It's hard not to bust up laughing when you're chatting with Kinky Friedman. Mind you, it probably depends on one's political persuasion, as this irreverent country musician/author is known for satirical, non-PC songs like "They Ain't Makin' Jews Like Jesus Anymore" and "Get Your Biscuits in the Oven and Your Buns in Bed," and witty books like "You Can Lead a Politician to Water, But You Can't Make 'Em Think."
This 69-year-old artist typically regales interviewers with strings of one-liners and astute, humorous musings on all manner of subjects from legalizing marijuana to the dearth of noble politicians to the paucity of gifted, young talent.
About to play Charley's on Saturday, having recently concluded a series of "Bipolar Tour" concerts across Europe, Friedman explains, "It's an idea that Willie Nelson had, not taking a day off. If you're out on the road you may as well work, and you start running on pure adrenalin after awhile. It's like his theory that if you fail long enough you become a legend. That's pretty much what I've done. I've been doing the shows solo like Lee Harvey Oswald, a party of one. So there's a lot of politics and humor and music."
Talk about touring soon turns to his assessment of the current musical landscape. He's not impressed.
"Some of the biggest acts we have today are products like the 'American Idol' winners or Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga.
"If you want to see something inspiring, you have to see a geezer -Willie or Bob Dylan or Merle Haggard or Kris Kristofferson. You see those guys playing, you come away inspired."
Kinky Friedman brings his Texas Liberation Tour to Charley's in Paia at 8:30 p.m. Saturday. Admission is $30 per person. Advance tickets are available at Charley's, Request Music in Wailuku, or by calling (808) 896-4845.
"So it's going great," he continues. "I've done my last will and testament. When I die, I will be cremated and the ashes will be thrown in (Texas Governor) Rick Perry's hair. And I think I've got a race I can win."
An aspiring politician, Friedman back in 2006 ran against Perry for governor of Texas as an Independent, and came in third with 12 percent of the vote. His campaign slogans included "How Hard Could It Be?," "Why The Hell Not?," "My Governor is a Jewish Cowboy" and "He ain't Kinky, he's my Governor."
Now he's gearing up for another election in Texas, running for agriculture commissioner as a Democrat. If elected, he would help market farm and ranch products and regulate the industry -which leads us to the topic of hemp.
"My platform is to legalize and tax marijuana," he explains. "It's the right parade to jump in front of. Like Willie said when he was playing for that mixed crowd of rednecks and the hippies in Austin, he jumped in front of the right parade. No candidate on either side will mention legalizing marijuana as a good or bad idea, because they're cowards. I see no one in politics with any courage, imagination or common sense. That's why they fail to inspire us. You don't see a Winston Churchill around; you see a lot of Neville Chamberlains.
"I don't know why I'd get into politics again. Being a musician is a very high calling. It's a step down to become a politician. If musicians ran the country, it would be a lot better place. We wouldn't get a helluva lot done in the morning, but we'd work late and be honest and decent and creative, and that's what we don't have. "
So will his buddy Willie help out his campaign?
"Willie is honorary chairman of our fundraising committee," he reports. "The marijuana thing is playing really well. We're not talking about pot-smoking hippies here. We're talking about creating enough revenue to get Texas out of the 48th slot in (per-student spending on) education, and castrating Mexican drug cartels and clearing out prisons of young people who have been busted for it. In Texas in 2010, 74,000 were busted at a cost to the taxpayers of $250 million, and there are seven times as many African Americans and Hispanics imprisoned as whites. It has to be fixed. I ask Texans, 'Do you want to secede or lead?' "
And then there's the issue of industrial hemp as a cash crop.
"Willie has talked about hemp for 30 years, and I always go into a diabetic coma when he or anybody talks about it," Friedman says. "But it requires half the water of cotton, produces two and a half times more fiber and requires no pesticides. Twenty-five percent of all the insecticides used in the world are used on cotton. And guess who likes to sell pesticides? So who's against me in this campaign to legalize marijuana and hemp? Monsanto and the agro-business corporations and the far Christian right. I think everyone else in Texas is for it, even the cops."
OK, better get back to music. What generally inspires his songs?
"You've got to be unhappy for starters," he suggests. "Back in the '60s and early '70s, there were people like Willie, Kristofferson, Merle Haggard and Roger Miller who wrote classics. In the last 25 years, nothing has come out of Nashville. They sell a lot of records, but there's none up to 'Sunday Mornin' Coming Down' or 'Hello Walls' or 'King of the Road.' Why would that be? I've asked Willie and he said, because they were so broke and **** up, times were terrible. They were at the end of their ropes and out of desperation came those songs. Contrast that with young people today living in their parents' basement with their iPads. I don't see a young Willie Nelson or John Lennon or Janis Joplin out there. Maybe it's a factor of the Internet and political correctness that hasn't helped. It's clear you're not going to have a song like 'They Ain't Makin' Jews Like Jesus Anymore'."
