Most country music is geared toward tear-in-the-beer stylings, but no other country album makes me sob into my Budweiser quite like Sold American. And not because it’s overtly sad – Kinky Friedman is a fearless humorist who turns racist rednecks and rough treatment into comedic gold – but because too much of this 1973 album still rings true nearly four decades later. In the vein of comedians like Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor and Redd Foxx, Friedman shines a bright light on the bigoted, hypocritical underbelly of the land of the free, and uses every taboo word in the book to get the effect he’s after.
“Kinky Friedman… is on his way to becoming the first Texas-Jewish country music star,” proclaims Newsweek from the back of the album cover. And if the delicious absurdity of that statement appeals to you, the songs surely will too. ‘We Reserve The Right To Refuse Service To You’ recounts Friedman being slurred and insulted out of a “bullethead cafe” by an intolerant restaurateur. ‘Highway Cafe’ has a chorus of “oh make it a corned beef on rye” and features two rednecks recounting a fatal trucking accident with infectious dumb laughter (“AHAHAHAHA AHEEHEEHEEHEE”). ‘Get Your Biscuits In The Oven And Your Buns In The Bed’ is an anti-feminist rant the likes of which is unimaginable today, while the title track is a wistful, beautiful ballad about a fading America, that could serve as the theme song for PBS’ Antiques Roadshow. Like the rest of Sold American, ‘Ride ‘Em Jewboy’ is both lovely and ludicrous.
In 2006, Friedman mounted a serious, and seriously offbeat, campaign for governor of Texas. Campaign slogans included “He ain’t Kinky, he’s my Governor” and “My governor is a Jewish Cowboy” and Friedman qualified himself thusly: “Musicians can run this state better than politicians. We won’t get a lot done in the mornings, but we’ll work late and be honest.” He pulled a respectable 12.6% of the vote and finished fourth out of six candidates. Friedman might be a funny Jewish cowboy, but he’s a also a thoughtful, driven Texan who has made Lone Star statements like “If you ain’t Texan, I ain’t got time for you.”
Like his politics, Friedman’s music might appear silly, but it’s ultimately serious stuff. His band featured top-notch Nashville session musicians like guitarist Norman Blake and pianist David Briggs, and this music is as polished as a new mandolin. But nobody else in Nashville (or anywhere else for that matter) was singing ballads about Texas Clock Tower shooter Charles Whitman or suggesting we roll Jesus into a big fat doobie and get high on religion. Friedman’s funny, but in the end the joke’s on us – racism, mass murder, religious intolerance, misogyny, hyper-materialism. Kinky Friedman may have held his fun house mirror up to this country in 1973, but the songs remain the same…