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Music DVD Review: Kinky Friedman And The Texas Jewboys Kinky Friedman Live From Austin Tx

Country music is an oft maligned creature, and quite often for good reason. The big haired women, the men in the rhinestone suites, and the songs about truck drivers, railroad trains, cheating wives, and prison all make it an easy target for people's ridicule. During times when other forms of popular music have been actually taking risks and doing something new, Country always seems to deliberately become even more conservative.

Perhaps because of its roots in the mid-west and the bible belt of the United States, Country music seems to be quicker than most to wrap itself in the flag, call upon God, and believe in my country right or wrong. I have to admit that attitude has alienated me more than anything else from the music. Quite a lot of the old time country music really appealed to me actually, but all that talk of Jesus and America was a little off putting to a Canadian urban Jew.

"Will The Circle Be Unbroken" and "In The Sweet Bye & Bye" are great tunes, but lyrically there wasn't much there for me to relate too. Even guys like Kris Kristofferson turned into Sunday morning, hangover Christians. One moment he'd be singing "Me And Bobby Mcgee" and "The Pilgrim" and then the next guilt ridden stuff like "Why Me Lord".
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It wasn't until well after the heyday of his career was behind him, that I discovered the one man who could have reached out to me, and helped bridge that cultural divide. Even when I did finally hear the name Kinky Friedman his playing days were well behind him. I never had the opportunity to see Kinky Friedman And The Texas Jewboys during their heyday, but they left behind a catalogue of song titles, including the likes of "I'm Proud To Be An Asshole From El Passo", "Ride 'Em Jewboy", and "They Don't Make Jews Like Jesus Anymore", that not only intrigued me but has kept my curiosity piqued for the last twenty years.

Thirty-two years ago, in November of 1975, Kinky and The Texas Jewboys recorded an episode of the famed television show Austin City Limits. Unbeknown to anyone at the time they created history that night - it is still the one and only concert filmed for the show that has never aired. For reasons that have never been explained, the powers that be decided that the delicate sensitivities of the American public wouldn't have been able to handle the performance. But somehow or other a tape of that show has managed to survive, and the good folk at New West Records have just released a DVD version of Kinky Friedman: Live From Austin Tx.

For those of you like me who never had the opportunity to experience Kinky and the gang in full howl, and believe me I do mean howl, it's like nothing you'll have ever seen before or are likely to see again. Those of you who have had the pleasure of reading any of Kinky's detective novels will have experienced his brand of humour and will be somewhat prepared for what for you are about to witness. Everybody else, well, just sit back and hold on tight because you're in for the ride of your life.

Right from the get go you know that you're in for something different from your standard country, country/rock, fare that's usually served up on Austin City Limits when you take a quick gander at the way Kinky and the rest of the band is dressed. From Little Jewford (Jeff Shelby) Shelby on piano to Skycap Adam on bass the boys are decked out in a mixture of clothes that make them look like a cross between a parody of every Country band you've seen and a travelling Medicine Show.

Then of course there's the material and Kinky's in between song patter. It's not often you'll hear a song about Amelia Earhart, let alone a country song complete with yodels, but "Amelia Earhart's Last Flight" is just that. Now there's not much about that song anybody would have considered offensive, and aside from Kinky's comment about a couple of departing audience members coming down with a case of the "Hebe Jeebies", there hadn't been much of anything said that could have upset anybody - of course that was only the first song.

Things sort of went uphill, or downhill depending on your point of view, from there. Double entendres and inferences began flying, both during and between the songs, and behaviour became more and more outlandish. "Men's Room L.A." is a tribute to the bounty of the Lord and his graciousness in allowing his image to be used when nothing else is available and you're caught with your pants down and an empty toilet roll. "Carryin' The Torch" is in honour of the upcoming bicentennial celebrations, and includes patriotic flag bedecked drum sticks and a tear in your eye, catch in the throat, tribute to Lady Liberty.
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Songs like those and "Miss Nickelodian", featuring the band decking themselves out in faux Indian headgear and dancing a mock war dance, are so over the top and ridiculous that it's hard to believe anybody taking them seriously. At the same time they're very deliberate in their satire and attacking most of what mainstream Country music holds dear. This becomes very clear when they get down to near the end of the night's festivities.

"Asshole From El Paso" is sung to the tune of Merle Haggard's "Okie From Muskogee", and turns it into an attack on the same attitudes and values that Merle was defending. Lines like "And the wetbacks still get twenty cents an hour" probably didn't make Kinky any friends that night with the producers, but most of the audience, being from Austin, seemed to approve. "They Don't Make Jews Like Jesus Anymore" is a great anthem of fighting back against racism, as it talks about not turning the other cheek and beating the crap out of a racist. Of course lines like "We Jews always believed it was Santa Claus that killed Jesus" might not go over so well with certain members of society.

Musically, these guys are one of the hottest bands I've seen play in a while. Of particular note is Ken "Snakebite" Jacobs (now with the New Orleans Nightcrawlers) who plays alto, tenor, and soprano saxophone with equal proficiency, as well as playing flute, and piano when Little Jewford Shelby was called upon to play accordion. Kinky's voice is quite extraordinary; he'll be cruising along sounding like your typical cowboy country singer with a catch in his voice and a drawl, when all of a sudden he'll kick into a Frankie Vali type falsetto that's letter perfect. It's a little disconcerting to start with, takes you by surprise, but he uses it beautifully and sparingly enough that's it effective.

Thus it's even more surprising when he sneaks in a straight song, like "Get A Long Little Jew Boy", a beautiful tribute to both people who died in the holocaust and the history of the Jewish diaspora. Not only is the song very moving, but it also gives you a glimmer of insight into why Kinky did the whole Jewish cowboy shtick. In a few words he draws a connection between the wandering, homeless cowboy and the homeless Jew drifting from place to place.

I don't know if there's a television station out there that would air Kinky Friedman: Live From Austin Tx today, so I can understand the producers reluctance to air it back in 1975 when it was recorded. It's unfortunate, because Kinky Friedman And The Texas Jewboys are not only one of the best satirical bands to come down the pipe, but musically brilliant too. Take advantage of this opportunity to catch them live and in their prime, because who knows if there will ever be another chance.

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