The self-styled Texas Jewboy, who ran for governor of the state of Texas in 2006 and who is famous for such hit songs as “They Ain’t Makin’ Jews Like Jesus Anymore” and “Ride ’em Jewboy,” is back on tour with the first batch of new songs he has written in 40 years.
The Resurrected Tour will have the cigar-smoking outlaw country singer making a stop in Pittsburgh on April 28, at Club Café on the South Side at 7 p.m.
At 72, Friedman, who was born in Chicago but moved to Texas as a child, is as outspoken and animated as ever. He is as much a storyteller as he is a songwriter, a true original who is not afraid to say what he thinks. His shows promise to be … colorful.
He credits legendary singer-songwriter Willie Nelson — who he refers to as his “shrink” — with motivating him to start writing songs again.
“Willie called me about a year ago and he said, ‘What are you doing?’” Friedman recalled. “I told him I was watching ‘Matlock.’ Willie said, ‘That’s a sure sign of depression. It’s very negative. Turn off Matlock and start writing, Kinky. Start writing.’”
Friedman took that advice to heart and got busy composing more than a dozen new songs.
For the last four decades Friedman had put songwriting on the back burner while he focused instead on writing books, including “Kinky Friedman’s Guide to Texas Etiquette: Or How to Get to Heaven or Hell Without Going Through Dallas-Fort Worth,” and a series of mystery novels. He is currently finishing up a book along with co-author Louie Kemp detailing the latter’s lifelong friendship with Bob Dylan, who is also a friend of Friedman’s. A comprehensive biography of Friedman authored by Mary Lou Sullivan called “Everything’s Bigger in Texas — The Life and Times of Kinky Friedman” is due to come out in November.
His latest album, “The Loneliest Man I Ever Met,” mixes originals with interpretations of the music of some of his contemporaries.
Freidman often seeks the advice of Nelson, who not only encouraged him to write songs again, but also urged him to perform as much as possible — and to stay single.
“Willie tells me not to get married if I haven’t been married by 72,” Friedman said, quickly adding that, “I’m 72 but I read at the 74-year-old level.”
Nelson was also the one to come up with a catchy campaign slogan for Friedman during his gubernatorial run: “Criticize him all you want, just don’t circumcise him anymore.”
Friedman may not be politically correct, but he has very definite opinions about politics and politicians. He was motivated to run for governor because he wanted to see “a good outside person to really represent the people, because the rest of the politicians followed my definition of politics pretty closely. My definition of politics is ‘poly’ means more than one, and ‘ticks’ are blood-sucking parasites.’”
Losing the race for governor of Texas may have turned out for the best, though, as Friedman is convinced that songwriting is a “much higher calling than being a politician.”
“And it’s really sad but it’s true,” he said. “If you get a room full of musicians, you’ve got some pretty decent people there — creative, problem-solvers. You know, if they ran the world instead of the politicians, it would be a much better place. I mean, we wouldn’t get a hell of a lot done in the mornings, but we’d work late.”
Through the years, Friedman’s music has appealed to a wide, and seemingly unlikely, range of listeners, including millennials in Germany and Nelson Mandela, who obtained a recording of Friedman’s tribute to Holocaust victims, “Ride ’em Jewboy,” and listened to it daily while he was in prison.
“That’s kind of the measure of the man,” Friedman said of Mandela. “Here’s a song that has nothing to do with Africa — whatever his causes were — but it has more universal appeal and it appealed to Mandela very much. That really is better than being nominated for a Grammy.”
Friedman will be performing 33 consecutive shows on this tour, which he said won’t be “vastly rehearsed or very slick,” but instead “very pure.”
“When I make a mistake, I just say, ‘F—-’ and take another shot of Mexican mouthwash — which is tequila — which I resort to on stage,” he said. “I call it the Barry Manilow drink, because it makes you feel good for a short period of time.”
The man is a gifted free-associator, moving from the shortfalls of country music currently coming out of Nashville (“It’s like the backdrop to a bad frat party”) to Jesus (“A trouble-maker that got in trouble with the government”) to President Donald Trump, who Friedman is convinced will be a better president for the Jews than Obama was. He is dismayed by the fact that so many Jews are still Democrats.
“There shouldn’t be a Jew in this country that’s a Democrat anymore,” Friedman said. “The ones that are still Democrats are doing it because they are creatures of habit. And I don’t know what else they need to know. I mean, Obama only tried to achieve regime change in one country in his whole eight years, and that was Israel. He used taxpayer money to try to get rid of Netanyahu. Certainly, if you’re Jewish and you’re still a Democrat, I feel sorry for you, brother.”
The Obama administration, he said, has left Israel in “a bad situation for years and decades to come.” And the Iran nuclear deal, he said, is a big problem.
“Nobody can understand that deal,” he said. “It looks like an 8-year-old put that together.”
He said he is “close” to being a Zionist.
“But that’s part of being a Texan,” he explained. “Texans and Israelis both kind of have a John Wayne spiritual bond. Not American Jews. American Jews are uncomfortable watching Jackie Mason, you know?”
While Friedman has “never been a fan of Donald Trump,” he thinks the former reality show host may turn out to be the right man to run the county.
“He’s an unlikely guy to be president, but the whole world is kind of a reality TV show these days,” Friedman said. “Why not have the ‘Apprentice’ guy be in charge?”
Friedman’s tour is just one of many things keeping the Jewish Texas cowboy iconoclast busy these days. He is also finishing the editing of a new detective novel called “The Return of Kinky Friedman by Kinky Friedman,” which will hit the shelves in early 2018, and an earlier book, “Road Kill,” is being developed as a pilot for a limited series on network television.
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.