Kinky Friedman solos in Aspen | AspenTimes.com

Kinky Friedman solos in Aspen

Stewart OksenhornThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado

Michael GoldbergKinky Friedman performs a solo show Sunday at Belly Up Aspen.

ASPEN – Part of the genius of Kinky Friedman – or maybe the very thing that makes him Kinky Friedman – is that you never know how to take what he says. Most everything that comes out of his mouth or his pen straddles the line between crude joke and raw wisdom.”They Ain’t Makin’ Jews Like Jesus Anymore,” with its references to “wops, Micks, slopes and spics”: Insensitive stereotyping, or a subversive (and funny) parody of racism? “Get Your Biscuits in the Oven and Your Buns in the Bed” – naked chauvinism, or a way to inject some levity into the women’s movement? Friedman’s 2006 run for governor of Texas, in which he had promised to get tough on illegal immigration – possibly with the Five Mexican Generals plan, which would have paid Mexican officials to police their side of the border: Was Friedman’s campaign a joke, or a serious attempt at bringing common sense into the realm of Lone Stars politics?And when Friedman, sitting in the Tulsa airport, awaiting a flight to Des Moines for the next stop on his Hanukkah Tour, tells me (twice) that his philosophy of life (and death) is, “Find what you like and let it kill you,” it’s hard to laugh at it, exactly. Friedman follows this by letting on that what he enjoys, and what will likely be his doom, is gambling at the slots in Vegas. “That’s the one that will probably get me. I’m an addict. It’s a transfer addiction from earlier in life,” the 67-year-old Friedman said. It’s impossible to tell how much of this is fact and how much is fiction. (Friedman, in addition to being a musician and former political candidate, had a long career as a writer of detective novels that skirt the boundary of reality and imagination: most of the books have centered around a New York City detective named Kinky Friedman.) But you could picture Friedman lying dead on the floor of a Vegas casino (a long, long time from now, let us hope, with a tequila in his hand and a cigar in his mouth and triple 7s across the middle row), and smiling at the thought that it was what he loved that laid him to rest.Friedman’s tendency to provoke has not always been harmless. There was the time at the University of Buffalo when Friedman and his long-running band, the Texas Jewboys, were seriously threatened by a group of women after performing “Get Your Biscuits in the Oven,” and required a police escort out of the venue. Friedman has made light of the episode: “We were attacked by dykes on bikes in Buffalo,” he wrote in his 2004 book, “‘Scuse Me While I Whip This Out: Reflections on Country Singers, Presidents, and Other Troublemakers.” But at the time, he wasn’t laughing. “That was an ugly incident. That was not pretty or fun,” he said, adding that, soon after, he was named the Male Chauvinist Pig of the Year by the National Organization for Women. Friedman further notes that he stopped playing “They Ain’t Makin’ Jews Like Jesus Anymore,” one of his best, and best known songs, for a decade. “Because the word ‘nigger’ was in the song,” he said. “They skewered me, said Kinky was a racist when I ran for governor. You can’t explain that the song is anti-bigotry.”But for the most part, Friedman seems to revel in forcing listeners to expend some energy separating the sincere from the outrageous. “The art of writing fiction is to sail as dangerously close to the truth as possible without sinking the ship,” he has said. It seems to sum up Friedman’s approach to most everything – let ’em keep guessing. As long as they’re laughing. And thinking.••••One thing Friedman seems most serious about is songs and the people who write them. In our conversation, Friedman circled from America to politicians; the two books of nonfiction he is working on, one with Billy Bob Thornton and one with Willie Nelson; tequila; and straightahead jokes. (“Willie Nelson gave me some good advice: If you’re going to sleep with an animal, make it a horse. That way, if things don’t work out, you can always get a ride home.”) But he repeatedly touched down on songwriters, often of the old-school, Texas variety: Townes Van Zandt, Kris Kristofferson, Willie.Friedman’s current Hanukkah Tour, which lands at Aspen’s Belly Up on Sunday, Dec. 11, is a solo show. “This is like a Lee Harvey Oswald party-of-one