Alexandra Tselios

Kinky Friedman in Conversation with Alexandra Tselios

Photo by Kirk McKoy

The Big Smoke Founder and Publisher, Alexandra Tselios, decided to call Kinky Friedman at his ranch in Texas. Their conversation follows (bold, free-flowing, and uncensored, like the man himself!)

 

Alexandra: First of all, Kinky, may I ask what your views are on the public responses of most Western leaders to the attacks in Paris?

Kinky: Well, as Mark Twain said, “History does not repeat itself, but sometimes it rhymes.” And I think this sounds like it’s rhyming with 1939, Neville Chamberlain, and Europe thinking they could work out some kind of deal with Hitler and Mussolini.

 

Alexandra: What would your advice be to people trying to make sense of all this, and understand the current political climate?

Kinky: Stop before it’s too late. We really do have—again, hate to lean on Mark Twain—but the only true criminal class we have is the U.S. Congress and the other politicians. My definition of politics has been vindicated. In 2006 when I ran for Governor of Texas as an Independent, I said, “Politics—the word is made up of ‘poli’ which means more than one and ‘tics’ which are blood-sucking parasites.” And that’s what we have pretty much, so I wouldn’t want to pick on Obama ’cause he is on his way out (don’t let the White House door hit him on his way out) but he doesn’t really know how to be President and he doesn’t want to be President. He was a good candidate though, a very good candidate.

 

Alexandra: That’s a little bit how I feel about Bernie Sanders though.

Kinky: Well, I am all for Bernie Sanders, and I spoke to Willie Nelson last night and he is also for Bernie. So that’s the first time we agreed politically, except for Willie wanting me to be Governor. Our reasons are probably different, I’m for Bernie ’cause I want to see a “JEWWWWWW” in the White House. Also, if Bernie wins, it will be the first time a Jewish family will move into a house that a Black family has moved out of.

 

Alexandra: Oh dear …

Kinky: Yeah, that’s been killing the crowds on the last tour.

 

Alexandra: When are you going to throw your hat into the ring for the White House race yourself?

Kinky: I am getting older now; I am 71 although I read at a 73-year-old level. It’s a hard job you know. Being Governor is an easy job. I might stick with Governor. Do you know the Nelson Mandela incident?

 

Alexandra: I am not sure if I do?

Kinky: Well, when I was in South Africa in 1996, I met a man called Tokyo Sexwale and Tokyo was Mandela’s right hand man and worked for him and was also in the cell next to Mandela the entire time they were in prison. He heard Mandela play a song called “Sold American,” a song I had written, from my first album in 1973, and they smuggled in tape cassettes as best they could but it wasn’t easy and they took what they got. But then Tokyo said that Mandela got the song “Ride ’em Jew Boy” and Mandela would sign off with “Ride ’em Jew Boy” every night and it would be the last thing he would play. He would sometimes play it multiple times in a night. It’s a Western translation of an Eastern experience, the Holocaust. Now, Tokyo said not to get a swelled head over this ’cause I was not Mandela’s favorite country singer, his favorite country singer was Dolly Parton. But it got me to thinking, it sounds like a Kurt Vonnegut novel that Nelson would be listening to “Ride ’em Jew boy” every night.

 

Alexandra: That’s totally amazing.

Kinky: Yeah, it is totally amazing! So I checked it out and Oliver Tambo who was Nelson’s mentor—that was how I met Tokyo—and, well, we documented it really well. Tokyo by the way might become the next president of FIFA. But I started thinking, if you look at the landscape of Africa, of Australia, and America you don’t see any Nelson Mandelas popping up. So, you know, in Africa all you see is corrupt brutal leaders, so-called leaders, who are pretty well imitating the colonialists before them. In America, they are a little more subtle, but you don’t see the fraternity of man; so Ghandi, Jesus, Martin Luther King, and Mandela continue to inspire us while none of these other actors do. I was being interviewed recently and this guy knew about this story, and he said, “Well, you know, Kinky, if I had the choice of playing in stadiums making millions of dollars every year or I knew a song I had written was listened to in a prison cell by Nelson Mandela—I would rather be you.” So, that’s what they did. When we recorded the song in Nashville in 1973, we were just wondering if the disc jockeys would play it, you know. You never know who is going to listen to a record that you’ve made, but the last thing on my mind would have been that Nelson Mandela would be listening to it in prison. And when you think of that, you just think, I wish we had a Churchill, or a Mandela, or a Ghandi, or a Martin Luther King—and of course Jesus and Moses, two good Jewish boys who got in trouble with the government.

 

Alexandra: I heard recently that Republicans think Ben Carson is the second coming, which is a relief to them, because the first coming was too much like a Democrat.

Kinky: (Laughs) Well, they are really just the same guy admiring themselves in the mirror. I am not a Democrat anymore, I’m an Independent. Frankly, most of the Democrats aren’t Democrats either anymore. When I think of Democrats I think of Harry Truman or Barbara Jordan or Ann Richards; I don’t think of John Kerry or Obama. Obama is pretty much the Forrest Gump of Presidents; he is like me, he cannot make a decision. For me to not make a decision, well okay, but for a president to not make a decision, well, consequences happen.

 

Alexandra: I almost think though that the right- and left-wing concept is a false dichotomy at this point.

