Kinky On Texas: The Outlaw Interview

Kinky on Texas:  The Outlaw Interview

 

(Ed. Note:  Outlaw Magazine is a music and lifestyle site, and not a political forum.  You know that already.  But this is a largely political piece, primarily due to the fact that Kinky Friedman is these days a political character by choice.  He’s running for office in Texas.  We called him because we still like his music and his books a lot.  We also like some of his ideas.  And we thought you might appreciate a chance to pick his brain with us for a bit.  The results of that are below.  Thanks for reading.)

Richard S. “Kinky” Friedman.  There’s an iconic name and Texas-sized iconic character for you.  Sixty-nine years into a life jam-packed with experiences, adventures, successes, losses, and sustained learning, the man has earned his place in the lexicon of Lone Star legends.  For some, Kinky’s status is predicated on his irreverent, bawdy, and insightful in a Jonathan Swift sort of way musical career.  For others, it’s the long line of books he’s authored – both fiction and non-fiction.  And for many in media circles, the literati, if you will, Friedman has been both a sought after interview and a favored target since his run for the Texas governor’s mansion in 2006.  He’s back in a political race again, this time as a Democrat, and this time targeting the office of Agriculture Commissioner.  Not a commonly known office, but one with quite a history.  Look it up if Texas political history interests you.

Kinky himself plays the humorist card quite well, but sometimes people fall too easily into the trap of believing that’s all that he is.  As if Will Rogers or Mark Twain were mere humorists.  Or as if this modern cultural climate, which happily encourages Comedy Central’s editorial forays into presidential election cycles and lauds Jon Stewart’s show as better than the news, is somehow above supporting a guy whose hard hitting insights are delivered in funnier, more relatable tones.

There’s a little bit more to Kinky Friedman, though, than the usual talking points seem to allow for.  We’re talking here about a Jewish kid from Chicago whose parents moved him to Texas early on and who chose to stay of his own volition.  A guy who, when he was seven years old, got picked to compete in an exhibition against chess grandmaster Samuel Reshevsky.  Those who have played chess understand what that’s worth, and realize quite well the lifelong foundations of strategy and nuance that a grasp of the game can instill.  Those who haven’t played and don’t know?  They need to fix that.  Friedman did so decades ago, and it’s a mistake now to view him with a half hearted smile and a condescending glance.  Because these days the man is back in the political ring again.  Not that he has to be; he’s got a fine career with both his music and his writing, and a devoted following that’s both global and highly placed in nature.  Everyone loves the Kinkster.  He could ride that horse all the way to the last station on the line.  But instead he’s opting, once again, to get in the ring.  To volunteer for leadership, and to make a difference.  Here’s a look at what he had to say when he took a moment late one night last week after a fundraiser in Houston to get on the phone and talk with us.  The man covers a lot of ground.

DP:  Long day for you, sir, after spending last night with Willie Nelson for his 81st birthday party.  We appreciate you taking a minute to talk with us.  Austin last night, Houston tonight.  You’re a busy man.  How’s the campaign trail panning out?

KF:  Well, I think if we get past this runoff May 27th, get everybody to vote, if we can win that I think we’re definitely going all the way.   Anybody who did not vote in the Republican primary can vote in this runoff.  So if you’re an independent or a Republican or a Democrat, you can vote.   And this office matters.   I told the folks tonight, I met a kid not too long ago.  He put this bracelet on my wrist that says “Ending Prohibition where it started.”  I was in El Paso when it happened.  Didn’t know what it means, and so I asked.  Finally found someone who knew; the answer was that the first Texas Prohibition law was passed in 1915 in El Paso because Hispanics were smoking pot.  And from that the rest of the Prohibition era started.  In Texas, El Paso was first.

DP:  I didn’t know that.  Just learned something.

KF:  This was a good session tonight.  The Democrats know, you know.  They’ve been losing for 20 years consistently.  And I really do believe that I can get the independents and the libertarians back into the game.  My Republican opponent could well be Sid Miller, the father of the mandatory sonogram.  I think a lot of Republican women already take that as an insult, and they’re right.  Because it doesn’t do any good.  It doesn’t save any babies or anything.  It’s cruel and it serves no good use.

DP:  I don’t understand where the Republicans are going with so much of that.  They trumpet small government, but they’re just trying to intrude in different areas.

