Yes July 26
Riot Fest
Lover's Lane

Hello, My Name Is Kinky

Illinois Entertainer: Your March 30 stop at City Winery is billed as an “inaugural wine social.” What does that entail for a tequila man such as yourself?
Kinky Friedman:
They’re bottling a Kinky Friedman wine or they’re doing something that’s a special deal. So I will drink wine, but it will affect my behavior in strange ways, that’s all.

IE: More so than tequila?
KF:
Mexican mouthwash is, of course, my preference. We have our own tequila, Man in Black Tequila, which is not in Illinois yet, but doing very well in Texas. We salute Zorro, Paladin, and Johnny Cash and we like to say this is not your father’s tequila; this is your grandfather’s gardener’s tequila. And I may try wine and Mexican mouthwash. Although that doesn’t really mix well, does it? I will show the folks how to drink Mexican mouthwash cowboy style, drink tequila cowboy style. All it is – you snort the line of salt and you squeeze the lime into your own eye.

IE: Ouch! That sounds about as hardcore as the whirlwind escapade you’re about to embark on.
KF:
This is to kickoff the World Bi-Polar tour, and the reason this is called the Bi-Polar tour – this is about 33 shows going from, Chicago’s the first one then New York and then on [to] Europe, about 30 shows in Europe and they’re all spaced closely together with no nights off. This is a Willie Nelson idea and it sounds like an idea of a man in a mental hospital, but it’s a good one. The Bi-Polar aspect is that after about four or five shows, especially when you’re doing them solo and you’re traveling to a different place every night and you start running on pure adrenaline, at that point you get kind of ragged and righteous and you establish an almost Judy Garland-like rapport with the audience. Plus, it’s a financial pleasure. And you challenge yourself. Like, I mean, there’s a lot of young people that can’t do what Willie can do. They can’t sign autographs in the rain for two hours after having performed for two hours.

IE: Every time I see Bob Dylan he plays for two hours, and when I see a younger band phone it in for an hour, I feel gipped.
KF:
Not only that, but the very fact that Bob and Willie are on the road and the fact that the guys who are the geezers – I just saw Kris Kristofferson, or as Billy Joe Shaver calls him, Piss Pisstofferson. I saw him last night at this event in Austin, but these old guys really inspire. Levon Helm was a classic example. To see Levon Helm play – I don’t know any young or middle-aged musicians that have that effect on me as these old guys. And of course, I’m close to being one of them myself now. I’m 67 years old though I read at the 69-year-old level.

IE: I’m gutted that I never saw Levon live.
KF:
There’s a lot of good singer-songwriters and young people coming up with their hearts in the right place, and they want to be Townes Van Zandt when they grow up or something. Having the desire to do something good is not . . . if you have the motivation to paint your masterpiece and I’m going to write the great American novel and we start doing this, it’s not likely that we’re going to do that. Probably the great art will be done and the great novel will be written by somebody who’s just trying to pay their rent.

IE: City Winery doubles as a supper club; do you find it distracting to perform while the audience grabs dinner?
KF:
It makes no difference. After that Rolling Thunder thing in ’76 or ’77, I was with Bob Dylan on the island of Yelapa in Mexico [with] Dennis Hopper and a few of us from the tour and we were on a beach one day and Bob was dressed in this black leather jacket. I mean, it was over 100 degrees. I don’t know what the hell it was, but Bob took out his guitar. There was nobody on the beach, it looked pretty deserted and by the time he got the guitar out of the case and strummed a few chords, it seemed like there was a crowd already gathering. And he said that he really enjoyed the way it was, the old days when people would be talking and eating and stuff while he was playing. That he would much prefer that to what happened as far as a performer, that that was a truer form of expression, maybe . . . You know, when you’re great you don’t have to be good.

