NEAL CONAN, host:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.
Right now, Kinky Friedman who first gained notoriety as the front man for an especially irreverent rock band called “Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys.” He later surprised his many critics as the author of a series of novels about crime and weirdness that starred himself and most recently he ran a quixotic campaign as an independent candidate for governor of Texas.
Mr. KINKY FRIEDMAN (Author, “The Christmas Pig: A Fable”): Folks, when a cowboy shakes your hand, it's the law of the land. Cowboy doesn't talk about education, he teaches. Cowboy doesn't talk about religion, he lives it.
The other candidates are spending millions on commercials, going at each other like javelinas in heat. But ask any cowboy and he'll tell ya, money may buy ya a fine dog but only love can make her wag her tail. I'm Kinky Friedman and that's why I'm running for governor of Texas.
CONAN: Despite what some described as the most interesting campaign of the midterms, the Texans did not elect Kinky Friedman governor, but politics did not steal his pen. He's just out with a new book, a fable called “The Christmas Pig.” If you have questions for Kinky Friedman about his music, his books, or about his campaign, our number, 800-989-8255. The e-mail address is email@example.com.
Kinky Friedman joins us from the studios of our member station WKUT in Austin, Texas. Nice to have you on TALK OF THE NATION today.
Mr. FRIEDMAN: Hey Neal, nice to be here.
CONAN: By the time you're reading this - says the dust jacket on “The Christmas Pig,” - by the time you're reading this Mr. Friedman may be celebrating becoming the next governor of Texas or he may have retired in a petulant snit. How's snitdom?
Mr. FRIEDMAN: Oh, well, I bypassed that pretty quickly. You know, the people have spoken. The bastards. You know, that's what Hunter Thompson said, I think, when he lost the sheriff's race in Aspen. You know, the people of Texas haven't really spoken, the just mumbled, you know. Only 33 percent voted.
CONAN: And if those other 66 percent had come out, well who knows what might have happened.
Mr. FRIEDMAN: Well, we know what would have happened, yeah.
CONAN: Did you have a good time?
Mr. FRIEDMAN: I think I'd be the governor. Yeah…
CONAN: Go ahead.
Mr. FRIEDMAN: Yeah. The thing was fun. It's, you know, I mean I'm not a politician. As I told the people I'm 62 years old, that's too young for Medicare and too old for woman to care, but I still care about Texas.
CONAN: What was the most interesting part about politics?
Mr. FRIEDMAN: Well I was - I think it was getting the young people energized and involved for the first time in Texas. So I can walk past any bunch of kids now in a parking lot and they'll raise their beer cans and say the real governor, you know.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. FRIEDMAN: And they voted. It's just that the Crips and the Bloods - as I call them - do not make it easy for young people to vote or for anybody to vote. You've got to register a month ahead in Texas. I mean, good lord if we could vote online. I mean, Neal if you died we could bury you online. We could marry you online. Why shouldn't you be able to vote online? That would make it easier for people to vote.
CONAN: Was there a moment when you thought this just might work?
Mr. FRIEDMAN: Yes there was. Well getting on the ballot for the first time in 153 years since they dragged Sam Houston out. He was a drunk and an opium addict and he was sleeping with the Indians under a bridge and they came and got him to run for governor. And he turned out to be the most visionary, greatest governor Texas has ever had, of course.
And it's the first time since him that an Independent's been on the ballot. And at that point when we actually made it. I thought we had a shot. And we started going up in the polls and then the Republicans and the Democrats really got serious too.
CONAN: Let's see if we can get some listeners in on the conversation. 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org. And we'll begin with Jean. And Jean's calling us from Greenville, North Carolina.
JEAN (Caller): Hi. How are you? Thanks for taking my call.
Mr. FRIEDMAN: Hey Jean. How are you?
JEAN: I'm doing really well. Kinky I wanted to let you know that my husband and my oldest son, who's 20, and I have been following your campaign since we heard about it. It's been a couple of years it seems like.
