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Kinky Friedman

Friday, October 13, 2023

Kinky+Friedman-Jeremy Lock.jpg

Kerrville, TX

 

Website

 

Music

 

   ​Americans seem unable to share a song, a beer, a joke or a toke without strangling each other. The exception in this great divide is the non-conforming, free-spirited, follow-the-bouncing-testicles allure of Kinky Friedman, among whose utterly unique characteristics is his uncanny ability to appeal to MAGA-hatted Tea Party animals as well pansexual Marxist vegans. Rudyard Kipling once wrote that “East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,” but Kipling had never met Kinky and apparently was riding the wrong twain. Wherever the Kinkster goes, he’s ten steps ahead of the crowd who, when not trampling over each other in a mad rush to hang Mike Pence and Nancy Pelosi, have loved his songs, his concerts, his jokes, his books, his runs for political office, his mere presence. He’s shaken more hands, posed for more selfies and kissed more girl babies barely over the age of 18 than O.J. Simpson, Ted Bundy and Charles Manson combined. That he’s never killed anyone makes him that much more of a rarity, moral beacon and American hero of our time.

Born in Chicago, he moved to Texas before his training wheels blew out, while he let his family ride in the U-Haul hitched to the back of his Schwinn tricycle. He immediately established himself as a Lone Star State lone star, when at age 7 he played chess grandmaster Samuel Reshevsky in Houston, letting the older man win so as not to hurt his feelings. As a young Texas Jew, he was always aligned with the oppressed and was multicultural before it was cool, as evidenced by his passion for hot and sour soup. In the 1960s, he marched against segregated lunch counters in Austin and served two years in the Peace Corps where he introduced the frisbee to Borneo, whose natives were desperately searching for something to do in their spare time. He cemented his early efforts as a musical pioneer in surf-rock band King Arthur & The Carrots, a novel aggregation largely because they were in closer proximity to cement than an ocean and thus nowhere near a wave.

Speaking of waves, his lifelong love of country music brought him his first wave of fame with Kinky Friedman and The Texas Jewboys, his band of impossibly stoned headnecks with whom he became the first full-blooded Jew to play Nashville’s revered Grand Ol’ Opry. His first album, 1973’s Sold American was quickly followed by 1974’s eponymously-titled second and 1976’s Lasso From El Paso, creating Kinkster’s holy trinity of material which he continues to draw from in concert. The Jewboys’ sound was hardcore honky-tonk country, but his lyrics were both Kinky as well as kinky. Many of them were social commentary, some folks even recognized they were satirical. He took aim at bigotry (“We Reserve The Right To Refuse Service To You”), serial killing Boy Scout/Marines (“The Ballad Of Charles Whitman”), organized religion (“They Ain’t Makin’ Jews Like Jesus Anymore”), rednecks (“Asshole From El Paso”) and male chauvinists/female feminists (“Get Your Biscuits In The Oven And Your Buns In The Bed”). He was neither left-wing nor right-wing – simply fucking funny.

On top of his sui generis wit, Kinkala could do poignant like no one else. “Sold American” was an ode to the troubadours of the heart who get forgotten in the music racket’s short memory hole (Glen Campbell immediately covered it in ’73), “Rapid City, South Dakota” a subtle story about the moral complexities of abortion and, arguably his greatest song, “Ride “Em Jewboy,” a tribute to the victims of the Holocaust. The combination of devastating tragedy and outrageous wit in his work drew the attention of the greats: his peers in the highest realms of creativity. Kinky and The Texas Jewboys headlined Max’s Kansas City in ’73, New York’s hippest nightclub and infamous hang of rock stars, the era’s greatest painters and the Warhol crowd. While living in Los Angeles in the ‘70s, he hosted an infamous party that drew gatecrashers Robbie Robertson, Lowell George, Eric Clapton, Joni Mitchell, Tom Waits, Van Dyke Parks, Bob Dylan and a hundred other musical legends at the top of their game who wanted a whiff of more than cocaine, i.e. proximity to King Kink. (He spent the bash oblivious, passed out on his bed, but that didn’t stop Dylan from inviting him to join the Rolling Thunder Revue in 1976.)

