Friday, October 14, 2005

TERRELL'S TUNEUP: RIDE 'EM, KINKY!

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
October 14, 2005


I don’t often get to review music by people running for political office. To be honest, I don’t often want to. For instance I wasn’t really interested last year in reviewing The Electras, John Kerry’s band from the ‘60s.

But Kinky Friedman is Kinky Friedman. And though I view him first as a musician, it seems somehow natural that he’s Mayhem Aforethought, a recently unearthed live recording with his original Texas Jewboys in a 1973 radio concert, will seem so refreshing in contrast to the safe, sanitized, focus-group-tested rhetoric of the “serious” politicians it will propel the Kinkster to victory.

Could it be possible that in a couple of years Kinky Friedman will be posing for photo ops beside Bill Richardson at governors conferences and pardoning singing Texas murderers in hopes of finding the next Leadbelly.

A long shot for certain, but stranger things have happened in politics.

(Full disclosure time: Twice in the 1990s, I opened for Kinky Friedman in concerts at the El Rey Theater in Albuquerque. I got paid money for my performance and Kinky autographed my Sold American CD “Steve, God luv you.” Otherwise there’s no personal, financial or political connection between us.)

Basically Mayhem Aforethought contains the core of Kinky’s notorious repertoire that has carried his reputation for decades.

There’s “The Ballad of Charles Whitman,” a black-humor, happy stomp ode to the infamous Texas Tower sniper. (Check this story by Marlee MacLeod.)

Even more controversial at the time was “Get Your Biscuits in the Oven and Your Buns in the Bed,” (“You uppity women, I don’t understand why you have to go and act like a man … You’d better occupy the kitchen, liberate the sink …”), which sparked countless debates between those who thought Kinky was an evil sexist and those who argued that he was just making fun of sexism. Needless to say, large numbers of feminists in the 1970s failed to see the humor in the song.

While songs like these and “They Ain’t Making Jews Like Jesus Any More,” (not included in this CD) made Friedman a national phenomenon, unfortunately they drew attention away from the seriously beautiful country songs he also was writing.

Friedman had a knack for writing sad tunes about washed-up, broken down singers. “Nashville Casualty & Life” is about an old banjo player getting arrested at Nashville’s Union Station. “They busted him for loitering when he was making memories rhyme.”

Even more poignant is “Sold American,” the title song of his first album, which has been covered by Billy Joe Shaver and Glen Campbell.

“Writing down your memoirs on some window in the frost/ Roulette eyes reflecting another morning lost/ Hauled in by the metro for killing time and pain/ With a singing brakeman screaming through your veins.”

One of the strangest but loveliest songs Friedman’s ever written is “Ride ’em Jewboy.” Despite the title, which sounds like the song’s going to be one of the funny ones, Over a mournful cowboy melody, “Jewboy” mixes imagery from the range with what seems like oblique references to the Holocaust -- “smoke from the camps,” “helpless creatures” being led to slaughter, “dead limbs play with ringless fingers.”

It indeed is a heavy song, and it’s to Friedman’s credit that he can pull it off so gracefully in the context of so many sardonic tunes and wicked stage banter.

Friedman gets away with saying things most musicians -- let alone politicians -- wouldn’t even attempt these days.

Introducing bassist Willie Fong Young, Friedman says, “We got a little Chinese boy in the band.” At another point he announces, “we’ve been in Nashville, Tenn. for the past few months at the Glaser Sound Studios workin’ on a Tampon jingle …”

But the Jewboys were a fine musical unit -- unless you include Kinky‘s crony Jeff “Little Jewford” Shelby and his kazoo, which mars this version of “Biscuits.”

Featured in the band is guitar man Billy Swan, just a year before his big country/pop hit “I Can Help.” He gets a solo spot on this CD on his song “Lover Please,” a hit in the ’60s for Clyde McPhatter.

Take my word for it: Mayhem Aforethought is a lot more fun than almost any political speech.

Also Recommended:
* The Austin Experience by Junior Brown. While all of his studio albums are enjoyable, what Brown’s fans say is true: The best way to appreciate this former Santa Fe musical stalwart. Known for his flashy picking and geological baritone, is live.

In Santa Fe we’re lucky. The artist formerly known as “Jamie Brown” plays here pretty often. But if you haven’t had a chance to see him in person performing miracles on his magic guit-steel (a combination electric guitar/steel guitar Brown invented) this CD, recorded live at Austin’s Continental Club in April, is your next best bet.

(More disclosure: I went to Mid High and Santa Fe High School with Brown circa 1968 -70. We even shared a locker until he dropped out of high school. I haven‘t seen him in a few years.)

Most of Brown’s best loved songs are on this album -- “My Wife Thinks You’re Dead,” “Highway Patrol,” and “I Hung It Up,” done here as an eight-minute blues jam.

Brown makes a surprisingly effect stab at Tex-Mex music with “uan Charasquado,” aided by Flaco Jimenez on accordion, though my favorite duet here is the sweet stomper “I Want to Live and Love Always,” which he sings with his wife Tanya Rae Brown.

And no Junior album would be complete with a so-dumb-it’s-inspired tune. Here’s we’ve got “Lifeguard Larry,” an original beach-blanket boot-scooter about a lifeguard who loves the mouth-to-mouth.

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