And in addition to energizing the younger vote, I've just got to tell you, we had an ongoing bet that if you won governor of Texas that I would run for public office. Because what it did for me - I'm in my 50s - was to make me go, you know what I've lived a life that came out of the late, you know, the ‘70s, and you know, you have to just stand up and have the chutzpah to go yeah, I lived, and I could be your representative, or I could represent you in a public space and just be okay with that.
And I think we have so many people in the baby boom generation who could be doing some really positive things in government and who are so intimidated by the high-moral-standard crowd that you don't run.
Mr. FRIEDMAN: Well, that's right. I mean, it does keep good people from running, especially without the blessing of the two-party system.
Mr. FRIEDMAN: Because they will go back through everything you've ever done in your life, and these politicians, you know, they've been pretty careful. They're crooked as they can be. You know my definition of politics: poli means more than one and tics are blood-sucking parasites.
(Soundbite of laughter)
JEAN: Well, I truly appreciate you having the stamina to do it. Thank you very much.
CONAN: Thanks for the call, Jean.
JEAN: Thank you very much.
Let me ask you about the new book. You describe “The Christmas Pig” as a fable, and there's a king and a castle and magic in a land far away. Is this a book for kids?
Mr. FRIEDMAN: No it's not, Neal. I mean, kids could read it. Anyone who can read between the lines could. It's a book about a 10-year-old boy who does not speak but is a great artist and a pig who talks to him, Valerie(ph), and a king who commissions the nativity scene after the midnight mass to this 10-year-old only because all the artists in the kingdom have been burned at the stake, or they've all starved to death. So he's forced to hire this kid to try it, and the pig, during the course of this painting in the barn at night, the pig talks to the boy. And the pig cannot understand. She can't understand why she shouldn't be in the painting, since all the other barnyard animals are included.
CONAN: In the crèche scene.
Mr. FRIEDMAN: In a what?
CONAN: In a crèche scene with all the barnyard animals gathered around, yeah.
Mr. FRIEDMAN: Correct, yes. But it's - I thought you were talking about David Koresh.
CONAN: Oh, no, different fellow.
Mr. FRIEDMAN: Right. But basically, the thing I enjoyed about this book is I had most of my attention focused on the campaign when I wrote it. And very little on this. I wrote it very fast, like in about two or three weeks, not knowing where I was really going with it. And like my father always said, what you think is important is not important at all, and I think it's turned out that “The Christmas Pig” is the best thing I ever wrote.
CONAN: I mentioned it has a king in it. You describe him as a good king, as kings go.
His name was Jonjo Mayo the First, and, as fate would have it, he would also be the last. As history marched inexorably by, his tiny kingdom would be gobbled up and spit out repeatedly by the Pagans, the Vandals, the Arabs, and eventually, that group that always had considered itself less savage than the other savages, the Christians. Today, sadly, the kingdom can no longer be found on any map. Its boundaries, its nooks and crannies, its very heart and soul have been incorporated by a large, gray, boring country. Indeed, the entire reign of King Jonjo Mayo the First might have been forgotten completely had it not been for the fortuitous intervention of a small silent boy and a pig.
This is not a fairy tale. Fairy tales end with happily ever after. This book decidedly does not end that way.
Mr. FRIEDMAN: Did you cry, Neal?
CONAN: I did cry a little bit, but my tears froze before they hit they hit the ground.
Mr. FRIEDMAN: Right.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: But fables end with morals. What's the moral of “The Christmas Pig?”
Mr. FRIEDMAN: Well, I think the moral is that - the incidental moral, the accidental moral because I wasn't trying to write it moralistically at all - is that Jesus does not necessarily embrace the Evangelistic preacher or the football coach or the good little church worker. Jesus is just as likely to embrace the leper or the prisoner or the prostitute or the pig.
And I'm hard at work now on the sequel, The Hanukkah Hog.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. FRIEDMAN: That's a joke.