KF:  Very good observation.  It’s a good point.  We talked a lot tonight about Barbara Jordan and how she loved common humanity.  Meaning let’s don’t just beat the Republicans; let’s find the common humanity.  That’s what she practiced.  Martin Luther King practiced outside the system, in the streets.  She did her work inside the system.  An example of that was in 1975, the Voters Rights Act, which was going to expire.  She went across the aisle in Congress, she was the first black congresswoman from the South, and she went across the aisle to Robert Byrd, the former Klansman.  Her colleagues in Congress just castigated her for that.  For going over and dealing with Byrd.  But somehow she charmed him, and when she came back, she had forty Senators in her pocket.  Which was enough to pass this bill, which wouldn’t have passed otherwise, and her answer was to find the common humanity.  That’s what I look for.  Common humanity is how we win.  Common humanity is how we get things done.

DP:  That’s a message that people need to hear in this day and age.  Because if you take somebody on the far right and somebody on the far left and just let them communicate through their computers with their keyboards, they’re gonna be dyed in the wool enemies.  World War Three.   But if they live in a house next to each other and both have to take their trash out to the same curb on the same day every week and their kids play Little League together, you know what, all of a sudden they’re talking about their ideas and their beliefs over beers on the back porch.  Somebody’s got to bring us back to that conversation and civil discourse.

Consider all of that perhaps as square one in what makes Kinky, well, Kinky.  He shoots straight, he recognizes that even the most seemingly disparate of people can work together, and there exists indeed some core set of common denominators we all care deeply about.  Others in this political climate seem focused on the divisive wedge issues, as if that’s any way to win in a sustainable fashion.  Piss your enemies off long enough, there will be hell to pay.  Friedman takes the opposite tack.  Yet he’s not afraid to go after topics many might find controversial, particularly in a state as politically conservative as Texas.  Here’s an example. 

KF:  I think this lifting the prohibition on marijuana and hemp, I think it’s coming real soon.  And that’s important here.  I mean if Nebraska legalizes, who cares?  Massachusetts?  Means nothing.  But the children of the world look to Texas.  We’re a mystical, magical cowboy state and if we legalize, not only are the Mexican drug cartels castrated but also the war on drugs is over.  I’ve talked with former FBI agents and they that war is the most expensive program our government has ever run.  And what has it done besides empower every bad guy in the hemisphere, and put in prison a lot of good and innocent people?  Lots of people have been killed that didn’t need to be.  And this will end it.  When Texas legalizes pot, our war on drugs will be over.  It’s been an abysmal tragic failure.

DP:  Fair point.  If we weren’t creating the cartels by default with the so-called war on drugs, who in Texas would have ever even heard of MS-13?  Nobody.

KF:  Right.  I mean there’s so many aspects of it that are horrible.  They’re just unnecessary.  We keep making criminals out of people who aren’t really criminals, and that’s disgraceful.  So is having arguably the world’s greatest cancer research hospital, M.D. Anderson, and no medicinal marijuana research program.  That’s shameful.  There’s not a lot of common sense in politics.  You know my definition of that.  And look today, we’ve got no balance in office.  No Democratic voice, no independent voice, no libertarian voice really.  The pot really needs to be stirred.

DP:  No question there.  Let me throw one question at you that I haven’t heard or read elsewhere.  I think this one might help people understand who you are a bit better.  Because usually what we see is this pundit or that writer referring to you as a humorist or an author or an ex country singer, as if those things all somehow minimize who you are.  They treat you like a sideshow and it pisses me off.

KF:  They’re lazy.  They use words to frame their own views.  Like animal activist.  They use that one on me a lot.  I’m not an activist.  I’m a defender of strays.  But every time there’s a piece on me it says activist.  I’m not a PETA type, not an activist like that, you know.  I am very pro animal.  But….

DP:  Animal lover, maybe.  That fits.  Why don’t they use that?

KF:  They’re lazy.

DP:  Or they have an agenda.

KF:  And they say humorist when they could just as well put a lot of other things.  It’s the curse of being multi-talented, David.

DP:  Ah, the time honored high price of competence.

KF:  Right.  I’d be much more successful if I was only good at one thing.  But as Willie says, if you fail at something long enough, you become a legend.

