Kinky Friedman on Elections: 'We Don’t Know Who the Hero Is Until the Ship Sinks'

“How ya doin’, Rach? I’m worried about the dogs so I’m throwing rocks at 'coons, trying to disturb the feral cats. But hey, let’s try to keep race out of this.”

It’s accepted as gospel: This election is unprecedented, a radical departure from anything we’ve seen before. But for anyone who’s followed Texas politics in the past decade, this talk is strained. In 2006, Kinky Friedman, the professionally unserious, cigar-smoking, tequila-swilling, singer-songwriter and self-proclaimed “Texas Jewboy,” ran a serious campaign for governor, the first (and so far only) candidate to run in Texas as an independent. The irreverent-as-ever cowboy, who just turned 72, talked to the Dallas Observer for nearly an hour from the animal rescue ranch he runs in Medina. Gone are the days of Kinky-the-would-be-politician. It’s a rack he’s glad to hang his hat on.

Observer: Happy birthday.

: Thanks. I’m 72 but I read at the 74-year-old level. I’m growin’ fuckin’ deaf too.

You just got back from touring in Australia. What’s Kinky Friedman’s fan base like over there?

Oh, all kinds of people. They enjoy a lack of pretentiousness that really makes for good audiences. I think they get me, is what I’m saying. I’ve always liked them. They’ll probably be as PC as America someday, but that’s hard to imagine.

Cleve Hattersley (Friedman’s spokesman and longtime friend) said he’s been advising you to stay out of the political —

I don’t give a flying fuck what Cleve says. I’m a private citizen, I can say what I want to say. I’m not running for office. If Cleve wants to be somebody’s political mentor he should find somebody else.

Do you and Willie Nelson talk politics?

Well, he’s to the left of me. Far to the left of me. Willie and I, we both agree that politics is the only field where the more experience you have, the worse you get. So when you see people who’ve been around for a long time that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re any better. In fact, they’re probably worse.

When you ran for governor, it was like this wild idea, or seemed so at the time. You were this outsider coming in to shake things up. In the end, do you think your celebrity status kind of got thrown in your face?

It depends how you look at it. I often like to quote my friend [singer-songwriter] Billy Joe Shaver, who said Jesus rode in on a jackass. And everybody mocked him and made fun of him. They didn’t realize he would one day become a really big deal. It’s hard to tell who would be good in office.

The Texas Democrats have been nearly wandering in the desert forever. It’s not a matter of left or right. There are a lot of liberal pussies in Austin. I don’t think people like Sam Rayburn, Barbara Jordan, hell, probably even Ann Richards, that whole bunch … I don’t think they’d recognize it [the Democratic Party].

It’s a matter of, all they do is spend their time calling people racists. In doing so, they create a lot of racists. As a friend of mine said, I’m a brilliant lyricist and a borderline racist. I think we all are, starting with Obama, and Michelle. And you can add Kinky to that list. Obama, he’s leaving in a few months, I don’t have much to say about him. Except that he’s really turned out to be a Forrest Gump. He peaked when he was a candidate. He was a very good candidate, and if he’d have let it go there, he’d be fine. But he was a very weak president. I think he reached his zenith when he took that series of selfies at Nelson Mandela’s funeral. That kind of says it all. I think he he knows Mandela’s a great man, and he knows he’s nothing but a party puke.

Have you met him?

No, I haven’t met him. My White House connections strictly are Bill Clinton and George W. They were the two I hung out with that I liked. And remember, Bill Clinton is not running this time. Not at all.

I think it was the great American philosopher George Carlin who spoke of the illusion of choice. And that’s what I think we have here. Everyone seems to think it’s a big difference whether it’s Hillary or it’s Trump. The truth is it’s very far from that. Anything would be better than what we have.

All you have to do is look to the Middle East. I mean I know most Americans don’t care about foreign policy and all that, but just look to the rest of the world and see what the world looks like without America.
That’s what Obama has done.

You still there, Rach?

I’m still here.

Oh. I thought you had gone into a diabetic coma.

You’ve said before that you think a musician could do a better job as president than a career politician. Do any in particular come to mind?

I believe I said musicians would be better than politicians. And I’ve done some music lately. My shrink, Willie Nelson, called me late one night earlier this year and asked me what I was doing. And I said, “watching Matlock on TV.” And he said, "That’s very bad, turn it off, it’s a sign of depression. Keep writing Kinky, keep writing."

And I hadn’t written a song in 35 years. The song I wrote was “The Loneliest Man I Ever Met,” which I wrote with Will Hoover. We wrote and recorded the album last year, but the song is 35 or 40 years old. So I started writing earlier this year. I was really happy to see Bob Dylan get the Nobel Prize for literature. Usually they get it wrong, but this time they got it right in giving it to him.

