Kinky Friedman is one of a kind.EXPAND
Kinky Friedman is one of a kind.
Brian Kanof

"Jesus in Pajamas" Jumpstarted Kinky Friedman's Songwriting Career

With the release of Kinky Friedman's Circus of Life, his first record of new material in forty years, the Texas singer-songwriter has once again returned to doing what built him his name in the first place: singing dusty old-fashioned country-Western songs with a mix of satire and sincerity.

Circus of Life covers a lot of ground in twelve songs. At age 73, Friedman has still neither settled into one art form nor experienced the success his old buddy Willie Nelson has. As always, he still has a chip on his shoulder and an eye out for perceived enemies.

Even while trying to reconcile with all of these factors, however, the biggest questions remaining are why he left music in the first place, and why he came back forty years later.

The answers are simple. He left because he wasn’t confident in his ability to make a living, because he didn't perceive himself to be commercial enough. He pivoted to other things, got busy with politics, and eventually found himself writing thrilling mystery novels with moderate success.

Still, none of that was enough to keep him away from the stage forever. After all, he “really wanted to irritate” his detractors once again. And a fateful night at a Denny’s in Dallas roughly a year ago, which left him equally inspired and ashamed, pushed him back into songwriting.

“At 3:16 in the morning, I checked the time; it happened in Dallas," says Friedman. "This guy came in in pajamas, with these soft-channel eyes, you know? He was trying to sell me a coupon. He was drooling. He was not well. I was just so depressed in general at that time, about a year ago, I would have given him money if I’d had any, which I didn’t, so I left.

“Then I became overwhelmed by guilt — which could be ordinary Judaism, I’m not sure. But I felt guilty and went back looking for him, and by God if nobody else had seen him at all. So that song 'Jesus in Pajamas,' I believe, is the one.”

Friedman's new album Circus of Life is his first new music in four decades.EXPAND
Friedman's new album Circus of Life is his first new music in four decades.
Brian Kanoff

By the time he had driven about an hour to Fort Worth, “Jesus in Pajamas” was just about written, and he was making new music again. Over the next month, he finished writing the rest of the album.

In an ironic sort of way, Friedman feels that a combination of lots of “Peruvian marching powder” earlier in his life and not partaking in writing and releasing music for four decades has kept him fresh as a songwriter because he didn’t already use up all the good stuff.

His new album crackles with a mixture of humor and deeply moving humanity that suggests he isn’t finished telling compelling stories. “People are going to compare a new record to your other work, and there’s just no chance that you can write twelve great songs in your seventies," Friedman says. "My saving grace was I hadn’t been writing for forty fucking years, so people are not comparing this to anything except for the very best of what’s out there today.”

With five new songs already written for the next record, it’s possible Friedman needed the detours along the way to eventually come back to music.

The way he tells it, Circus of Life would not have been made had he tried to go through a major-label recording studio. He perceives Nashville as a wasteland of formulaic pop music and the antithesis of his small, independent record label, Echo Hill.

However, he’s also aware of where his new record currently ranks on Spotify charts and what that means for his business. He’s a man frustrated with the current state of the music industry, but still a participant.

“We deliberately did something here: These songs can be uplifting, tragic as hell, or however you want to read them, but they give you enough space to imagine and think why you’re listening to the record, which is almost unheard of today. That’s not done.”

As an independent politician, Friedman towed the lines on issues and ultimately did not succeed in his bid for becoming governor of Texas, which he described as "soul grinding." As a novelist, he's been successful, but it never overshadowed his other work, and as a musician, well, he didn’t put out new music for four decades because he didn't think he was what the industry could foist on listeners.

Fair assessment of how politics and major recording labels operate or not, the truth is that Friedman is not unwilling to play the game a little bit in any of the various arenas he chooses to occupy professionally, but it has always had to be on his own terms.

Whether he’s challenging a young man to a “Spanish mouthwash” drinking contest, hanging out at a Denny's at 3 a.m. or releasing excellent new music that furthers his own myth as a rebellious, uncooperative old man with a gravelly voice, Kinky Friedman is the professional agitator he claims to be. The only difference is that for the first time in several years, that's no longer working against him.

Kinky Friedman, with Willis Alan Ramsey, Saturday, August 11, hi-dive, 7 South Broadway.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.

Newsletters

All-access pass to the top stories, events and offers around town.

  • Top Stories
    Send: