An Interview with Kinky Friedman
He’s not joking. Novelist Kinky Friedman has a great, completely unique sense of humor, but he’s serious about his independent campaign for governor of Texas. Friedman is best known by the publishing world as the author of several humorous mystery novels, starring himself as the protagonist (with his real-life friend Willie Nelson making an occasional pot-fueled appearance). The latest in the series, Ten Little New Yorkers, is an uncharacteristically dark entry in the series -- chiefly because Friedman (the character) dies at the end.
He’s written over 20 books, but he’s equally well-known for his career as a musician -- he played country music with his band The Texas Jewboys in the ‘70s, offending and amusing fans with songs like “They Ain’t Makin’ Jews Like Jesus Anymore” and “Get Your Biscuits in the Oven and Your Buns in the Bed.” These days, he runs the Utopia Animal Rescue Ranch, and produces his own line of salsas and olive oil. But he’ll be a lot more busy as the campaign season kicks into gear. Bookslut talked to Friedman by telephone last month.
How’s life at the ranch?
The rescue ranch? That’s going very well, going good. There was word about some greyhounds in New Orleans [after Hurricane Katrina], and we adopted 24 of them. I called my friend, the Reverend Goat Carson, who’s a street preacher in New Orleans -- he got out of there, so he’s my personal evacuee. I talked to him about the 24 greyhounds coming out of New Orleans, that we were waiting for on the rescue ranch. Anyway, he called Aaron Neville and all these people and told them that Kinky had 24 Greyhounds coming out of New Orleans. He thought they were buses, for the evacuation. (Laughs.)
How’s Reverend Goat? Is he doing okay?
He’s doing good, yeah.
What do you think of the way Governor Perry handled the Rita evacuation?
I think Perry did pretty well with that. Of course, we had a wake-up call from Louisiana first. We already kind of knew it was more than anybody could handle. The whole thing’s just a lesson that Texans have got to take care of themselves -- no one’s going to help us. And that you shouldn’t appoint somebody’s roommate as head of FEMA. You know, if there hadn’t been a hurricane, (former FEMA director Michael Brown) would’ve done just fine! He would’ve been great! (Laughs.) But this whole thing kind of exposes what’s wrong with making these appointments out of patronage and out of politics.
Are you still friends with President Bush?
Yeah. I’m friends with President Bush and with Bill Clinton.
Have you talked to President Bush at all about the hurricanes?
No, I haven’t talked to George recently. He can’t really socially invite me up to the White House now, without looking like he’s trying to topple Perry or something. I talked to Laura more recently, but not after Katrina.
Some of your campaign team worked for the Jesse Ventura campaign a few years back. Have you talked to Governor Ventura at all about your campaign?
Never spoken to Jesse, never met him. (The Texas Book Festival in November) will be the first time. I’ve been talking to, of course, all his people, who are helping us down here -- Senator Dean Barkley, and Bill Hillsman. And they’ve been great. Bill told me a year ago… he said, if I can store in the high teens in the first poll of likely voters, I will be governor. And we scored 18 points. Apparently it’s unheard of for an independent to score 18 points anyway, especially one that’s not even on the ballot yet. Jesse only had 15 points, six weeks before the election. And we’ve got 18 a year before. So I think we’re in very good shape. And that’s just likely voters. The unlikely voters should be our support. That’s what’s going to put us in the governor’s mansion.
Do you have any thoughts about your presumptive Democratic opponent, Chris Bell?
No, not at all. I’ve been telling people that I support prayer in schools, and I support gay marriage. There’s not another candidate you’ll ever talk to that supports both of those. And the reason is, the party dictates what they support. Real simple. They’re afraid to support anything like that. They think it’s political suicide. The reason I do support that is because I’m an independent. I see an issue I like, and I support it. They can’t even do that. That’s reason enough to vote for me right there. It’s not that you have to agree with me on everything, just know that I’m honest, and that the things that I advocate are the things that I advocate. And I’ll appoint the best people just because they’re the best people, not because they’re somebody’s roommate.
What about Carole Keeton Strayhorn, who might yet get the Republican nomination? Any thoughts on her?
Not really. I’ve never met her. I kind of like her. I like her spunk. I think probably in the primaries, she’s going to have a tough time. A primary’s a real different animal. When it’s over, I’ll welcome Carole Keeton’s people to our side. I don’t think they’ll have any other place to go, really. They can go along with every crazy redneck in Texas who are already supporting me. And that’s a very good sign, by the way, because the crazy rednecks are where the election is won. I think we’ve got them.
Have you been talking to any schoolteachers as part of your campaign?
All the time. They come up to me with tears in their eyes, Mike. And as I’ve said before, if you care about education in Texas, you should have tears in your eyes. I say no teacher left behind, and in order to do that, we’re going to have to leave behind one governor.
What are the teachers most frustrated about? Is it that they’re tired of being forced to teach to the (Texas standardized) tests?
