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Tuesday September 5, 2006

Meet Kinky Friedman

I have been wordless for several weeks, partly because I’ve been working my way through a dozen works of Kinky Friedman. For someone who is usually reading nine books in rotation, this single-minded focus on one author is unusual. 

It was prompted by a news item on the Internet – Kinky Friedman, the ex-country-western star turned thriller writer, who has just had his 17th book published, was tired of writing about Kinky Friedman, the ex-country-western star turned laid-back detective, protected by a world-weary attitude and an arsenal of hilarious one-lines snapped out in rapid fire, sharp and accurate. 

Yuuup, that’s his signature on the books – Kinky is the main man, the wisecracking philosophical voice in the books and his friends have roles in the tales of murder and mayhem. A passionate fan, Bill Clinton, has pleaded for a cameo appearance in one of the books. (I must soon have his last five books. Then I’ll know if Kinky was as accommodating as Monica Lewinsky.)  

Friedman named Van Gogh, Allan Ginsberg and Charles Bukowski as artists who lived their work. And just when you, the reader, feel suitably reverential in front of such august names, Kinky, in his usual fashion, tops the solemnity stakes and gets a guilty laugh: “Anne Frank, of necessity, did it.”  

Now he has become Kinky Friedman, independent candidate for Governor of Texas. There are shades of Hunter S. Thompson campaigning for control of Aspen, except that Friedman survived the manic years of coke and speed, and wrote addictive novels. There was little biting writing from Thompson after the acidic high of Fear and Loathing, just a mess of wild semi-coherent abuse and vitriol. And Aspen, for all its rich snow-bunnies and celebrity ski-bums, is a hamlet in influence and power compared to the vast spread of the Texas Bushland.  

A quixotic crusade? The answer can be found on his campaign T-shirts: Kinky 2006: Why the Hell Not? He’s conquered greater odds. Think of the original mix – a Jewish Texan cowboy who grows up to play in the Grand Ole Opry with a band defiantly named Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys. Not singing songs about an aching, breaking heart or the wailing song playing on the jukebox while he’s on a rig white-lining for the coast, but satirical songs with titles like They Ain’t Makin’ Jews Like Jesus Anymore, goading some of the audiences to turn apoplectic red in the neck and chase them off-stage. 

I listened to Kinky Friedman before I read him. At the very real risk of inviting abusive e-mails from Hank Williams fans, I must confess that country-and-western music, with its basic sentiments, twanging nasals and screeching sincerity, is one of the few genres of music I cannot stand. But in my long-haired phase in the 1970s, I had time for a band whose repertoire included Proud to be an A.. From El Paso. A band that had no groupies, but only “Jewish sociology professors taking notes,” was the complaint of one of the groups.  

All the pictures I have seen of him show shades, a black leather coat, black shirt and jeans, a black Stetson, bushy moustache and a cigar. What a cool-looking Governor he would make. A Governor who has toured with Bob Dylan, partied with Led Zeppelin, performed with Willie Nelson, Jerry Lee Lewis, Billy Joel. Any cooler and Texas will be whipped by blizzards, not tornadoes.  

An honest, straight-talking candidate who has said: “If I win, the first thing I’ll do is demand a recount.” A candidate who says he has promised the job of warden of women’s prisons to eight different guys. It’s all a joke? My vote (in a manner of speaking) is on Kinky. A joke will not have attracted 30,000 campaign volunteers. That’s a lot of jokers. 

He served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Sarawak in the late 1960s. By one account I read, he was intelligent enough to realise that he had nothing to teach Sarawakians about agriculture and how to live off the land, and just laid back so that they could show him how to live life.  

If he were to become Governor, we could twin Houston and Dallas with Miri and Bintulu, send our cultural troupes dancing there, and have our councillors come back loaded with Stetsons and snakeskin boots. What cool-looking dudes they’ll be in council chambers. 

This has been a campaign plug for Kinky Friedman. My thoughts on him as a writer will have to spill over into next week. 


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