CONAN: That's going to be a hot seller, let me tell you.
Mr. FRIEDMAN: You know, Neal, the Germans have already come up with an illustrated version of “The Christmas Pig” for next Christmas.
Mr. FRIEDMAN: So whatever the Germans do, the world can't be far behind, so I think this is going to be a real Christmas classic.
CONAN: Let's see if we can get another caller on the line, and this is going to be Mike. Mike's with us from Anchorage, Alaska.
MIKE (Caller): Hi there, Kinky. Gentile Jew boys for the revolution here.
Mr. FRIEDMAN: Mike. All right, baby.
MIKE: We had our opportunity here in Anchorage just recently with an independent candidate for governor who came out of the Republican Party to begin with but was certainly the most intelligent-speaking individual short of you that I've had the experience of having in the political space for quite a while, and I'm just wondering what your thoughts are on your continuance.
And how else we can continue independent candidates to get out there when, like you said, the Bloods and the Crips seem to have, you know, the drive-bys down pretty tight and can take of them without much trouble? And I'll hang up to take the answer.
CONAN: Okay, Mike, thanks.
Mr. FRIEDMAN: Yeah, no matter what the Republicans and Democrats tell you, they want to suppress the vote. They do not want to see huge, big turnouts happening. And whether it was worth it or not, I say blessed is the match that kindles the flame.
We announced this thing in front of the Alamo, which some said was a bad omen to begin with, you know.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. FRIEDMAN: But the truth is the Alamo was a defeat, it wasn't a victory, but it was such a great - I mean, the way those heroes went down at the Alamo in the last 13 days of glory, surrounded by 10,000 Mexicans, the way the did this was so - it inspired the people so much that it led right to the battle of San Jacinto. So, you know, who knows whether this was worth it or not. I think Kissinger is the one who asked Chairman Mao whether he thought the French Revolution made any difference, and Chairman Mao said too soon to tell.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: Are you going to run again for public office?
Mr. FRIEDMAN: Well, as George W. says, we'll keep all options on the table here, but I don't know if I'd run as an - you know, I gave Texas my phone number, and she just never got back to me was the problem. I mean, the voter turnout was low here. It was 33 percent, and even though, you know, I think we broke a lot of new ground, and I just - you know, an independent can't win with that low a turnout. So you know, folks, if you don't vote, don't bitch.
CONAN: We're speaking today with Kinky Friedman. His new book is called “The Christmas Pig: A Fable,” and you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
Was it fun to go on to televised debates with starched, stiff candidates?
Mr. FRIEDMAN: That was the worst part for me, Neal.
Mr. FRIEDMAN: That was really rough. It shouldn't have been, but it was because people say well, what about the debates? How'd you do in the debates? Well, there weren't debates. The governor backed out of five of them, so whereas Jesse Ventura did 16 debates and got to where he was kicking their asses by the end of it, we did one. And the media just crucified me. I mean, it was more like a game show.
And these guys are very good at telling you in 15 seconds how they're going to fix education or immigration or the environment, things that have been neglected in Texas now for God knows how long. And I think a normal person would have trouble with it, and I certainly did. But I don't think it enlightened anybody. I mean, it didn't prove much, and that's - and that was also the weekend of the big Texas-OU football game. I don't know if anybody was even watching, and that's the way the governor wanted it, and the other candidates were just typical politicians.
CONAN: You mentioned Jesse Ventura in Minnesota. Was he an inspiration to you?
Mr. FRIEDMAN: Well, you know, Jesse's the one who said the guy with the most money shouldn't always win. It's not the American way. And here in Texas, the guy with the most money won, and that usually happens. So Jesse came down here and helped us campaign on the college campuses. I mean, so did Jimmy Buffett and Willy Nelson and Lyle Lovett. We had a lot of support.
But Jesse was great, and he really bonded with the kids, and he's the one who convinced me not to - I had been for the fence between Mexico and Texas, I'd been for anything that would help, and Jesse convinced me that it was bad idea because he said 10 years from now, we might want to get out of here.
