Kinky the irreverent

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Kinky Friedman: Profane and profound
Photo by George Brainard

When singer-songwriter-raconteur-flame throwing humorist Kinky Friedman takes the stage at the Washington Jewish Music Festival on June 11, one thing he won’t be is the Democratic nominee for Texas agriculture commissioner.

Friedman – country music outlaw, mystery writer, purveyor of cigars and tequila, professional incorrigible — lost a runoff election on May 27.


He came to prominence in the 1970s. The times were calling for a counter-cultural Texas musician with a brash Jewish identity. Today, a band called Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys would cause barely a flutter on Twitter. Then he was another piece of the irreverence that marked the era.

The irreverent Kinky was in evidence during a recent phone interview, a few days before the election. Friedman, 69, grew downright serious when he spoke about his political platform of legalizing pot and hemp in Texas to provide medical marijuana to cancer sufferers and aid the Texas treasury.

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“I think we’ll have some profane and profound moments during this festival,” he said. “It’s really up to the audience to decide which is which.”

David Holzel: What do you think you’ll be playing?


Kinky Friedman: The hits. You know, “Get Your Biscuits in the Oven and your Buns in the Bed” and “They Ain’t Makin’ Jews like Jesus Anymore.” I’ll be telling a story I have not told, dealing with Nelson Mandela. It’s something that happened to me personally in South Africa in the mid-‘80s. And then there’ll be a reading from the latest book, “Heroes of a Texas Childhood” — 23 heroes of mine when I was a kid. And some politics, probably.

If you win that thing are you going to have to give up all your other… things?

I don’t think so. One step at a time. I’m not so sure the Texas Democrats are quite alert to how well we could do. I have a real base with the independents. Those two put together would be formidable.

Is Texas ready to go pro-pot? Pro-hemp?

Willie [Nelson] certainly thinks so. That’s really a no-brainer. If Texas isn’t ready for it then it’s not going to happen. But if Bob Dylan had come up five years earlier, he never would have been accepted, probably. I think lifting the prohibition on pot and hemp is one of the biggest things Texas could do. It’s crazy to have arguably the world’s finest cancer hospital in Houston – MD Anderson – and have no medicinal marijuana program.

If Texas legalized pot, it would end the war on drugs. It would make Texas the national leader. So the voters of Texas need to decide if they want to be seceders or if they want to be leaders.

I don’t smoke dope. The only time I smoke pot is when I’m with Willie. That’s a matter of Texas etiquette. To be polite. So I’m not talking about long-haired hippie smoking dope. I’m talkling about the future of Texas, which financially would be a gold mine. And in the criminal justice system in Texas, all we’re doing is making criminals out of people who aren’t really criminals. So I think we can find common humanity in that, Republicans and Democrats. The entire cancer community, which will affect one in three of us.

You are so identified with Texas, and you identify yourself so much with Texas, but you were born in Chicago.

I was one of the four Jewboys born in Michael Reese Hospital. And they are Steve Goodman, who wrote “City of New Orleans,” Warren Zevon, who wrote “Werewolves of London,” Shel Silverstein and Kinky Friedman. That’s pretty good for a small town.

It’s a tight group.

The only town that beats that is Amsterdam. Home of Vincent van Gogh and Anne Frank.

What brought your family down to Texas and kept them there?

Well, you’d have to ask my folks and that would be currently impossible. They wanted to start a camp for kids. A Jewish camp. And they did. And it just closed last summer. It ran for 62 years. Quite an icon in Texas Judaism, which does exist.

How long can a man remain irreverent?

Well, now you’ve hit on a real important thing. You do what [novelist] Joseph Heller does. You have a covenant with God. Don’t bother Him and He doesn’t bother you.

Jesus and Moses are two of my heroes. And both were known as troublemakers in their day. And that’s probably what I’m viewed as in politics. Two good Jewish boys who got in a little trouble with the government.

What are you reading these days?

All the past year I’ve been reading Churchill. I think all misunderstood geniuses love Churchill. He’s also a man who has lost more political races than I have. So had Abraham Lincoln, by the way.

And Shimon Peres, I think.

He lost a lot. Well, those guys I really empathize with.

I hope the old time Democratic spirit of Barbara Jordan and Ann Richards and Molly Ivans will be swirling around in this election. Because that’s the kind of Democrat that I like being. That’s what I want to be when I grow up.

In 2010, Texas arrested 74,000 non-violent pot possessors. Not dealers. That cost the taxpayer 250 million bucks. That group had seven times Hispanics and African Americans as whites. And now we learn that we could have put every one of the 74,000 through Harvard cheaper than it’s cost us to incarcerate them.

I think Texas is ready, I really do. We rank 49th for education — thank God for Alabama. I’m talking about how we can fund it.

Let me leave you with one parting question…

I am not gay. And I endorsed gay marriage in 2006, and I want to be on the record with that because Hilary and Obama and everyone else were against it. And now eight years later everybody is for it. Ted Cruz is for it. It requires no political courage today. And I said at the time they have the right to be just as miserable as the rest of us.

…I was going to ask you, what wisdom can you give, what advice would you give to the Jewish youth of today?

(long silence)

That’s a good one.

I would note the irony of the State of Israel not having very many friends in the Washington establishment these days. And the best friends seem to be the Christians.

I would say, let us stay on the outside looking in. Just like Lieutenant Columbo. That’s a very good place to be if you’re Jewish. If you’re an artist, it’s a good place to see things, it’s a good angle. If you’re a writer, it’s good. And if you’re a human, it’s a pretty humanistic place to be.

Right now the world is in such disarray, and there’s so much injustice going on. I have to use Barbara Jordan’s words: We have got to find common humanity. We absolutely have to. That’s how we win. That’s how we get things done.

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@DavidHolzel

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