MAGNET Feedback With Kinky Friedman

Kinky

For The Loneliest Man I Ever Met, his first new studio album in 32-plus years, Texas-based songwriter, essayist, cookbook author and Manhattan mystery novelist Kinky Friedman decided to drop the satirical humor that made him a self-designated “Jewish Cowboy” and the most caustic candidate to run for the governorship of Texas (Rick Perry beat him). Instead, Friedman’s new album fi nds the grizzled singer focused on spare, un-comic renditions of his favorites—vividly detailed, emotional songs of lost love from the pens of Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Tom Waits and Warren Zevon—as well as several of his own most serious titles. That doesn’t mean Friedman doesn’t still think comically when you get him in the clutches. Here are some musings.

—A.D. Amorosi

Willie Nelson, “Bloody Mary Morning” from: Phases & Stages
You can hear Willie in every part of this song— his guitar Trigger as well. Lots of heart. His sister Bobbie is nice, too. Willie once told me a story about this song. Turns out that Glen Campbell gave him $25,000 to publish everything he wrote that year. What, 1970? Well, Willie says that he only wrote one song that year, and this was it. Glen didn’t like the song either. It’s out of rhythm, or o the rhythm. That’s just how Willie writes and plays. Plus, I love that “leaving baby somewhere in L.A.” line.

Tom Waits, “A Christmas Card From A Hooker In Minneapolis” from: Blue Valentine
There’s nothing to not like about Tom Waits. This song in particular is audacious. I mean, the whole song is a lie except for the last lines: “I don’t have a husband/He don’t play the trombone/I need to borrow money to pay this lawyer.” Classic. We might be more similar to the lies than the truths.

Faron Young, “Hello Walls” from: Hello Walls
Willie wrote this. Real honky-tonk, too. Reminds me of a West Texas beer hall. Whenever I want to have that feeling, this is the song I put on the record player; that or “Silver Wings” or “Me & Bobby McGee.”

Merle Haggard, “Mama’s Hungry Eyes” from: A Portrait Of Merle Haggard
Merle’s got the best voice in country music, and this is one of his truly brilliant songs. He’s a poet. It’s about his daddy trying to feed his mama’s every hunger. Merle’s version has 10 background singers, and strings, and Nashville session cats. Mine is a spare as a skeleton, and I think we served the song just as well. You can’t miss, though, with it; the song is so fucking beautiful.

Lee Marvin, “Wand’rin Star” from: Paint Your Wagon
First off, I grew up with Alan J. Lerner and Frederick Loewe musicals, the gentlemen of My Fair Lady fame. There was more to this song, though. That’s how I was born: under a wandering star in the sky. If you were truly born under one of these, that explains a lot about your life. That is my blessing and my curse. I roam. So, this song cuts deep, really means something to me. It’s not usual compared to what I’ve recorded before. And thanks for saying I sound better than Lee Marvin.

Bob Dylan, “Girl From The North Country” from: Nashville Skyline
This tune is my halfway point between him and me, between who he is a songwriter and who I am. I hung with him during his Rolling Thunder Revue show. Played a few dates. Decent fellow. He wanted to write songs together with me and do an album. I chose not to. Does that tell you anything about how stupid I can be? I get this song of his because I had a girl from the North Country. I left one there, too. I know what he’s talking about, and every line, is … you just know that they know. Everything, however, is written between the lines.

Johnny Cash, “Pickin’ Time” from: The Fabulous Johnny Cash
That was the very song that ever made me—how do you put it—swoon. It was my dad’s favorite song too. John’s a silent witness.

Judy Campbell, “A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square” from: New Faces
That was our song—the one between me and the lovely Miss Texas of 1987—when we lived in London. Very pretty. Of course, I was Miss Texas of 1967, so I’ll always have that title.

Warren Zevon, “My Shit’s Fucked Up” from: Life’ll Kill Ya
Warren and I were never really close, but I always appreciated him. You know, I think I was born in the same hospital as him in Chicago; Zevon, me, Shel Silverstein, Steve Goodman, all Jews. Zevon wrote this knowing that he was dying of cancer, but—I repeat—but, it is not, in my mind at least, about just one man dying of cancer. It just happens to be an aptly told tale of the condition of the world as it stands today. Not to beat a dead horse, but things are a mess; irrevocably, at that.

Kinky Friedman, “Ride ’Em Jewboy” from: Sold American
Sold American is probably the one album of mine that, back to front, I consider my most wonderful musical achievement. Not just because it still sounds great—heh, heh—but because that’s the one with “Ride ’Em Jewboy.” It’s not a funny song. It’s got heart. “A melody which burns you deep inside/May peace be ever with you as you ride.” Nelson Mandela used to listen to this song every night in his jail cell, in that cassette tape player that he smuggled in. His cellmate of 17 years, his right-hand man, once told me that, so that’s coming from the horse’s mouth. Dolly Parton was his favorite singer and “Ride ’Em Jewboy” was his favorite song. Wow. Politically, we don’t have a Mandela out here right now— a Martin Luther King, a Jesus. That involves sacrifi ce. So, if you gave me the choice of playing a stadium or writing a song that you know Nelson Mandela listened to late every night—maybe gave him solace or hope—I’d take the latter. I’ll be that guy.

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