The life of the one-and-only Kinky Friedman (b. 1944).
In this amiable biography, journalist Sullivan (Raisin’ Cain: The Wild and Raucous Story of Johnny Winter, 2010) follows the life and career of this larger-than-life figure. Best known to audiences either as a singer/songwriter or an offbeat mystery novelist, Friedman has been stirring the pot for more than 50 years, counting among his friends such legends as Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, and Kris Kristofferson. The author dutifully recounts the legend of the “Kinkster” but rarely manages to pierce the veil of the carefully constructed persona that the Chicago-born original “Texas Jewboy” has created. The book follows the phases of Friedman’s life in chronological order, passing quickly over his Texas childhood to discover the songwriter in Nashville, Tennessee, circa 1970, trying to sell songs to Waylon Jennings. Unlike compatriots Dylan, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, and even KISS members Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons, Friedman was unapologetically Jewish. “He wears his Jewishness like a backstage pass,” said a friend. According to his brother, Friedman was able to “blend Lenny Bruce with the Flying Burrito Brothers and Hank Williams” and created a brand that set him apart from the Nashville scene. Sullivan doesn’t shy away from controversy—Friedman’s satire “They Ain’t Makin’ Jews Like Jesus Anymore” offended a wide swath of Americans, and the anti-feminist “Get Your Biscuits in the Oven and Your Buns into Bed” does not age well—but she does gloss over her subject’s hardcore drug habit. Political correctness aside, Friedman’s heart seems to be in the right place, and his cigar-chomping bravado must be a comforting guise for some American men. As his singing career cooled, we find him becoming a popular mystery novelist. “Kinky’s legacy is the ability to inspire,” writes the author, “to make people laugh, to make them think, to skewer sacred cows and hypocrisy, to continue to move forward, and to be his own man.”
A solid if conventional biography that doesn’t go deep enough into the man behind the brand.