Because it really is a high spiritual calling to be a songwriter. There’s no higher human state than being a struggling songwriter. Those are the guys who write the great stuff. If you take a guy like Willie, who’s had many ups and downs in his life, and a lot of time when he was just scraping by and sleeping on the shoulder of a highway. Then he had a lot of success the second half of his life. It’s almost harder to deal with success than it is to deal with failure. But his best work was done while he was broke, and going through a divorce. When he was miserable, in other words. Which is why I recommend, if you want to be an artist, you’ve got to be miserable. That’s step one. Every artist should be ahead of his time and behind on his rent. Like Van Gogh.

Do you ever get tired of getting asked about your political opinions?

Yes. I don’t really have a horse in this race. I mean, Trump is not my hero. I prefer Mr. Anonymous. I like the guy who gives a million bucks to the children’s hospital and doesn’t insist that his name has to be up there. But that’s who Trump is, that’s who he’s been. It should be pointed out that we’re not in a position to know where greatness comes from. Not only did Jesus ride in on a jackass, but Gandhi was a yuppie lawyer living in London, with no interest in helping people.

If you look at the great ones, Mother Teresa, Winston Churchill, FDR, they were all aristocratic freaks with very little interest in others. They’re very much like Trump. I mean, particularly Churchill. He was a polo player in India and an adult butterfly collector. They liked to hang out at the country club, Rachel. They were very privileged people.

When they got into office, Churchill and FDR, they did something that Obama was never able to do: change. The agent of change, Obama, could not change himself. He remained a fixed point in a changing world. It’s just too bad; it's who he is. He’s not the smartest guy in the room. He may be the glibbest. He may be the most facile. I believe, if he’s concerned about a legacy, I believe he can pretty well forget that.

All I’m saying is, we don’t know who the hero is until the ship sinks. Or when the plane is crashing. You don’t know who’s going to run back and save somebody, or who’s going to dress up like a woman so he can hide in a lifeboat.

What would Molly Ivins be thinking right now?

When I ran for governor I spoke to a lot of high school journalists. I was very impressed with these kids. They had one idea of journalism, and that was find the truth. Some of them were really truth-seeking missiles. They would do anything to get to the truth. And of course, when they graduated, all that goes out the window. It’s hard to find journalists in America who care a wit about the truth. Molly Ivins always did. I think she would have a hard time with her party spending $2 billion on nasty negative ads, and operating like a machine.

And clearly that makes Trump the innocent between the two of them. Even Trump is capable of a transformation in office. Churchill and FDR were not likely candidates to become great men. They both were country club types.

I don’t know Trump at all. I just believe mankind has a very poor track record of who’s a clown and who turns out to be great. We’re not very good at it. Hitler is the best example. Goddamn it, I’ve lost my train of thought. Well, fuck it. What were we talking about?

You were talking about Trump and Hitler.

I’m not saying Trump would become a great leader or anything like that, but he might be kind of a modern-day Teddy Roosevelt. He might be a lot of things.

[Dogs barking]

I’m worried about my goddamn dog. “Selfie, you stay over here! Self!”

Your dog’s name is Selfie?

Yeah. She’s a blind cocker spaniel. She loves coming out here at night even though she can’t see shit. “Self, just leave the raccoons alone! They’re very mean.” [What sounds like a creaky screen door swinging back and forth]

Are you single?

Yeah. I’m old enough to sleep alone now. My shrink, Willie Nelson, has advised me not to get married under any circumstances. He says that would be a very big mistake; don’t do it. Have fun, be friends with the women that you meet, but don’t get married. And he also told me, if you fail at something long enough, you become a legend. When I lost the governor’s race, he told me, “Fortunately, we’re not in control.”

Sorry, I’m a little distracted by the raccoons. They killed our little kitten here. It’s just really chicken shit. And I was gonna blow their fucking heads off, but a Thai woman friend of mine who’s a Buddhist advised me not to. So I’ll just get some of those live trap sort of things. I’ll catch them and drop them on somebody else’s property [laughs]. My little feral cat had one kitten in the litter who was named Spitfire, who was really cool.

You’ve got dogs AND cats?

What? I’ve got God’s intestines?

No, dogs and cats.

Oh yeah, we’ve got all God’s creatures here. Selfie, I think it’s best you go inside.

Have you voted yet?

I have. I was tempted to write in Bobby Kennedy. I think he could be someone America needs, somebody that could inspire. It would be good to have somebody that could inspire, like Mandela, or Gandhi, or MLK. Or Jesus, who was a good Jewish boy who got in a little bit of trouble with the government

Kind of like you.

Kind of like me [laughs]. I don’t want to liken myself to Jesus, but there are some similarities. Neither of us were ever married. We never had a job. We just traveled around the countryside irritating people.