Kinky: You may very well be right there, it’s common sense versus what we have. What we have is the Warren Zevon song “My Shit’s Fucked Up.” That’s the best way to describe what’s going on in the world, and what’s going on in America—our shit’s fucked up. Warren wrote that song about dying of cancer, but it’s an apt description of what is going on in the world and I think that’s why that song is being downloaded so much.

 

Alexandra: Despite being proudly Jewish, a number of your songs have been about Jesus, such as “The Tramp on the Street” and “High on Jesus” and “They Ain’t Makin’ Jews Like Jesus Anymore.” As a Jew, what attracts you to the story of Jesus?

Kinky: Well, once again, a good Jewish boy got in trouble with the government. I’ve always been a big fan of Jesus though I think some people overdo it. I am a proud Red Sea pedestrian, I support Israel totally and I do not approve of what Obama has done to Israel, or tried to do. There is no arguing this point, Obama actively tried to engineer a regime change in Israel. How ridiculous. Every other country is being run by a dictator and he wants a regime change in Israel. And that’s why Bibi Netanyahu is a much more eloquent speaker, he speaks without an Israeli accent and speaks better than Obama. I think that’s why Obama took those selfies at Mandela’s funeral, I think he subconsciously forgot he is the leader of the free world and he remembered that Mandela is a great man and Obama is not.

 

Alexandra: What did you think of the Spanish court issuing an “arrest warrant” for Bibi a short while ago?

Kinky: What happened?

 

Alexandra: A Spanish Court made an order that if Bibi and other government officials enter Spain they could be arrested over the 2010 Gaza flotilla attack.

Kinky: Never been to Spain, and don’t plan to. Fuck Spain. That’s why Jews are Jews, I don’t know if you ever got the show Columbo?

 

Alexandra: I remember Columbo well.

Kinky: Remember, Columbo standing on the outside of the country club looking in knowing he could never be a part of that? That’s where the Jews should be, it’s a good position to be, outside. There are risks and that’s one of them, that you get spiritual wimps like that Spanish court. Yep, you get that.

 

Alexandra: And why did you wait 32 years to make another studio album?

Kinky: I think life just got in the way … politics, books, I was writing a lot, and this is the first time, you know, this guy Brian Molnar from New Jersey badgered me to do it and so we did it, and the thing sounds better than any record I have ever made. Most of the reason is it’s stripped down to the soul. It’s the opposite to what you get coming out of Nashville, it’s not over-produced it’s under-produced. You can bring your imagination to play when you are listening to it, and that’s why people keep telling us they keep listening to it over and over and that’s good because it means gradually its selling more and more and will be a financial pleasure for the Kinkster.

 

Alexandra: Will you come to Australia soon?

Kinky: I would love to. We’ve been talking to promoters. I got a problem though, I got my four dogs, four Friedmans, and have to install someone here if I’m going to be gone for a month or more …

 

Alexandra: I could not understand that more …

Kinky: But Australians are a great audience. I noticed that—even Germany which I toured earlier this year, I did 16 shows, and you know it’s interesting when a proud Red Sea pedestrian plays in Munich, it’s like playing on Native American burial ground, you develop a rage. And then I thought of what Willie Nelson told me when I asked him why he smoked pot so much, and he told me, “To keep down the rage.” Then I realized the audience were all young people, and the concerts were selling out, I am the David Hasselhoff of Germany, the thinking man’s David Hasselhoff!

 

Alexandra: The intelligent David Hasselhoff?

Kinky: Exactly, the intelligent David Hasslehoff. And these kids are coming and they were never even born when the album came out, but they understand me, and they understand songs like “Ride ’em Jew Boy,” just like Nelson Mandela. The young Germans—I believe this may be the only place on earth where the people have learnt something from their own history. We certainly have not.

 

Alexandra: Do you think though that many younger fans who are engaging with your music are able to do so because there is a lot more potential to have these debates and explore issues?

Kinky: Yes, no question about it. I didn’t do this record as an educational tool for Millennials. I don’t think they need it, they like something different, and this is definitely different. It’s a little melancholy maybe this record, but again if you want to be an artist you better be melancholy, you better be unhappy. So I fight happiness at every turn. You have to be unhappy to do anything and of course don’t count on society or people to help you. We are the ones who buried Mozart in a pauper’s grave. And we would do it again if given the chance. So that’s why if Romeo and Juliet had had a happy Hollywood ending, we wouldn’t know who they were today. And Churchill would have had to find another brand of cigars.

 

Alexandra: What advice would you have given a 20-year-old Kinky Friedman?

Kinky: “Keep true to the dreams of thy youth”—Herman Melville, as he was writing Moby Dick. At Melville’s death, Moby Dick could only be found in the whaling section of bookshops, people did not understand the book at all. I think that’s a beautiful place to be, a 20-year-old struggling songwriter is a high spiritual state. I’ve been a politician and a musician and I can tell you which one is a higher spiritual calling. I would also give myself this advice: “Fuck ’em, and feed ’em Froot Loops.”

 

This +61J article may be republished if acknowledged thus: “This article first appeared on www.plus61j.net.au and is reprinted with permission.”

 

Alexandra Tselios

Founder and CEO of The Big Smoke, Alexandra oversees the leading opinion site in both Australia and the USA. As a social commentator, she is interviewed most days of the week on radio across the country in Australia as well as working with NFP think-tank, Plus61J, which explores the political and social ties between Australia and Israel.

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