a year for the last 15 years. His most famous title is probably “The Love Song of J. Edgar Hoover.”

In the past few years, Kinky’s fame has gained him some high-powered friends. In 1997,  President Clinton, said to be a longtime fan of Kinky’s music, invited him to the White House. It’s interesting to note that Clinton waited until after he was re-elected to make the invite.

Kinky got a lot of dirty looks and smirks when he arrived wearing a black Stetson hat, cowboy boots and Texas string tie. But when it was time for dinner and guests discovered  Kinky was seated next to Clinton, he said the comments changed to “Who’s that interesting man sitting next to the President?”

Friedman has known first lady Laura Bush for years. He made several appearances at literacy projects when the former librarian’s husband was Texas governor. She invited Kinky to attend and do some readings at a White House family dinner last December.

Although Kinky was worried he might do something to embarrass Laura (this time, he was seated next to her), he knew all went well when the first President Bush stood up and gave Kinky a hug after he finished reading.

I have no idea if Kinky has any interest in a political career, but it is something he could probably have fun with. As he once said, “Some things are too important to take seriously.”

    – Aug. 21, 2002 
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