Kinky Friedman Is Serious About the Resurrection

A freeflowing chat with an American original

Look, it’s a Kinky Friedman action figure! Not for children under 3.

“Does any artist do his best work in his 70s?” Kinky Friedman asks rhetorically to kick off his free flowing conversation with The Rock & Roll Globe.

“Most people do their best stuff when they’re young,” he continues. “That’s why Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson are doing a lot of covers. How may songs can you possibly write that are going to live up to ‘Hello Walls’ and ‘Bob Dylan’s Dream?’ After you’ve written 2,000 songs, everything you write is going to be a parody of yourself. I’m lucky. I stopped songwriting for 40 years and did other stuff like politics [Friedman ran for Governor of Texas], life, love and various other ventures.”

Friedman also wrote a best selling series of detective novels and contributed a column to the Texas Monthly. He returned to songwriting and recording four years ago, after a phone conversation with his friend Willie Nelson.

“I was watching Matlock on TV and got a call from Willie, my psychiatrist,” he explains. “When I told him what I was doing, he told me watching old TV shows was a sign of depression. He told me to turn off the TV and start writing. I wrote 12 songs in a month. I was happy with them and I fight happiness at every turn. I think the key to good writing is to be as miserable as you can. That’s when I do my best work.”

 

VIDEO: Theme to Matlock

Those words may sound odd coming from a man who made his reputation on snarky songs like “They Ain’t Makin’ Jews Like Jesus Anymore” and “Asshole from El Paso,” but this time around, Freidman took a more serious approach. “If people are expecting the old Kinky, I might fall flat on my face, but falling flat on your face is still moving forward. Life’s a horse race full of terrifying obstacles and trials. What makes it worth living is how you overcome them. I don’t know if anybody’s buying records by artists who are over 70, so I might as well say what I want to say.” 

The initial 12 songs Friedman wrote at Nelson’s urging appeared on Circus of Life, the first album Friedman cut in more than 40 years. “We wanted to make a commercial record, but we were financially hamstrung. There were no drums and very little bass on it. Anybody who heard it said it was too sparse. I realized it was a Buddhist record. Buddhists don’t care if it’s sparse, because they can listen to what’s written between the lines, but radio wouldn’t play it.” 

Undaunted, Friedman hit the road to support the album. He recently returned to the studio with Grammy-winning producer and multi-instrumentalist, Larry Campbell, to record Resurrection, an album with 11 more new tunes. “Larry made this record very radio playable. He gave it an old time country feel, with simple melodies and sophisticated lyrics. That’s a combination I’ve always liked. No songs about my pickup truck, or whatever the hell they write about in Nashville. I like to leave people room to imagine what a song is about. Raymond Chandler said, ‘Good writing is always between the lines.’”

Kinky Friedman Resurrection, Echo Hill 2019

Resurrection may be the best album in Friedman’s catalogue. Quiet acoustic songs of lost love like “I Love You When it Rains” rub up against political tunes like “Mandela’s Blues” and “The Bridge That Won’t Burn,” a tale of life on the road that avoids the usual clichés. Campbell’s production is polished, but low key, allowing every note and every vocal inflection to vibrate with life. “I can listen to this record,” Friedman said. “I usually can’t stand listing to anything I’ve made. Larry captured something special. I’ve never been comfortable in a recording studio, but he has the magic touch. He brought out my vocals like a choirmaster. I sound better than I used to. No reverb, just the voice of a cigar smoker and tequila drinker who prays a lot.”

Willie Nelson adds harmonies and lead vocals to the title track, but Friedman didn’t make a big deal about the duet. Nelson’s credit on the album is in tiny, hard to read type on the inside of the CD. “I didn’t want the duet to be obvious. We wanted the effect of a dream sequence, harmonies like Cisco Houston and Woody Guthrie singing on the road together. I like the fact that you can hear Willie, but you don’t know that it’s Willie. [He starts to sing] ‘You might think I’m too old, to be out playing on the road, ‘stead of staying at home where I belong. You might think that it ain’t right, to be out driving half the night’ The song was written with Willie in mind and three adult American men have told me it made them cry. 

“The older you get, the harder it is to be creative, unless you’re Willie. He’s bulletproof. Once you get past Jesus’s age, its all downhill. Sometimes I feel like I’m 80, sometimes like a teenager, but doing 28 shows in a row at 74 is rough. Luckily, the reviews of the album have been stunning. People love this record. If this was done 30 years ago, maybe there would be some big country hits on it, but all we can deal with is what’s out there and may the Lord take a liking to you and see you down the highway.”  

 

AUDIO: Kinky Friedman Resurrection  (full album)

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j. poet

j. poet has been writing about music for most of his adult life. He has contributed to the San Francisco Chronicle, East Bay Express, Harp, Paste, Grammy.com, PlanetOut.com, American Profile, Creem, Relix, Downbeat, Folk Roots, New Noise and more national and international publications and websites than he can remember. He wrote most of the Musichound Guide to World Music (Visible Ink, 2000) and had two stories in Best Rock Writing 2014 (That Devil Music). He has interviewed a wide spectrum of artists including Leonard Cohen, Merle Haggard and Godzilla. He lives in San Francisco. 

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