DP:  There you go.  Now, I still have that one question rattling around in my head.  And here it is.  You’ve accomplished so much, and could be sitting comfortably, yet you’re choosing to throw your hat in this political ring and opening yourself up to a whole lot of slings and arrows and Lord knows what else.  Why does a Jewish kid from Chicago love Texas so much that he wants to step up and help lead her into the future?  How does that guy, at a point where he could just relax, decide hey, we’ve got too many seceders, we need leaders, and I want to be one?

KF:  You know, Texas is a hard state to lead because it’s a bipolar state.  It’s very progressive in some ways.  And I’m not just talking about Austin, because Austin is getting to be Dallas with guitars.  But it’s bipolar in that a lot of it’s very progressive and a lot of it is still your regular rural material.  But both appeal to me.  That’s part of our charm.  That’s part of, you know, the Buddy Holly effect of being different from the others and doing whatever the hell we want.  That’s kind of what made Texas.  I lived in Chicago one year, couldn’t find work, so I moved to Texas and as I like to say I haven’t worked since really.  But I’ve gotten very attached to Texas, and I think as far as leadership goes, we’ve got a big role to play in the future.  We’ve got a big role to play in the American experience.  And we do have to decide whether we’re going to be seceders or leaders.   There are all kinds of ways of doing this, Dave, I mean, if I was Ag Commissioner right now, the budget is enormous.  It approaches a billion dollars.  We could start pilot grants and projects – well, not pilot like David Pilot, but then, who knows, maybe we’d want one.  Give a pilot to Pilot.  But the point is, we could lead with a project like just lifting the prohibition on marijuana and hemp.  Hemp is a real no-brainer, I mean, every farmer in Texas if given the chance and the choice would grow hemp instead of cotton.  Fifty percent of the American agricultural pesticide use goes into the growing of cotton.  Zero percent goes into hemp.  And half the water.  So if you want to conserve water, you could do a lot right away by growing hemp instead of cotton.

DP:  Boy, towns like Weatherford just a little west of Fort Worth that think they’re going to be out of water altogether in three years sure would like that news.

KF:  Yeah.  And we’d better start looking at El Paso, too.  Here’s another topic.  You go to rural Texas, right after water and education it’s feral hogs they want to talk about.  That’s a growing problem.

DP:  You don’t have to go to rural Texas for that to be a problem.  I live between Fort Worth and Denton, and almost lost a horse to a hog last year.  Thing nearly took his leg off at the knee, and the infection that followed almost killed him.  We’re talking about a big thoroughbred here, not some little pony.  And there’s city not more than a mile from my barn.  Warehouses and an industrial park in between.  It’s not just a rural issue.

KF:  I’m saying let’s take that issue on and make it a financial pleasure for Texas.  Let’s give a lot of people jobs.  Hogs are selling for eighteen dollars a pound in New York right now.  Let’s not just kill them or any other species for nothing.  Let’s make it benefit us.   Look, if you were Ag Commissioner, you’d automatically lean toward helping out people like Nolan Ryan who has nine hundred million head of cattle.  Well, he doesn’t need the help.  He doesn’t need to be hurt, either, but he doesn’t need the help.  It’s the 247,000 small farmers and ranchers that are dwindling in number every day who need the help.  The only one helping them really is Willie Nelson with Farm Aid.  The state is not helping them.  The state is more interested in agribusiness and Monsanto and whatever else.  That’s what Republicans have been doing.  They’ve turned the Ag office into a poker chip, just a political stepping stone to higher office.  Since I’m so old and in the twilight of my life at 69, though I read at the 71 year old level as you probably know, I’m not going to be running for higher office.  So I want to be the best damn Ag Commissioner Texas has ever had.  And I’m not an administrator.  That’s not the point.  I can hire an administrator.  There’s a thousand of ‘em waiting in line at the capitol.  And if you hire one and he doesn’t get it, you fire his ass and you hire another one.  We’re talking here about balancing things like fracking and the environment.  We’re talking about water and who gets it.  How you keep the rich guys from taking it all.  We’re talking about standing up for rural folks.  We’re talking about organic gardens that the kids can get involved with and get excited about and enthusiastic about.  Urban farming.  Family farming.  All this stuff.  It comes down to loving the people and the place in Lubbock and El Paso and the Valley and east Texas.  The Panhandle, the whole state.  Not just the Austin political establishment.  This is going to be a very anti-establishment election, by the way.  Both parties.