Well, teaching to the test is probably what singlehandedly has plunged us to the bottom. That’s why the folks in Mississippi are now saying “Thank God for Texas.” That’s why we’re 50th. And it’s not educating kids. And it’s part of the reason that the mental health and mental retardation programs have been stripped, just cut into by this administration. It just does not serve the special-education kids well at all. In other words, now there’s a reason teachers don’t want special-ed kids in their classes. Before there was a chance to mainstream the kids. Now there’s not. Get rid of the tests. The people that need to be appointed (to education positions) are people like my friend Dylan Ferrerro. Because that’s a resume. Dylan Ferrerro taught in the jungle in Borneo in the Peace Corps, when I was over there. He taught in the ghettos of Oakland for eight years. He’s got a bachelor’s in education from Berkeley. And he taught special-ed in Comfort, Texas, for twenty years. And he doesn’t care about Democrats or Republicans; he cares about kids. And he’s seen the inside of a classroom, which many of Perry’s appointments have never done.
Do you think the Perry administration has the same problem with cronyism that some people have said the Bush administration does?
Yeah, and it also has the same as the Ann Richards administration did. The Republicans and the Democrats let us all down. The only time they get off their asses is to attack each other. Witness Tom DeLay. I mean, that’s what they do. And that’s why, Mike, you live in a state with a majority of nonwhite, Democratic-leaning people, and the Democrats can’t get to first base in Texas. Also, the Republicans control all the leadership positions in our legislature, and they can’t get any legislation passed. So I just think it’s a perfect storm and a perfect time for an independent to be in here.
Do you think you’d be able to work with the Democrats and the Republicans in the state legislature?
Absolutely. I will charm their pants off. Invite ‘em over, we’ll have some barbecue, smoke some cigars together, and we’ll get this thing rolling. And a lot of things can be done without the legislature, by the way. I’ll tell you five things a governor could do right now. One, have a listed telephone number, so during certain hours, he could talk to the people, because I think this governor is out of touch with the people of Texas, not to mention the spirit of Texas. Two, biodiesel. Put that in all the school buses and all the state police (cars). You can do that by decree. Three, I plan to open the Indian casinos that have been closed down -- the Tigua and the Alabama Coushata. Four, the (state university) Boards of Regents. I want to fill them with the best, brightest young people, not old farts that have given the most money. Let’s get college students (on the Boards) who are really passionate about education. And finally, I’d like to rename four state highways after Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Bob Wills, and Buddy Holly. Not toll roads, by the way.
(State) Senator Jeff Wentworth objected to naming a road after Willie Nelson this year.
That’s right! (Laughs.) But it was a toll road! Willie said he’s worked hard his whole life, and doesn’t want a toll road named after him, and that maybe the electric chair would be good.
Do you know who you’d appoint as the Texas Poet Laureate?
Billie Joe Shaver. And as soon as people start hearing some of Billie Joe Shaver’s work, they’ll just be blown away.
What’s your favorite Texas book?
Probably anything by Elmer Kelton. And a lot of Larry McMurtry’s stuff I like too. Leaving Cheyenne, I like Hud. Of course, Giant.
Are you planning a campaign book, a Charge to Keep kind of book?
That might come. We’ll see how things go.
Are you reading anything at the moment?
Yeah, yeah. I’m reading that new biography of Mark Twain, by Ron Powers. It’s fucking amazing. That guy’s life is just so completely… his life is the country.
Do you have any plans to write fiction again?
Yeah, that could happen. I think I’m going to have plenty of time. I’m just going to appoint people, get out of the way, and let them work. I’ll go to Vegas. Appoint the best people simply because they’re the best people. It’s never been tried.
Who do you think was the last great governor that Texas had?
Great? Probably Sam Houston. It’s been downhill from there. I always like to quote Henry Kissinger, who said that 90 percent of politicians give the other 10 percent a bad name.
You’ve talked about your “anti-wussification” campaign for Texas. What does that involve?
Making it okay to say “Merry Christmas.” Making it okay to smoke where you want to. Bringing back the Ten Commandments. I may have to change their name to the Ten Suggestions. I want to bring them back to the public schools. They were taken out not because of church and state, but because of political correctness. Some atheist came up and said he didn’t like the Ten Commandments. We all know what happens when an atheist dies. His tombstone reads “All dressed up and no place to go.” By the way, I’ve written my own epitaph, Mike, which is: “If you can read this, you’re standing on my head.” It’s a good one, ain’t it?
Your songs have been criticized by some for being politically incorrect. Do you think that will become an issue during the campaign?
I really doubt it. I think the politically correct crowd will probably stay Democratic, and go down with the ship, like they’ve done in every election in the past 12 years. It’s a tragedy. Here’s somebody who believes in a lot of what they believe in, and some of them would rather vote Democratic. They’d rather waste their votes. You know, if they vote for me, they can bring Rick Perry down. They can, and they will. A lot of Republicans are also supporting me.
Does the anti-wussification campaign include changing the state song (“Texas, Our Texas”)?
No, that’s just the anti-boredom campaign. It’s a pretty weak song. Ray Benson of Asleep at the Wheel and I are searching for a new one. We’re thinking of “Suicide Is Painless.” “The Yellow Rose of Texas” is great.
Anything in particular you want to say to our readers?
I come from a family of teachers, and I think it takes a real dumbass not to understand the value of a good education. And a good education includes reading. If you don’t read, you’re missing out. It’s the best way to teach our children well. And it’s one of the big things that’s being overlooked here in Texas.