Mr. FRIEDMAN: Which is a valid point.
CONAN: He's got an argument there. Let's talk to Seth(ph). Seth is calling us from Greenfield, Massachusetts.
Mr. FRIEDMAN: Hello, Seth.
SETH (Caller): Yes, hi.
CONAN: You're on the air. Go ahead.
SETH: Kinky, great talking to you, man. I've been a fan for many years.
Mr. FRIEDMAN: You're (unintelligible).
SETH: I'm a songwriter out of New York. I have your DVD, “Just Another A**hole from El Paso,” which I watch and show to my friends all the time. And first of all, I'd like to thank you for being a third-party candidate - that is so important in this country. That is definitely what democracy needs is a third and possible fourth and fifth party.
And I also wanted to let you know that I've been performing “Sold American” for a couple of years, except I re-wrote it to talk about the leaving of jobs out of America. I know you wrote it as a country songwriter hitting the skids, but I've kind of updated it, and people always ask me who wrote it. I always tell them, and I, you know, kind of thought you might enjoy it.
Mr. FRIEDMAN: Well, I'll have to talk to my lawyer, Sonny Corleone about - no.
SETH: I always give you credit.
Mr. FRIEDMAN: All right, well you know, Seth, we do need all the independent parties we can get. I mean there's a lot of issues. There's things that we hit, like the two slaughter - horse slaughterhouses here in Texas, in Kaufman, Texas and in Fort Worth that kill over 100,000 horses a year and send the food, the horsemeat, to France to be eaten by people. And this is not the cowboy way. This shouldn't be happening. Those horse-slaughter plants are not even owned by Americans, they're owned by Belgians. And these are young, healthy horses they're killing and, you know, we say save a horse, ride a cowboy, and I want to close down those two slaughterhouses.
SETH: That's a great bumper sticker.
Mr. FRIEDMAN: Yeah.
SETH: So do you ever check your MySpace page, because I could send you the lyrics to “Sold American” for you to check it out because I'm on your MySpace for-governor page.
Mr. FRIEDMAN: I understand that we're the kings of MySpace, Seth.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. FRIEDMAN: That there's three times as many Kinky MySpace friends as Barack Obama, who's second; and Hillary is third. But you know, it doesn't translate to votes necessarily, which is unfortunate.
SETH: Well, I'll try to get you a copy of the song for you to listen to and then see if you like it.
Mr. FRIEDMAN: Great. I'm sure I will.
SETH: Thank you very much.
CONAN: Thanks for the call, Seth.
SETH: All right, thank you.
CONAN: And I understand you had to sell off the furniture in your campaign office in Austin yesterday, put it out on Craig's List.
Mr. FRIEDMAN: No, we just gave it - no we did not. That's not correct.
Mr. FRIEDMAN: That is incorrect. We gave everything away. We gave every single thing in the office away to the first-come, first-serve, and everybody wanted a little piece of the campaign, kind of as a memento, and you know, this is what's weird about this. Everybody I run into everywhere these days will say thanks, thanks, Kinky. Thanks for what you did. You really stood up to these people. You told it like it was, you told the truth, you said what these politicians are all about, you know, and then you see the vote, you know? You see that you just can't beat these machines, I mean, as an independent, and these people just didn't vote. When 67 percent of the people in the state -eligible voters - don't vote, you get what you deserve.
CONAN: Kinky Friedman, thanks very much. If you go to the store and spend a little money on a book, and you buy Kinky Friedman's “The Christmas Pig,” you'll get what you deserve. Kinky Friedman, thanks very much for being with us.
Mr. FRIEDMAN: Neal, may the God of your choice bless you.
CONAN: If you'd like to read an excerpt of “The Christmas Pig,” you can go to npr.org/talk. Kinky Friedman joined us today from the studios of our member station in Austin, Texas, KUT.
I'm Neal Conan, NPR News in Washington.