Kinky Friedman will play the Oriental Theater on Friday, May 12.EXPAND
Kinky Friedman will play the Oriental Theater on Friday, May 12.
Brian Kanof

Kinky Friedman: The Last of the Jewish Cowboys

When they made Kinky Friedman, they broke the mold immediately afterward. Like, they smashed that thing into unrecoverable dust. Because God knows, there’s nobody else on this earth quite like Friedman.

The self-styled Jewish cowboy formed his first band, King Arthur & the Carrots, when he was at college in the 1960s, but by 1971 he had formed Kinky Friedman & the Texas Jewboys, and a musical outlet for his acerbic wit was born. His first solo album, Sold American, came out in 1973, and while he famously took a complete break from music through much of the ’80s and from writing music for about forty years, good friend Willie Nelson dragged him back. Last year, he put out the Resurrected EP, and he’s touring it through the spring. Meanwhile, Friedman is also a novelist, satirist, politician and newspaper columnist. There isn’t, it seems, anything he won’t try his hand at.

“I won’t use the Internet,” Friedman says. “I don’t know what’s holding me back. Everybody else is doing it. But people are a bunch of humorless, constipated prigs, and they don’t like anybody to joke about the Internet or anything else. So fuck ’em. Fuck ’em and feed ’em Froot Loops. Next question.”

And that’s a measure of how an interview with Kinky Friedman goes. The man is hilarious. He’ll dwell on a question long enough that you wonder if he heard it correctly. Then he’ll come back with something biting and gloriously on point. He’s never, ever dull. Like when he’s discussing his return to music; Friedman refers to Willie Nelson as his “personal shrink.”

“He called one night at 3 a.m. and asked me what I was doing,” Friedman says. “I said that I was watching Matlock. Willie said that’s a sure sign of depression. He told me to turn it off and start writing. I thought about it — I hadn’t written music in about forty years. He’s talking songwriting, which is a high calling. A much higher calling then being a novelist, or definitely higher than being a politician. So I started writing. I got inspired and I wrote about a baker’s dozen of songs. We’re recording this summer.”

He initially dipped his toes back into the songwriting waters slowly. The Loneliest Man I Ever Met, from 2015, included three original songs; then came the Resurrected EP. The forthcoming new full-length record, appropriately titled The Matlock Collection, will be composed of all originals, effectively completing the comeback.

“These songs remind me of early Leonard Cohen, maybe, or early Kris Kristofferson,” he says. “They go back to a place that is very special to me. Not putting down the old stuff, because I think some of it really holds up well. Ain’t Making Jews Like Jesus Anymore — I think everybody gets it these days. We know that was Nelson Mandela’s sign-off song in his prison cell. That’s the highest honor country music has ever given me.”

Denver is the penultimate date on an extensive United States tour, so Friedman should be well warmed up by the time he gets here. He says that audiences have been responding well to his new songs so far, and he’s helped by the fact that his crowd is an eclectic, open-minded bunch.

“I think if you go to a show of mine, you’ll find people there who know my books much better than they know the music,” he says. “You’ll find people that are there politically and culturally, and not so much for the music. Then you’ll find music fans that don’t really know the books very well. Some of my best audiences, like in Germany, are the young people. They’ve read all the books in German, they know all the music, they know where I’m coming from, and it’s kind of making me the new David Hasselhoff. They’re a pretty damn good audience for me.”

Still, there are places in Germany that, to this day, understandably make Friedman uncomfortable. Thankfully, he is able to reconcile those feelings thanks to the fact that so many of those young German fans are so devoted.

“When you’re playing Munich, Nuremberg, all these places, as a Jew, it will tend to get up your sleeve after a while,” he says. “But these kids weren’t around then. They didn’t have anything to do with that. Maybe we could learn something from their view of America. They love the troublemakers. They love Hunter S. Thompson, Gram Parsons, Abbie Hoffman, Shel Silverstein, Tom Waits, Kinky — they like people like that. They like troublemakers, and they think that’s what made America great. I think they’re right.”

Friedman knows troublemakers. He’s also dabbled in politics himself, running for justice of the peace in Kerrville, Texas, in 1986 and then, in 2004, even throwing his cowboy hat into the ring to become governor of Texas. He lost both times, but the campaigns only served to bolster his reputation. He’s a lifelong Democrat, so one might imagine that he’s particularly unhappy with the current administration, but he’s more angry with his own team.

“I’ve been a Democrat almost all of my life, and I don’t think these people are real Democrats,” he says. “I think they think they are. But they’re not. I’ve never heard of a university that won’t listen to both sides of an argument or debate. That they shut down one side because they disagreed with it. I never heard of that in my whole life. That’s a total bastardization of what a university is. That’s the left doing it — it’s not right-wing goon squads doing that. That’s left-wing goon squads.”

Regarding the show in Denver, specifically, Friedman says that he can get a little uncomfortable around these parts because of some old ghosts. Still, he says, Denver is “spiritually cool,” and he’s looking forward to a good show.

“You can certainly expect songs from The Matlock Collection,” he says. “Five or six songs that no one in Colorado has heard at all. Brand-new. I’m working a lot on them because sometimes I fuck them up because they’re still new. Those, and of course we’ll do all the old favorites, too. There’ll be a little reading from a book, and then I’ll have five medical jokes.”

Yeah, apparently Willie Nelson has been filling Friedman’s head with medical jokes. He gave us a few, and the one that follows is the the least distasteful: “A guy goes to the doctor. The doctor says, 'I’ve got bad news for you: You’ve got AIDS, and you’ve got Alzheimers.' The guy goes, 'Well, at least I don’t have AIDS.'”

So you can expect a bunch of those at the Denver show – for better or worse. After this tour, Friedman says that he’s going to “kill myself in dramatic fashion and leave a petulant note.” He’s kidding, of course. Instead, he’ll be finishing one of his detective novels, The Tin Can Telephone, as well as a book about Bob Dylan with Louie Kemp called The Boys From the North Country: My Life With Robert Zimmerman and Bob Dylan. There’s a biography of Kinky in the works that the man himself is writing the introduction for, and then there’s the new album. He’s very, very busy.

“All of my life I’ve been busy,” he says. “Dreaming or saying goodbye. As Willy, my shrink, says, ‘If you fail at something long enough, you become a legend.'”

Kinky Friedman, with Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald, 8 p.m. Friday, May 12, Oriental Theater, 4335 West 44th Avenue, 720-420-0030.

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