Write ’em, Jewboy

Write ’em, Jewboy

Kinky Friedman brings new songs to local gigs … during Passover

Kinky Friedman will begn his spring tour with fresh material at stops in Manhattan and across the Jersey line in Piermont, N.Y.
Kinky Friedman will begn his spring tour with fresh material at stops in Manhattan and across the Jersey line in Piermont, N.Y.

Kinky Friedman is riding into town, country-and-western guitar in hand and a stack of new songs in his repertoire — but don’t get your hopes too high if you’re a fan, because they might get as thoroughly busted as one of the hapless New York City miscreants who fill the pages of his successful series of murder mysteries.

If you’re not a fan, if you’ve never heard of the Kinkster — here’s one clue: The lead character and crime solver in the 18-volume mystery series that appeared between 1986 and 2005 is a Jewish country-and-western singer-songwriter named Kinky Friedman.

Yes, Mr. Friedman is not above a little self-promotion and a lot of self-aggrandizement. Or is it the other way around? So feel free to take some of this with a large grain of kosher salt. He probably wouldn’t have it any other way.

But this much is undeniably true: Kinky Friedman is kicking off his spring tour in the Turning Point in Piermont, N.Y., just a mile over the New Jersey state line, and a tad closer than Manhattan’s B.B. King Blues Club on 42nd Street, where Mr. Friedman also will perform this month.

But here’s the thing: He’s playing Piermont Tuesday night, April 11. Which is the second night of Passover.

“It may send me directly to hell,” he admitted. “I would anticipate the date probably rules out a lot of church-going Jews. I’ll have to rely on the kindness of strangers for that particular gig. Next year we’ll start in Jerusalem. Right now we’ll start in Piermont.”

If you’re a two-day yontif-observing Friedman fan, you can forget about his New York gig too: That’s on Monday, April 17, the eighth night of Pesach.

Some days, it seems, a Jew just can’t win.

Which is more or less what he sang in his 1973 song “Ride ’em Jewboy.”

Ride, ride ’em Jewboy
Ride ‘em all around the old corral
I’m, I’m with you boy
If I’ve got to ride six million miles
Don’t you let the morning blind ya
When on your sleeve you wore the yeller star
Old memories still live behind ya
Can’t you see by your outfit who you are

Is that an exploitive novelty number? Or is it a reverential hymn, “a religious experience equal to going synagogue” as he suggested in our interview?

You never can quite tell with Kinky.

He did, after all, name his first group Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys. He was entitled to it; he grew up in Texas, where his parents ran a summer camp. Now the 400-acre ranch is his home.

His song “We Reserve the Right to Refuse Service to You” was about being an outcast as a Jew among Texans and as a cowboy with too much dust of the road for the Jews:

You smell just like a communist,
You come on through just like a Jew,
We reserve the right to refuse service to you.

Your friends are all on welfare —
You call yourself a Jew?
You need your ticket and your tie
To zip your prayers on through,
We reserve the right to refuse services unto you.

And then there’s the another classic from 40 years ago, “They Ain’t Makin’ Jews Like Jesus Anymore.”

“I have a mild obsessions with Jesus,” Mr. Friedman said. “He’s a good Jewish boy who got in trouble with the government.

“The Jews gave him to the world. We should take credit for that and stop being so provincial.

“Don’t forget he rode in on a jackass, which is always a good thing. Part of the reason I like Donald Trump is because so many people mocked him. When a lot of jackasses mock you, that’s a good sign.”

The big news about the tour is that it will feature new songs, “the first songs I’ve written in 40 years,” he said.

What made him pick up the guitar pick and pen new songs?

“My shrink, Willie Nelson, advised me to,” Mr. Friedman said.

“He called one night last year, about three in the morning, asked me what I was doing. I told him I was watching ‘Matlock.’ Willie said, ‘That’s a sure sign of depression. It’s bad energy, bad karma. Turn ‘Matlock’ off and start writing, Kinky!’

“I had not written one song in 40 years. I started writing just to be a song writer again. I have about a dozen songs we’re going to record this summer after the tour.

“They don’t sound like they were written by the same person. Because I guess they’re not,” he said.

The two new songs I heard on YouTube — uploaded from recent concerts — carry the melancholy, reflective mood of his 2015 studio album of mostly cover songs, “The Loneliest Man I Ever Met.” It’s country folk in a minor key, with earnestness rather than his youthful 1970s sarcasm. At 72, Kinky Friedman has grown up. But he still knows how to write songs that stick in your head after one listen.

“To be a good songwriter, the songs have to percolate a while,” he said. “It’s a very high spiritual state to be a songwriter when there’s almost no market for it.”

That may be true of the music industry in general. But there seems to be a market for Kinky Friedman. The next year will see three new Kinky Friedman-related books.

One of them is a book he wrote with Lou Kemp, Bob Dylan’s childhood friend.

“What the world needs today is another Bob Dylan book,” said Mr. Friedman, who has his own Dylan-related claim to fame. He took part in Mr. Dylan’s legendary Rolling Thunder Revue tour in the 1970s, performing four songs between sets by Mr. Dylan and Joan Baez.

“Almost all the other Bob Dylan books were written by people who never met Bob,” he said. “They’re biographies by people who never met them. In our case we’ve got the only other guy who was there most of the time. These were stories no one had heard. Like the seder with Marlon Brandon. There’s some great stuff there.”

There’s a new mystery, “The Return of Kinky Friedman.”

And there’s the definitive biography, “Everything’s Bigger in Texas: The Life and Times of Kinky Friedman,” coming in November, written by Mary Lou Sullivan, who also wrote the biography of another Texas guitar slinger, Johnny Winter.

“If you fail at something long enough, you become a legend,” Mr. Friedman said. “I think people are going to like the new stuff. With the new stuff, I’m kind of working without a net. The songs are so new I’m not sure I’ve got them down.. I have to depend on Mexican mouthwash, the tequila, to get through the show.

“If you cross the line, it’s terrible. No one wants to see a drunken elderly Jew up there trying to remember his song.”

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