March 18, 2004 - Deep South Jewish Voice: County singer turned novelist turned "no politics politician" Malaysia RPCV Kinky Friedman to be at Alys Stephens Center

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Malaysia: Peace Corps Malaysia : The Peace Corps in Malaysia: March 18, 2004 - Deep South Jewish Voice: County singer turned novelist turned "no politics politician" Malaysia RPCV Kinky Friedman to be at Alys Stephens Center

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County singer turned novelist turned "no politics politician" Malaysia RPCV Kinky Friedman to be at Alys Stephens Center

County singer turned novelist turned "no politics politician" Malaysia RPCV Kinky Friedman to be at Alys Stephens Center

County singer turned novelist turned "no politics politician" Kinky Friedman to be at Alys Stephens Center March 18

By Lee J. Green

Deep South Jewish Voice

The man walks proudly as a paradox - and if you visit him on his Texas animal rescue ranch, you might see him walking with a pair of ducks.

He looks like a western-studded cowboy with his black, button-down shirt, rugged jeans, leather vest and black cowboy hat. Then there is that silver Star of David on a chain that hangs around his neck. This man proudly wears his Jewish identity, but how many Jews from middle-class suburbia do you

know who have topped the country and folk music charts?

How about another paradox? He'll proudly tell you that he never "sold out" and he feels that his ticket to immortality will come from shunning mainstream popularity. Yet popularity means votes, and he¹ll need those to get elected governor of Texas in 2006. Will this humorist be taken seriously by purveying his truths through comedic delivery?

This man goes by the name Kinky Friedman and he will come to Birmingham for the first time since 1976 - when his band, the Texas Jewboys, still had some life on the country music charts and Jim Nabors wasn't just a Gomer from days gone by.

Webster's Dictionary defines "kinky" as "a mental peculiarity." That fits Kinky Friedman, but you certainly can't define him or put a label on him.

I grew up in Texas and I admired the country music greats. I was also heavily influenced by Irish folk music," said Friedman, 59, from his animal rescue ranch in the Kerrville, Texas, area. "When I was young, I knew I

wanted to make it as a country music star. But I had several strikes against me; I was Jewish, from a middle-class family and I ended up getting a college degree. Most country stars at the time and in the past were not Jewish and came from poverty," he said.

"I wanted to be a country music singer growing up so that's why I am a novelist now," said Friedman, adding that "being from Texas is conducive to being a satirist."

As a child, Friedman wrote his first song, "Ol' Ben Lucas Had a Lot of Music." The song only charted in his head, but through his late childhood and early adult years, he would continue to write and perform humorous music with roots in country and folk balladeering.

Inspired by President John F. Kennedy, Kinky Friedman (whose real first name is Richard) joined the Peace Corps after graduating from the University of Texas and went to Borneo. "I taught farming to people who had farmed perfectly well for 2,000 years," he said.

Friedman would come back to Texas and team up with some friends to form the Texas Jewboys. Another Jewish man by the name of Robert Zimmerman (known to most as Bob Dylan) liked the group and would bring the Jewboys on tour as his opening act in the 1970s and early 1980s. Friedman is also the first Jew

to make it to the Grand Ole Opry as a country music performer, in 1973.

"Ride 'Em Jewboy" likely owns the distinction as the only country music Holocaust song. The Jewboys' biggest hit was, "They Ain't Making Jews Like Jesus Anymore." Jokes Friedman, "I am glad that Mel Gibson didn't contact me about remaking the song for his movie ("Passion of the Christ")." Then he adds about the movie in humorous Kinky style, "it would probably make a good book."

Kinky Friedman knows about good books. As his music career gracefully came "to a screeching train wreck" in 1984, as Friedman put it, he began working on his first novel. He decided to try his hand at writing mysteries since he and his mother, Min, had always been interested in reading them.

Friedman felt that he should use his own name and those of his friends as various characters in the stories. He made himself the retired country music performer turned detective and the setting, for the most part, was a loft on Vandam Street in the Greenwich Village section of New York City. His first book was titled "Greenwich Killing Time."

His latest novel is "The Prisoner of Vandam Street." He will come out with two more novels this year as well. Some of his books are even in Hebrew and have been released in Israel.

