Kinky Friedman: Success against all
American letters had an official court jester, his name would be
Starting with his first mystery, "Greenwich Killing
Time" in 1986, through such fractured who-cares-who-done-its
as "Armadillos & Old Lace," "Elvis, Jesus &
Coca-Cola" and his latest, "Prisoner of Vandam Street,"
Friedman's eponymous, black Stetsoned, cigar-chomping alter ego
has stumbled ever blindly toward, if not exactly enlightenment,
then random illumination. He may eventually solve the crime, but
more often than not the clues seek him out as he holes up in his
Greenwich Village walk-up with a decidedly disinterested cat, a
hissing espresso machine and copious amounts of Jameson's Irish
whiskey to assist cogitation. His fans include Presidents Bill Clinton
and George W. Bush.
Kinky is perhaps the least likely of modern literary
success stories. In the '70s, the droll Texan parlayed his knack
for social satire into semi-stardom on the fringes of country music
as Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys. The band's stage shows
were outrageous, thanks to Friedman's redneck-baiting, chauvinistic
stage persona and such bitingly hilarious anthems as "They
Ain't Makin' Jews Like Jesus Anymore" and the tongue-in-cheek
antifeminist ode, "Get Your Biscuits in the Oven (And Your
Buns in the Bed)." His "Ride 'Em, Jewboy" remains
the only country song ever recorded about the Holocaust.
Country music has rarely been fertile soil for satire,
so it was little wonder that Kinky's music delighted the critics
and offended almost everyone else. When his band broke up, Friedman
spent the next decade "living on 11 different herbs and spices"
in and around New York's Lone Star Cafe.
In the mid-'80s, he borrowed pal Mike McGovern's typewriter
and rattled off "Greenwich Killing Time." Suddenly, unaccountably,
the Kinkster was a novelist.
Today, with 15 novels to his credit, Friedman boasts
a legion of fans worldwide, many of whom are unaware of his previous
This spring, he officially announced his candidacy
for governor of Texas with the slogan, "How hard could it be?"
Kinky-philes fondly recall his previous campaign for a Texas judgeship
and its classic campaign slogan, "I'd be a fine judge if I'm
any judge at all."
Bankrate caught up with the Kinkster on his cell phone
as he played $10 slots at the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas.
Bankrate: How were you as a kid with money?
Kinky Friedman: As a Jew, I've always handled
money very poorly, which may surprise some people. I don't remember
the first half of my life. All I say is a happy childhood is the
worst possible preparation for life.
Bankrate: How was it starting out as the leader
of an iconoclastic country band like the Texas Jewboys?
Kinky Friedman: I'm pretty much like Sam &
Dave -- I think the publishers screwed us. The record company screwed
us for sure. And, of course, the road gets to you. But my attitude
all along was very Gandhi-like. The only currency I value is the
coin of the spirit. That's very important in my life.
Bankrate: What was it like to finally land
a recording contract?
Kinky Friedman: It was thrilling -- 1973 with
Vanguard Records, the company that turned down Bob Dylan. We got
our deal through Commander Cody, who connected us with the Glaser
brothers in Nashville. Chuck Glaser produced our first album, "Sold
American." It was one of the snowplows for the Outlaw movement.
When I play shows around the world, the songs are older than most
of the audience.
Bankrate: Did you handle the money for the
Kinky Friedman: Oh, hell no. I've never been
good with money. My brother Roger probably did it. He's a little
better than I am. We were broke a lot of the time. I remember we
tennis-shoed a lot of hotel bills in those days as we crisscrossed
America. We were a country band with a social conscience.