It’s safe to say that most people attending Kinky Friedman’s Valentine’s Day concert won’t be expecting the outlaw country music singer to serenade them with a bunch of silly love songs.
After all, the irrepressibly satirical Friedman, aka the “Legendary Texas Jewboy,” is notorious for politically incorrect tunes that gleefully stretch the bounds of good taste, such as Get Your Biscuits in the Oven and Your Buns in Bed, How Can I Tell You I Love You (When You’re Sitting on My Face), A—hole from El Paso and, of course, They Ain’t Makin’ Jews Like Jesus Anymore.
32Number of years since Kinky’s last studio album
So when Friedman takes the stage Sunday night at North Miami’s Luna Star Café, rather than a straightforward celebration of Cupid’s touch, it’d be more accurate to classify the event as a sort of “anti-Valentine’s Day” show — but one that definitely still has a heart. It’s also a showcase for his first studio album in 32 years, the stark and intimate The Loneliest Man I Ever Met, on which he collaborated with Willie Nelson on the opening track, Bloody Mary Morning.
Don’t be fooled by Friedman’s aversion to sappiness. He’s definitely a romantic — it’s just that his idea of romance has nothing to do with those sugary, sentimental verses common to Hallmark cards. Friedman, now 71, is an old soul who longs for simpler times when people said what they meant, sang from the heart and could tell the difference between talent and fame. Simply put, for all his irreverence, he’s a straight shooter. A real cowboy.
The lengthy gap between his album releases is not due to laziness, apathy or any sort of writer’s block. Friedman, who perhaps paradoxically is good friends with both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, ran for governor of Texas as an independent in 2006 and came in fourth with more than 12 percent of the vote. He’s also written more than 20 mystery novels, with himself as protagonist (what character, real or fictional, could top him?), and has collaborated or toured with a long list of rock and country legends, including Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr and Johnny Cash.
Friedman, whose first name is Richard (the nickname “Kinky” came in college, inspired by his curly hair, not any sexual proclivities), talked to the Miami Herald about the show, the new record, smoking joints with Willie, what’s wrong with music today, what’s wrong with politicians in any day, and how his song Ride ‘Em Jewboy soothed Nelson Mandela in prison (no, really).
Q: Why did it take 32 years for you to record a new album?
A: You know, sometimes life gets in the way. A lot of it is writing books, and a lot of it is politics, and a lot of it is that you kind of have a sense that most country music is overproduced, and that’s not really what I do. Anything these days coming out of Nashville seems to have a lot of click tracks on it, and all of the songs are written by a committee. The pendulum’s bound to swing the other way, where the songwriters are represented better.
I guess this record is really sparse, and it’s got some great musicians on it, with Mickey Raphael, Willie Nelson’s harmonica player, and of course Willie and me on the first cut, Bloody Mary Morning, which we smoked about eight joints before we went into the studio. I don’t smoke dope, really — I just do it with Willie as a matter of Texas etiquette. But I got so high I needed a stepladder to scratch my ass. I thought the song was going on for an hour and a half — my timing was way out the window. And then I talked to the engineer afterward and he said the song runs exactly three minutes. So Willie had it cold.
Q: Is that sparse sound a nod to old-school country music?
A: The album of Willie’s that’s most similar to this one is Red Headed Stranger, and when that first came out the record company just hated it. They didn’t even realize — they thought they had a collector’s record or something like that, they were so upset with the way that record sounded. And Willie had done it in four days, for about 20 thousand bucks. And he produced it — that’s the first one they let him produce. And a lot of the artists, too, said the thing sounded like a bad demo.
But the truth is, it had Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain on it, which turned out to be the Song of the Year in country [laughs] and then it crossed and became the Song of the Year in pop. And none of that started until the disc jockeys played the song and people heard it.
Unfortunately what we hear today sounds like background music for a frat party.
All I’m saying is, it’s nice to be able to bring your own imagination to it, sometimes to have a little space to think as you’re listening to a record. And unfortunately what we hear today sounds like background music for a frat party.
Q: Do you have anything special planned for all the lovebirds at your show down here?