"I have churned out - um, I mean carefully crafted - 17 novels now," said Friedman. Most of the stops that he makes across the country are in support of his books, though he said that he will belt out a chord or two upon


When asked if he felt that songwriting or novel writing was more difficult, Friedman chose the former. "Songwriting is the hardest thing in the world, even more so than poetry. The best work is about tragedy, like you are trying to pay the rent but you are failing," he said.

But Kinky doesn¹t worry about paying the rent. The success of his music and writing career has left him free time to devote to his Utopia Rescue Ranch, which shares the 500 acres of the summer camp left him by his parents and is a haven for some 60 homeless dogs, cats, pigs and fowl. "We've helped out more than 700 dogs in five years," he said. "I guess that I am like the Jewish Gandhi of the wildlife rescue."

Politics is an animal of another kind, though. What started as a joke could turn into a serious bid for the governor's mansion in Austin in 2006.

Friedman has befriended former President Bill Clinton and current President (as well as fellow Texas native) George W. Bush.

Last fall, Friedman visited Bush at the White House and they discussed the 2006 election. Bush said that he could not endorse Friedman until he knew Friedman's platform.

"He (Bush) volunteered to be my one-man focus group for the campaign," said Friedman. "I told him that my platform was to make the de-clawing of cats illegal."

Seriously, or at least somewhat seriously, what is he campaigning on? For one, he wants to boost the Texas economy by making it a moviemaking capital with the help of friends such as actors Dennis Quaid and Billy Bob Thornton.

Other friends and promised campaign supporters include musicians Tom Waits and Willie Nelson, magicians Penn and Teller, and actors Robert Duvall and Johnny Depp.

"I'm not a politician. I am not a bureaucrat. I am a writer of fiction who speaks the truth and I want to bring back the glory of Texas," said Friedman.

Friedman, who also writes a column in Texas Monthly magazine, said that "people have asked me if this is a joke. I'd always seen myself, in the words of Billy Joe Shaver, as a serious soul nobody took seriously. Why

should they take me seriously now?

"I will tell the truth through humor, for humor always sails dangerously close to the truth," he said. "Some things are too important to be taken seriously. The question is whether my candidacy is a joke or whether the

current crop of politicians is the joke."

He might have to work on his campaign slogan, which is currently, "Why the hell not?" He plans to produce bumper stickers that say, "He Ain't Kinky, He's My Governor."

Well-known fellow author and Texan Molly Ivins has provided support for Friedman's campaign idea. In a New York Times interview, Ivins said, "I'm a great believer in entertainment in politics. It¹s clear that Kinky is

running because he recently straightened his hair."

Friedman said that Texas has a history of singing governors, though not Jewish governors or certainly not singing Jewish governors. "In the 1940s, Pappy O'Daniel had a band called the Light Crust Doughboys. I had the Texas Jewboys. His slogan was "Pass the biscuits, Pappy." One of my most popular songs is "Get your Biscuits in the Oven (And Your Buns in the Bed)"," he said.

Friedman said he has been proud to be Jewish and do Jewish, especially since he feels that he can dispel myths and stereotypes. He was featured in the 2002 award-winning Brian Bain documentary "Shalom Y'all."

"In Judaism, humor is a vessel of truth for mankind," he said. Kinky/Richard also likes being the underdog, which is how he describes the Jewish religion over time. "A lifelong love of the underdog has been accrued to the Kinkster because of Judaism. A good Jew is a good thing and by that same token, a good Christian is a good Christian.

"We need more good people in this world. Someone like Mel Gibson thinks that he has done a good service and that he is a good Christian, but he really is not," said Friedman.

Of course, Friedman won't make the news as much as Gibson does, especially these days.

"I am destined to remain a cult figure, in the popularity sense and not the religious sense," he said. "My fans are so scattered across the world. But I feel that I have influenced people everywhere at least.

"People such as Britney Spears and Tim McGraw will soon be forgotten," opines Friedman. "Every artist wants immortality, but too much success takes immortality away in my mind. I fight popularity."

And his fans couldn't love him more for it.

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Story Source: Deep South Jewish Voice

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Malaysia; Humor



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