Texas songwriter Kinky Friedman brings his newest tunes to the Mystic Theatre in Petaluma

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IN CONCERT

Who: An Evening with Kinky Friedman (solo)

When: 8 p.m., Tuesday, April 24

Where: Mystic Theatre, 21 Petaluma Blvd. North, Petaluma

Tickets: $30

Information: 707-765-2121, mystictheatre.com

___

VIDEOS

“Ride ’Em Jewboy”

“Wild Man From Borneo”

Kinky Friedman was at his ranch near Kerrville, Texas, watching “Matlock” at 3 a.m., when he got a call from “his shrink,” Willie Nelson.

“What are you doing, Kinky?” he asked, and when Friedman told him, Nelson said, “That’s a sure sign of depression — turn ‘Matlock’ off and start writing.”

Friedman said he hadn’t written a song in “35 years maybe, but something inspired me about the fact that Willie at his age was actually interested in helping and encouraging others.” Richard Samet Friedman, who got the nickname Kinky as a boy for his hair’s curly ringlets, then began “writing frantically, having fulfilled the first prerequisite of being a songwriter — I was miserable.”

Soon he had 14 new songs, and he considered calling them “The Matlock Collection.”

Instead the new album, available when Friedman appears Tuesday at Petaluma’s Mystic Theatre & Music Hall, is aptly named “The Circus of Life.”

In a phone interview, Friedman said the collection is “arguably the best stuff I’ve ever done” because the songs “must have been percolating through a lifetime.”

He speaks of the songs almost as if they came from some mysterious place and said they sound like echoes of early Kristofferson or Leonard Cohen.

“When you hear this, you’re going to say, ‘Where the hell did that come from?’”

With a big publicity machine behind him, Friedman believes, “We could be nominated for a Grammy.”

But he has no expectations of mainstream recognition or huge sales. He just hopes the songs reach people who’ll appreciate them.

“I am Frisbee-ing this record out into the universe, believing that there are people out there who will understand and relate to it,” he said.

“And that means the record will have very long spiritual legs, and that it will be around longer than this A.D.D. culture.”

Friedman’s life has been a circus of his own creation, and he’s the self-appointed ringleader.

As a musician he’s known for his sardonic humor, and he’s earned the wrath of some country music fans for songs such as “They Don’t Make Jews Like Jesus Anymore.”

Friedman and his band, the Texas Jewboys, opened for Bob Dylan during Dylan’s Rolling Thunder tour in the mid-1970s.

Starting in the 1980s, he turned to writing detective novels and has fashioned a successful career as an author.

In 2006, he ran as an independent in what he said was a serious campaign for governor of Texas. He got more than 12 percent of the vote, losing to Republican Rick Perry.

Campaigning with the slogan, “Why the hell not?” he’d ask voters: “Wouldn’t you rather have a governor who can tell a joke, than a governor who is a joke?”

Friedman was a child chess prodigy. As an adult he’s been a Peace Corps volunteer in Borneo and a columnist for Texas Monthly.

He founded an animal rescue facility near Kerrville and says he was the first Jew to command the stage at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville.

Last fall he was the subject of a biography: “Everything’s Bigger in Texas: The Life and Times of Kinky Friedman,” by Mary Lou Sullivan.

IN CONCERT

Who: An Evening with Kinky Friedman (solo)

When: 8 p.m., Tuesday, April 24

Where: Mystic Theatre, 21 Petaluma Blvd. North, Petaluma

Tickets: $30

Information: 707-765-2121, mystictheatre.com

___

VIDEOS

“Ride ’Em Jewboy”

“Wild Man From Borneo”

Friedman, known for his trademark cowboy hat and cigars, wrote the foreword. In it he confessed that he hadn’t read the book but said he was pleased to show that he’s not dead.

An iconoclast, Friedman said he “consciously and unconsciously broke every rule I can break about making a record and putting it out and writing the songs. I am doing it because I’m 73 years old.”

Then he paused and said with perfect comedic timing: “But I read at the 75-year-old level.”

His humor has often obscured the seriousness of some of his songs, such as “Ride Em Jewboy” a paean to the everyday heroes of the Holocaust.

Nelson Mandela viewed that song as a call for freedom, Friedman said, and repeatedly listened to it in jail on Robben Island as he drifted off to sleep.

Friedman cited Billy Joe Shaver’s line about being “a serious soul who nobody takes seriously” and said that those who listen carefully to “Circus of Life” will understand he’s more than a jokester.

Asked where his creativity comes from he said the first step is getting away from distractions.

“The minute I turned “Matlock” off, really turned him off, it opened up a lot of things,” he said.

“The guy who sits down and says, ‘I’m gonna write a great song’ or ‘I’m gonna paint my masterpiece,’ he never does.

“It’s always done obliquely; it’s done by a guy who was trying to pay the rent, like Van Gogh, starving to death and disowned by his family, living with a prostitute and a little kid, and winding up in a sanitarium with nothing but stray cat as his friend,” he said.

Friedman refuses to slow down the pace of his tours. In California he’ll appear solo and play nine theaters in nine nights.

He’s in Soquel near Santa Cruz, April 23, the night before his appearance at Petaluma’s Mystic, and at San Francisco’s The Chapel the night after, April 25.

“It wears you out,” he said. “Pretty soon you’re very raw, and you can imagine that you’re hearing things onstage.

“You can hear Jesus Christ or Lenny Bruce or Hank Williams singing to you or talking to you when you are sleep-deprived enough and when you travel enough miles in a short period of time.”

Sometimes Friedman forgets a lyric onstage — he’s doesn’t use an iPad to prompt him — but that doesn’t bother him.

He just swears and takes a little swig of “Mexican mouthwash,” his term for tequila.

Looking back, Friedman seems at peace that stardom and a huge fan base eluded him.

He cites a homily Willie Nelson shared with him years ago: “If you fail at something long enough, you become a legend.”

Friedman views his life was a quixotic adventure, he said.

“There was never a chance that this band could make it … I didn’t really know that.” he said of his Texas Jewboys. “I do now.”

But he has no regrets.

“It ain’t the pot of gold,” he said. “It’s the rainbow.”

Michael Shapiro is author of “A Sense of Place.” He writes about travel and entertainment for national magazines and The Press Democrat.

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