A: Sure! I will probably do a Valentine’s Day song, and that will probably be a song called Marilyn and Joe, which is a love song. And I’ve done it for many weddings, and none of the people are still married to each other. And then we’ll also do some songs from the new record, including My S---t’s F----d Up, by Warren Zevon. Which is interesting, because it’s getting downloaded more than any other song on the record, and you can’t even say the name of it to plug it.
Warren Zevon, of course, was a friend of mine, and he wrote the song when he was dying of cancer. And when you start singing the song, people laugh. But by the end, they get it, that the song pretty well describes the state of the world and the country today. It’s a very apt description.
Q: Doesn’t that fall in line with almost everything you do, in that a lot of it is funny, but there’s an overall serious message?
A: Well, you really hit something there, because a reviewer in L.A. said that this is an unconscious concept album. And I think he’s right. It’s a record that lets you use your imagination a little bit. And it wasn’t even done in a recording studio — it was done on a ranch, and the sound is great. We tried like hell to break every rule we could — this is not following any trends. The mainstream is a pretty toxic place most of the time. I think most of the significant people have not been mainstream.
Q: Well, Dylan, Clapton, Ringo and others you’ve performed with all became mainstream. Is that something you’d shy away from?
A: Well, I’ve always said, kind of in the spirit of Woody Guthrie, that I have a difficulty of getting out of my own way. I was offered some things — I spent some time with Bob Dylan on an island off of Mexico, and Bob was pestering me about writing together, doing an album. And I would say, “No, Bob, we’re tired, this is a vacation.” I mean, looking back at it, it’s ridiculous. Anybody in the business would write a record with Bob, even if it sucked. And for some reason, I didn’t want to do it. I think that might be the reason Bob and I are still friends today.
Q: Some people might call that “integrity.”
A: [Laughs] That might be a stretch, but whatever it is, I’m just not a good little Jewish businessman. But that’s all right. This record looks like it’s going to turn out to be a real financial pleasure, because it’s selling differently than most records do. If you’ve noticed today, one sign that our s--- is f----d up, it is that we have cultural ADD. In other words, if there’s a hit movie, or a hit song, or a popular book, the next week it’s already gone. It’s not even on the charts — it’s not that it fell two points, it’s gone. And nobody wants to see it. But that is not what’s happening to this record — it’s slowly selling more and more, and that is really a good thing, and quite frankly I’m really surprised. It’s kinda like oatmeal — it sticks to your ribs.
Q: What’s the biggest misconception about you?
A: Probably that I’m rich. And it’s very irritating that most Texans think I’m a rich rancher. Well, I guess I have a lot of land, and if I sold the land I would be rich. But otherwise, I live in a very Gandhi-like fashion. The only currency I value is the coin of the spirit. I don’t really care about money.
Q: Have you ever performed in Miami before?
A: This tour I think is the first time I’ve been in Florida since I was with Bob Dylan in 1976 [on the Rolling Thunder Revue Tour]. And that’s a long-ass time, so there will be a lot of stuff to do. We’ll do all the old favorites: A—hole from El Paso, They Ain’t Makin’ Jews Like Jesus Anymore and Get Your Biscuits in the Oven and Your Buns in Bed. And we’ll also do Ride ‘Em Jewboy, which as you may know, Nelson Mandela listened to in his prison cell. And he listened to it every single night — it was the last song he played, kind of his sign-off song. And we get that from this fellow that I met in South Africa, Tokyo Sexwale, who is now up for the presidency of FIFA.
Anyway, Tokyo is Mandela’s right-hand man, and he heard Mandela playing this song every single night, and he says for me not to get a swelled head about it, because I was not Mandela’s favorite singer — that was Dolly Parton [laughs]. I don’t know if she knows that.
It would be very nice if we had anybody in politics that had anything near what Mandela had. But you know, my definition of “politics” is: “poly” means more than one, and “ticks” are blood-suckin’ parasites.
If You Go
What: Kinky Friedman
When: 8 and 10 p.m. Sunday
Where: Luna Star Café, 775 NE 125th St., North Miami
Info: 305-799-7123 or www.lunastarcafe.com; $30, at the door only