IE: You’ve said, “Part of the secret to being funny is to be miserable. Any happy person can rarely be funny.” I think you’re freakin’ hilarious, so I’m curious to know what’s keeping you from being happy?
KF: Well, it’s a conscious effort! I fight happiness at every turn because I know it is the enemy of the artist. I mean, it’s the enemy of the writer and the performer. Every drunk is not a poet nor can every miserable person be funny on stage, but last night I was telling this crowd at this dinner at the Four Seasons or something for helping Africa . . . I told them it was very difficult for me to get up onstage in front of people, more difficult than it was for most entertainers or artists and that it was kind of an intimate night, although it really wasn’t, so I’ll share this with you that I was molested by a rodeo clown when I was a young child. Now that gets a little ripple of laughter, and then I turn to the audience and I say, “Oh well, alright, so I was 27 years old. What’s it to you?” That works. I usually reserve that for when I screw up, because every show or two, I will forget something – a lyric – and the truth is Willie Nelson, who smokes a boatload of dope before every show and after every show, has never missed a lyric or a note. I’ve never seen him screw up. I’m sure he has, but I’ve certainly seen a lot of his shows and I’ve never seen it. So he’s really a poster child for marijuana. With some people it definitely helps and doesn’t hinder you. When you do a solo show like this – Lee Harvey Oswald party of one – you know, you can talk politics and humor and I will. Like I told the audience last night – Jesus loves you might be very comforting words unless you hear them in a Mexican prison. That one went over well.

IE: You lost the governor’s mansion to Rick Perry in 2006. Are you thinking of taking a stab at the 2014 Texas gubernatorial race?
KF: Certainly the original idea that Ray Price, the singer who’s now 87, put in my head is a good one, which is that Jesus Christ couldn’t have won as an Independent. That you have to run in the Democratic primary in Texas, which is easy for me because I’ve been a Democrat my whole life except when I ran as an Independent that one time, which they’ve never let me forget. But I will say that I’m an old-time Harry Truman Democrat and this could win the primary, particularly with the ideas that we have, which are legalizing, regulating, and taxing marijuana and legalizing casino gambling in Texas. If we would do those two things, taxes would not be an issue for the next 40 years in Texas. We wouldn’t even be talking about taxes of any kind. That’s how much it’s worth. But you know politics: Poly means more than one and ticks are blood-sucking parasites. So do I want to get back into that again? I think being a musician is a much higher calling than being a politician.

IE: So you’re toying with the idea?
KF: It’s a little more than toying with it. I mean, I really am someone from outside of politics. You wonder why these guys are so bad in Washington and all that and that is by the time you’ve been in politics as long as they have you know every dirty sumbitch in the state. You know all the bad people. And the good people stay the hell out of politics. That’s become our tradition here and you know I’m a JFK kind of guy. I was in the Peace Corps and JFK’s spirit, it inspired millions of us to work on the other side of the world for 11 cents an hour and it was some of the most meaningful work we ever did. And JFK was big on everybody getting into politics. Let the people into politics. And if I ran, that’s the kind of thing that we would try to do. Unfortunately, in the last race in 2006, I’m telling you we won that race every place but Texas. We’d have to correct that this time, if we do this. If I survive the Bi-Polar tour, yes, then politics may be the next thing. There’s lots that could be done here in Texas. You know my last will and testament Janine? When I die, I am to be cremated and the ashes are to be thrown in Rick Perry’s hair. That’s already set in motion. Yeah, it would be really transformational if we could get somebody from the outside or above politics into office in Texas.

IE: Have your songs like “They Ain’t Making Jews Like Jesus Anymore” and “Ride ‘Em Jewboy” hindered your political aspirations?
KF: When you have a song that says nigger in it and you’re running for any political office they will YouTube that thing, cherry pick it out there and you just can’t explain that this song – it is an anthem against political correctness. When you’ve written a whole bunch of fictional books and you’ve got these songs out there that basically skewer false morality – that’s what I like to think they do, or at least that’s the aim – you’re gonna have this. You just can’t explain it in a political venue, in a political casino. You can’t start saying, this is satire; people don’t get that. That’s a problem. In music and art they understand it. In politics they may not and that’s something we’re going to have to deal with if I run.

Kinky Friedman appears at City Winery (1200 W. Randolph) Chicago on March 30.

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