November 10, 2005
A Different Brand of Texas Governor
They don't make Jews like Jesus anymore, Kinky Friedman proclaims in his most famous song. They don't make Jews like Kinky Friedman anymore, either. While there are some notable Jewish pop and rock icons, Jews have never proliferated in the ranks of country-western music. Nor are Jews noted for writing songs with titles like "Asshole From El Paso" or lyrics like, "We reserve the right to refuse service to you.... Our quota's filled for this year on singing Texas Jews."
The Kinkster is nothing if not irreverent. But this Texas cowboy, who has morphed from recording artist to postmodern mystery writer, may have redefined chutzpah with his current campaign to become governor of Texas.
Friedman will discuss his 2006 gubernatorial bid, play guitar, sing his songs and read from his work (over the years, he's written 17 mystery novels, other books, and a regular column for Texas Monthly) at the Skirball Cultural Center on Nov. 17, in "An Evening With Kinky Friedman."
It will be an opportunity for Angelenos to meet a man who, like Lenny Bruce, serves up iconoclastic humor. But unlike Bruce, Friedman has lived past 40, reaching 61 in both good health and impressive company. His friends are as varied as George and Laura Bush, Bill Clinton and Bob Dylan. Friedman, in fact, may be one of the few people to have slept at the White House as a guest of both Bush fils and Clinton.
Friedman, a counter-counter culture figure who first started his band, Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys, in the early 1970s, has always been interested in politics. And politics infuses Friedman's art -- in a way that's not remotely predictable. In his most recent detective novel, "Ten Little New Yorkers," which was published this year by Simon & Schuster, Friedman had figures named McGovern and Nixon, although the Nixon "character" is actually a bodily function. Friedman denies that the 1972 election stands out for him; he says that McGovern is based on a friend of his by that very name.
Friedman's gubernatorial bid is not his first one for elected office. That was in 1986, when he ran for justice of the peace in Kerr County. He was a Democrat, but ran as a Republican, noting that even LBJ, one of the most popular Democrats in the state's history, lost in Kerr. Friedman finished second. He "returned to the private sector" a wiser man: "You never want to be in a campaign that only has one ballot box."
He also decided to set his political targets more thoughtfully: "A judge, a mayor, a city councilman, that's hard work. A governor only has to inspire the people of Texas."
Which is what he is trying to do with his trademark subversive humor. To qualify as a candidate, he needs 50,000 signatures during a two-month window after the upcoming March primary.
Of course, a lot of people don't take him seriously. This is, after all, the former frontman for the Texas Jewboys, the politically incorrect provocateur who once wrote an anti-feminist ode advising women to "get your biscuits in the oven and your buns in the bed." But his unofficial political advisers include Bill Clinton, who has known Friedman for years. Clinton's advice, Friedman said, was to "stay funny, stay positive. Your humor is what connects you to people."
Free publicity doesn't hurt either. Friedman was the recent subject of a profile in The New Yorker, "60 Minutes" came by his ranch in Texas, and he will star in a reality TV show on Country Music Television called "Go Kinky."
"It's starting to pop," he said of his campaign. "People are taking me more seriously than I take myself. I'm meeting schoolteachers with tears in their eyes."
As befitting a man whose parents were both educators, Friedman calls education "the centerpiece of" his campaign. "It takes a real dumbass not to understand the value of education," he said.
Friedman's father was a professor at the University of Texas, from which Friedman graduated in 1966. He calls his educational program, "No teacher left behind. I'm afraid we'll have to leave one governor behind."
He's referring to Rick Perry, the current governor of Texas.
Other Friedman views: He calls the whole anti-gay marriage platform "not a very Christian thing."
And as part of his "anti-wussification campaign," he wants to bring back the Ten Commandments: "We may have to change the name to the Ten Suggestions."
Although Jewish, he considers himself a "Judeo-Christian with Jesus and Moses in my heart. They were both homeless people and both independents."
As an outsider celebrity, Friedman's hardly in the Ronald Reagan-Arnold Schwarzenegger mold, but rather the Jesse Ventura strand, which would include not only Norman Mailer, who ran for New York City mayor in 1969, but also Sam Houston, the last independent to be governor of Texas, back in the 1800s.
"I like accidental politicians," he said. "Politicians like George Washington, John McCain, Teddy Roosevelt, Davy Crockett."
Or nonpoliticians: "Musicians can better run this state than politicians. Beauticians can better run this state than politicians.... Politicians can get an honest job robbing banks or working for the Mafia."
What does he think of fellow Texan George W. Bush?
"He's a good man trapped in a Republican's body."
What does he think of the record-breaking number of death-row inmates executed in Texas?
"That's pretty excessive. We're No. 1 in executions and 50th in education. We need to take a close look at death row," he said.
But running for a governor isn't just a mission; it's a bid for a paying job. In "Ten Little New Yorkers," he killed off his meta-detective in a suicide pact with a lesbian. He hasn't produced a record in years.
"If I lose," Friedman said, "I'll retire in a petulant snit on a goat farm."
Kinky Friedman will host a "Fun-Raiser" on Wednesday, Nov. 16, 5-7 p.m. at Lucy's El Adobe, 5536 Melrose Ave., Hollywood, (323) 462-9421. He will also appear at the Skirball Cultural Center on Thursday, Nov. 17, at 8 p.m. for "An Evening With Kinky Friedman" with special musical guest Little Jewford. $15-$25. For tickets, call (866) 468-3399. For more information, visit www.kinkyfriedman.com.