Throughout the ‘70s, the peripatetic head Jewboy had floated twixt his home in Kerrville, Texas to Los Angeles, New York and Nashville. It was in Music City where he became kin and key to the crew of stoner misfits of Hillbilly Central and the Nashville Underground, who armed with an overabundance of talent had stormed and overtaken the Bastille of the slick, commercial Nashville Sound and freed the English language in country music. Compatriots there included Kris Kristofferson, Tompall Glaser, Billy Swan, Shel Silverstein, Mickey Newbury and countless others. He was equally a brother-in-arms with the Texas contingent of malcontented singing poets including Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, Jerry Jeff Walker and especially Billy Joe Shaver. For the ease of record racket trade magazines, they were collectively dubbed Outlaw Country, a handle that earned bemused cynicism from those named. (They and their offspring are now considered the forefathers of Americana, a name redolent of a Wal-Mart furniture set.)    

But no one was as adept as the Kinkster at conjuring controversy, which hounded him like he was Lenny Bruce with a twang. In 1973 a lynch mob of women’s libbers stormed the stage in Buffalo, NY and the Jewboys fled with previously-referenced testicles intact. Their videotaped appearance on Austin City Limits went unaired because of pre-cancel culture tender sensibilities. Kink was booked to play Saturday Night Live in 1976, but lawyers stopped him from performing “The Ballad Of Charles Whitman.” He sang “Dear Abbie” instead, an equally subversive shout-out to his fugitive friend, revolutionary Abbie Hoffman, the message of which evaded the clueless suits.  

He moved to New York City in 1977 to become a fixture at a new nightclub called the Lone Star Café. A new band, alternately called the Entire Polish Army and the Blue Ball Truckers, but still referred to as the Texas Jewboys, was formed with fiddler Sweet Mary Hattersley (Jerry Jeff Walker), drummer Corky Laing (Mountain), harmonicat Sredni Vollmer (Rick Danko), mandolinist Jim Rider (Ramblin’ Jack Elliott), pianist/drummer Howie Wyeth (Rolling Thunder Revue) and led by multi-instrumentalist Larry Campbell (future Dylan and Levon Helm mainstay). Yours truly, Mike “Kike” Simmons, played acoustic guitar and sang harmonies. Kinkala became the toast of the Big Apple – a celebrity magnet. Regulars included Abbie, Dylan, Mike Bloomfield, John Belushi, Hunter S. Thompson, Keith Richards, The Band, Dr. John, Robin Williams, JFK impersonator Vaughn Meader (whose paycheck had been assassinated in Dallas in ’63), New York Rangers, Hell’s Angels, porn stars, politicos, a posse of posh society types and a lot of other people who are now (or ought to be) dead. His live shows at the Lone Star were manic orgies of spontaneous musical and comedic combustion, highlit by Kink’s exuberant version of “Yellow Submarine” that gave the Beatles serious competition. It was exhilarating and fueled by shovelfuls of what Kinkster called “irving” [sic], named for Irving Berlin who wrote “White Christmas.” (Do the math.)  

Songs were pouring forth from the Kinkster’s typewriter and a handful of woefully overlooked classic albums were released. (Keep your eyes peeled on this site for reissues of these out-of-print gems.) He wrote the songs for a Broadway musical based on close pal/talk-show legend Don Imus’ book God’s Other Son. (It never got made due to its ahead-of-its-time scandalous content, although a bootleg of the songs as sung by New York’s top vocalists is a coveted artifact.) The New York press fell in love with Kinky as he supplied them with endless anecdotes of his adventures on the city’s mean streets. Notable was his intervention when a gorgeous dame got mugged at an ATM machine and Kink conked the mugger’s bonk with his guitar and saved the distressed damsel’s bank account and curvaceous rump. Photos of Kinkster posed with his Martin slung and swung over his head made all the tabloids and he was the envy of every man and the wet dream date of every woman.

But he wasn’t happy.

Kinky was burning out on rock ‘n’ roll and Irving, not necessarily in that order. “I need a lifestyle that doesn’t require my presence,” he confided in me. He’s always loved mysteries, especially Agatha Christie, and needed to maintain his singular sensibility without being hounded by multitudes who wanted a piece of his soul every waking minute, which in that sleepless era meant 1,440 minutes a day. So he moved back to the Friedman family ranch in Kerrville, Texas and began writing a whodunit. And Kinky Friedman re-invented himself.

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