Kinky Friedman sings "Jesus in Pajamas"
To be sure, Kinky Friedman played old favorites from his notorious 1970s Texas Jewboys band days, like "They Ain't Makin' Jews Like Jesus Anymore" and "Ride 'em Jewboy," at his Monday night (April 17) Resurrected tour stop at B.B. King's in New York.
He also brought along his blissfully politically incorrect observations ("'Jesus loves you' are very comforting words unless you hear them in a Mexican prison'"). But unlike most of his shows over the last 40-some years, great as they always are, this one had a whole lot new in the form of fresh song material. Indeed, the name of the Resurrected tour jibes with the suggestion by Friedman's friend Willie Nelson that rather than giving into depression and watching reruns of Matlock, he revive his long dormant songwriting career.
Much of the tour's set, then, is made up of the 14 new songs he rapidly churned out—"the Matlock Collection," he called them—which he plans on recording at the end of the grueling 35-shows-in-36-days schedule. "Jesus in Pajamas," about a dirty, disheveled and drooling supplicant begging for help at a Denny's in Dallas only to be "left on the cross again," is as unexpectedly and intensely affecting as "Ride 'em Jewboy."
Also from Matlock, "Circus of Life" likewise sounded the sense of sadness and loss so present in Friedman's earlier songs, and for that matter, later series of equally celebrated murder mystery novels. "A Dog Named Freedom," about a train trip to Texas with a three-legged canine companion, managed to evoke Willie Nelson, Vietnam, and Bob Dylan—with whom Friedman famously toured as part of Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue. The room was so quiet as he sang these new songs, accompanied solely by his acoustic guitar, that only the inattentive bartenders could be heard.
The spell was broken by the expected emergence of New Yorker Nick "Chinga" Chavin, who wrote Friedman's classic "A--hole from El Paso" and always performs it with him in New York. He noted that he and Friedman, along with fellow music legends Michael Bloomfield, Steve Goodman, Warren Zevon and Shel Silverstein were all born in the same hospital in Chicago, and that he is one of Friedman's surviving Texas Jewboys--this prompting Friedman to mutter, "How about a suicide pact?"
After recounting the tale in his 2008 nonfiction tome What Would Kinky Do?: How to Unscrew a Screwed-Up World of "the wayward testicle" of a childhood friend (it was "relegated in the way of all flesh," he said, "to the shadows on the walls of Hiroshima"), Friedman's adult friend, the photojournalist Brian Kanof (introduced as "the original a—hole from El Paso") came out to auction off a rare bottle of the black-clad Friedman's Man in Black Tequila, all sales to benefit the Utopia Animal Rescue Ranch in Echo Hill, Texas, where Friedman lives.
"It's not your father's tequila," said Friedman. "It's your grandfather's gardener's tequila." He further explained that it's "cowboy-style tequila," to be enjoyed by first snorting a long line of salt and then squirting lemon in your eye.
As for the other Man in Black, Friedman sang Johnny Cash's classic "Pickin' Time," now accompanied by guitarists Brian Molnar and Joe Cirotti, who had opened the show with a fine set of acoustic traditional country music. Running on "pure adrenaline"—as Willie Nelson had promised in encouraging him to undertake this intensive tour—Friedman closed with "Ride 'em Jewboy," noting that Nelson Mandela's love of the Holocaust-referencing song, which he found comforting while imprisoned, was "the highest honor I ever achieved in country music."
At a time when the Holocaust has become a point of neglect if not ignorance on the part of the current president's administration, Friedman's closer was especially poignant and pointed.