Maybe it's just a time when mediocrity rules?
"One thing about being mediocre," he responds, "You're always on the top of your game."
Growing up in the Lone Star state, Friedman graduated from the University of Texas at Austin, and a few years later he formed the band, Kinky Friedman and The Texas Jewboys. While he garnered a cult following for his offbeat country music, many were not amused.
"The Texas Jewboys musically appealed to country music fans, but the words were those of social consciousness," he recalls. "A song like 'Ride 'Em Jewboy,' which Willie recorded, is probably the only Western expression of what really is an Eastern experience, the Holocaust. Others like 'Get Your Biscuits in the Oven and Your Buns in Bed' got me into a lot of trouble. There was a riot in 1973, when these cranked-up lesbians attacked the stage at the University of Buffalo and began wrecking the equipment. The police were called, and they gave us a protective escort off the campus.
"I received the Male Chauvinist Pig of the Year award a few months later from the National Organization for Women. I'm still very proud of it. That song is really harmless. I think political correctness was a term coined by Joseph Stalin. You will have to Google it to be sure."
Many musicians loved his humorous approach. Dylan invited him on tour in 1975, and when he came to record the album, "Lasso From El Paso," guests helping out included Eric Clapton, the Band's Levon Helm, Dr. John, Roger McGuinn, and Ringo Starr as the voice of Jesus on the song, "Men's Room in L.A."
"Ringo was in Vegas around that time, and he did it spontaneously," Friedman explains. "It's really funny. The song is about a guy finding a picture of Jesus on the floor of a men's room. It's an important little song. 'Jesus loves you' can be very comforting words, unless you hear them in a Mexican prison."
Hearing that he will be performing on Maui on Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, Friedman says he will include the song, "The Ballad of Ira Hayes," in his show.
"It's a very nice song for World War II," he concludes. "It's about the Native American who helped raise the flag at the Battle of Iwo Jima. I always tell the audience the Native American Thanksgiving prayer. It goes, thanks for nothing."
Kinky Friedman brings his Texas Liberation Tour to Charley's at 8:30 p.m. Saturday. As part of his Hawaii tour, he will be helping with the introduction of a new Hawaii animal rights organization, The Kuleana Foundation for Animals. More information on his political candidacy can be found at www.texasforkinky.com.
Multi-Na Hoku Hanohano award-winning female vocalist Napua Greig will celebrate the holiday season with a "Lei Kulaia Christmas with Napua" show, featuring Halau Na Lei Kaumaka o Uka, at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in McCoy Studio Theater at Maui Arts & Cultural Center in Kahului. Tickets are $25 (plus applicable fees).
At 3 p.m. Sunday in the MACC's Castle Theater in Kahului, the Maui Pops Orchestra presents "Holiday Pops!," with special guest pianist Hyperion Knight performing Grieg's Romantic Era classic, "First Piano Concerto." In addition, Na Leo Lani O Maui, the Maui-based Hawaiian Community Choir under the direction of Gale Wisehart and kumu hula Uluwehi Guerrero, join Maui Pops for a program of holiday favorites titled, "Peace On Earth." Tickets are $15, $30, $40, and $50, and half-price for 18 and younger. For more details, call the MACC at 242-7469 or visit www.mauiarts.org.
Since it was first published in 1741, Bach's masterpiece, the "Goldberg Variations," has been interpreted by many pianists, most notably Glenn Gould in 1955. Two years ago, jazz pianist Dan Tepfer released his own, critically acclaimed vision of Bach's magnificent work, "Goldberg Variations/ Variations."
Making his Maui debut at 7:30 p.m. on Friday at Seabury Hall's 'A'ali'ikuhonua Creative Arts Center, Tepfer will perform his "Goldberg Variations/Variations" in concert.
Hailing one of his recitals as a "brilliant performance," a New York Times review noted, "In Mr. Tepfer's riveting and inspired version, after performing each Bach variation, he follows up with his own improvised one that becomes a musical commentary and takeoff on the Bach."
Tickets are $25 in advance and $30 at the door. Purchase tickets at www.dantepfer.eventbrite.com or by phone at 283-4120. Proceeds from this event go to support the Arts Education for Children Group, which provides arts education opportunities for Maui youth.