DP:  That’s a good thing.  Because the establishment isn’t working.

KF:  No it’s not.  It really isn’t.  It’s taken us awhile to find out, but even the Republicans feel that way.  You know they’re not real excited about Perry or Dewhurst or Abbott.

DP:  No they’re not.  Lot of them are single fathers who’ve had to deal with Abbott’s office on the topic of child support.  They know he couldn’t get that right, and if he can’t get that right, why are we gonna give him a state budget?

KF:  Well, he’s sued Obama about ninety thousand times in the past year and a half using the house’s money and he thinks that’s leadership.  But I don’t see how the Democrats win this time either if they don’t figure out how to get the independents back.

DP:  You say on your website that you’re running to bring courage, imagination, and common sense back to politics.  That almost sounds like Sam Houston or something.  I don’t know if we’ll know what to do if you pull it off.

KF:  You know, a guy asked me tonight who was my model for a great Texas governor.  And boy.  I coulda had Ann Richards.  I liked her spirit and her attitude.  But you go back.  W wasn’t bad as a governor.  But you go back and whether it’s a Republican or a Democrat, they’re not much.  In the inspiration department, they’ve been very low.

DP:  It’s been more shenanigans than anything.

KF:  You have to go back to Sam Houston to find a great leader.  But then again, I’m not running for governor.  I’m not running for god.  I’m running for Ag Commissioner.  This has a lot to do with the green fuse that runs through all our lives.  It will be a referendum on pot and hemp, but also on a lot of other things.  And a lot of it is listening to the people in the place where politicians fear or neglect to tread.

DP:  They fear to tread because those areas require actual leadership, and no candidate thinks they can afford that when they have focus groups to satisfy.  I’m glad you’re shaking them up and making them think and making them pay attention.

KF:  Well, we’re doing this differently and I feel that very, very good things are on the way.

 There was plenty more to this conversation.  But we’ve hit the high points here and we’re already running pretty long for an internet article.  So I’m going to wrap it up.  But understand a couple of critical things here.  One is that Friedman isn’t running for office hoping he can make it legal for himself to get high a lot.  He doesn’t smoke the ganja.  Cigars do the trick for him just fine and they’re what he likes.   But he also likes the idea of liberty, and he likes the fact that hemp as a cash crop can reduce pesticides and save water while putting money in a farmer’s bank account.  He flat out loves the idea of cutting the legs out from under cartels that are savaging our southern borders – and I mean the entire southern U.S. border there, not just the one that runs across Texas.  He also wonders why a leading medical center like Texas isn’t looking at pitting the kind of scientific resources against medicinal cannabis research that Israel is.  (Don’t believe that?  Go Google.  It’s eye opening)  Texas faces material challenges today, as does the United States at large.  Factions in power wrestle not to address those challenges, but to either retain or regain power.  Into that fray rides the original Texas Jewboy.  Yeah, he throws one-liners around.  Yeah, he’s good for a sustained number of belly laughs.  But listen to him and go do your own legwork.  You might find that something else he’s good for is honest insight shared openly and with a passion.  The same sort of insight which infused his catalogs of music and fiction resonates today in the stances he takes where the political world is concerned.  Whether you agree with him or not when it’s all said and done, the man deserves your consideration.  We all hear the rising tide of consternation where the nation’s politics are concerned.  We all hear the volume ratcheting up on the topic of the need for new blood, fresh ideas, and servant leaders who understand that their obligation is to their constituents and not to the lobbyists lurking in the hall.  Perhaps, just for a joke, we should consider actually making some of that come true and giving Kinky Friedman a long, honest listen.  He won’t waste your time.

We’re sure glad he stopped by to visit with us for a while.

.  You can find all the info you want on Kinky at www.kinkyfriedman.com.

Dave Pilot lives in north Texas with his first good wife (don’t ask about the other one), seven horses, and five dogs.  When his wife’s not looking, he tries to figure out ways to feed the 987 or so cats to the coyotes out behind the fenceline.  When he’s not trying to raise his kids to turn out better than he did, he’s hitting historical sites on his way to honky-tonks from Denton to Port Aransas. Visit Dave Pilot on Facebook.

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