tour,” Friedman said, noting the absence of the Texas Jewboys, his band since 1971. “It’s in the spirit of Townes Van Zandt and Woody Guthrie. It’s building up my spiritual stamina.”Along with a performance of “They Don’t Make Jews Like Jesus Anymore,” which Friedman says is “back in my holster,” the show is scheduled to include tastes of the new Kinky Friedman’s Man in Black Tequila (“the best Mexican mouthwash I’ve ever tasted,” Friedman said, adding that the tequila, which officially hits the market in mid-January, is his tribute to Zorro, Paladin and Johnny Cash), and a good chance to get Friedman’s name on an article of clothing or body part (“I’ll sign anything but bad legislation,” he said. In fact, when Friedman ran for governor, as an Independent, he received just under 13 percent of the vote. “I won everywhere but in Texas,” he said.)When Friedman mentions such names as Van Zandt and Guthrie, it is with reverence. And when Friedman speaks with unambiguous reverence, it stands out. He brought up the “out-of-synch culture” of present-day America – and contrasted it with New Zealand, where he toured recently with musician/producer Van Dyke Parks.”In New Zealand, if it’s funny, they laugh, and if it’s sad, they cry. They seemed mature,” Friedman said, and contrasted that with America: “We’re like little autistic children – we see someone fall down on the street, we laugh. And we look over our shoulder to see how everyone else is responding.”The antidote for such behavior? Good old songwriters.”Being a musician is a much higher calling than being a politician. We won’t get a hell of a lot done in the morning, but we’ll work a lot later. And we aim a lot closer to the truth,” he said.Friedman suggests that the public sphere may have reached a historic low: “All the blondes and Aggies are telling Rick Perry jokes now,” jokes Friedman, who moved to central Texas at the age of 1. (“I was born in Chicago, lived there one year, couldn’t find work,” he said.) His optimism for a better future is of the “How could it possibly get any worse?” variety. As much as he believes in music and art, Friedman doesn’t see salvation coming from the emerging generation of songwriters.”You’ve got to see a geezer – a Bob Dylan, a Levon Helm – to be inspired,” he said. “The audience has become the show. We’re not going to see another John Lennon or Janis Joplin or Jimi Hendrix. We’ve got Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber – but they become a product as soon as they’re successful. People like Merle Haggard or Kris Kristofferson – they’re significant. They’ll make songs that will last a lifetime and keep making you think. But a group of three guys sitting in those whorehouses in Nashville where they’re supposed to write songs – they can’t write a ‘Me & Bobby McGee’ or ‘Hello Walls.'”Friedman says that even Kristofferson and Nelson are not capable of writing a meaningful song in a society that doesn’t seem to value meaning. But he still clings to the idea that art will come to the rescue. It’s all he’s got; it’s all we’ve got.”I think artists are our only hope of getting at the truth,” he said. “An artist is anyone who’s ahead of his time, and behind on his rent. Only one who’s an independent spirit can vocalize what needs to be said. That person doesn’t reflect the culture. He subverts a culture.”Another cause for potential optimism is the fact that Friedman, once chased by offended women and unable to play certain songs for fear of offending men as well as women, has earned increasing legitimacy. In 2007, the tribute album “Why the Hell Not …” was released, with the likes of Lyle Lovett, Asleep at the Wheel and Dwight Yoakam covering Friedman’s songs. He visited both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush at the White House; the play “Becoming Kinky: The World According to Kinky Friedman” opened earlier this year in Houston. In 2005, with his gubernatorial campaign in gear, the New Yorker magazine devoted many pages to an insightful, funny profile of Friedman.The country might be in lousy shape intellectually, politically, spiritually and economically. But at least we seem to be able to understand Kinky Friedman a little more clearly.Friedman conceded the point. But it only seemed to give him a small touch of hope.”That could just be that if you fail at something long enough, you become a legend,” he said.stewart@aspentimes.com

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