The Lord has commanded me to write a celebrity pet book. Like a good little church worker, I always try to follow all of God's commandments that I like. I remember His voice quite clearly as it came to me several years ago while I was polishing the Luger I'd bought from a former UÂ€‘boat commander. The conversation, as near as I recall, went something like this:
KF: Start talkin'.
GOD: I am the Lord Thy God.
KF: Shit. I thought you were my agent.
GOD: In a sense, I suppose, I am thy agent. Let's see. I believe you're up to twenty-seven books. That's twenty-two more than Moses.
KF: Twenty-eight! I've written twenty-eight!
GOD: Hold the weddin', son. You don't really expect me to count that last one where you throw the lesbian off the bridge and then kill yourself? Lesbians are my children too, you know.
KF: Who is this?
GOD: In this time of great trouble in the land, like everything and everyone else, book sales are suffering. The only books that are selling are books about celebrities and books about pets, and, of course, my book's still doing pretty well.
KF: Sure your book's doing well -- it was ghostwritten by Janet Evanovich.
GOD: (chuckles good-naturedly) Kinkstah! I command you to write a celebrity pet book! And I command you to do it without including Paris Hilton and her pretentious pedigreed poodle!
KF: What! That's impossible! It can't be done!
GOD: Thus saith the Lord!
And so, dear reader, that was exactly how it went, and here you are reading the author's introduction and wondering where the hell is Paris Hilton and her pretentious pedigreed poodle, and now you know why they aren't in the book. As for the people and pets who did make the cut, however, I can say only this: "Some are dead and some are living, and in my life I've loved them all."
Texas Hill Country
Jan. 10, 2009 Copyright © 2009 by Kinky Friedman
HANK WILLIAMS and HIÂ€‘LIFE
Hank Williams's sister, Irene, gave this photo to my friend Marty Stuart, and Marty sent it to me. It depicts country music's troublemaking genius in a rare moment of peace, riding his beloved Tennessee walking horse, HiÂ€‘Life. Marty says he loves this picture "because it cuts through the myth and shows what a down-to-earth country man Hank Williams really was."
More than any singer before or after, Hank's life, his death, and his music not only define what country is all about, but they make him the tragic, magic messenger sent here to heal a broken heart. For Hank, I believe, instinctively understood one of the greatest paradoxes of human existence: The only heart that is whole is one that has been broken.
Hank Williams died on January 1, 1953, on the road somewhere between Montgomery, Alabama, and Oak Hill, West Virginia, a twenty-nine-year-old American prophet, a hillbilly Shakespeare, burning out of control like a country music comet exploding in the soul of every kid who ever wanted to be a country star.
Hank, like all of us, I suppose, was on his way to the show he never played. It was a New Year's Day gig in Canton, Ohio. My friend Bob Neuwirth was there as a young teenager and vividly remembers the stunning announcement of Hank's death to the crowd, and Red Foley and his band, from behind the drawn curtain, playing "Peace in the Valley."
It could simply be, as I've often maintained, that some people will do anything to get out of a gig in Canton, Ohio. That was just a joke, folks. Like life itself. The first commandment of country music, I believe, is Never Take Hank Williams More Seriously Than He Took Himself.
Several years ago, my pal in Hawaii, Will Hoover, introduced me to the late great Jerry Byrd, obviously before he became the late great Jerry Byrd, and he gave me some interesting insights into Hank. For those who haven't had their country music hip card punched, Jerry Byrd was the virtuoso steel-guitar player who in large part gave Hank his distinctive sound on many of his biggest hits. Jerry Byrd, indeed, was a musical tutor to Hank and the Drifting Cowboys both in the studio and on the road.
Jerry Byrd believed, from experience with Hank over his brief, turbulent career, that if all country stars behaved like Hank, the fans would revolt. Hank's demons, according to Byrd, had driven him to the point at which he had very little regard for the fans, the band, and ultimately, of course, himself. No time for autographs was putting it mildly, as Jerry Byrd saw it. The irony was that in spite of his life spinning completely out of control and destroying him after four short years of stardom, his star has shined brightly ever since, reaching the hearts of millions of people around the globe.
My theory is that Hank had a little bit of Jesus and Mozart and van Gogh in him, and people are just plain perverse; they like you better when you're dead. That is, everybody except Bill Monroe, who had the unique gift of bringing flowers to the living. On one snowy December night when Hank came through Nashville for the last time, the folks at the Grand Ol' Opry didn't want him to come up and they certainly didn't want to go down and see him. He was only the biggest star they ever had. But it must be admitted, he was also a mess. Of the entire Opry cast, only Bill Monroe went down to the street, got in the Cadillac with Hank, and spoke to him in words that would be Nashville's final farewell to country music's greatest star.
May peace be with Hank and HiÂ€‘Life. May they be safe and sheltered from sorrow. May they ride like the wind. May they walk in peace. May they travel together the trails of their dreams. Copyright © 2009 by Kinky Friedman
TOM WAITS and GINGER
Tom Waits does not have a good voice; like Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson, he has a great voice. Not all music critics necessarily agree, of course. One said Tom's voice "sounds like it was soaked in a vat of bourbon, left hanging in a smokehouse for a few months, and then taken outside and run over with a car." All that notwithstanding, I would just say that as other voices harmonize sweetly into oblivion, Tom's has all the spiritual timbre of a true voice in the wilderness, a voice that remains, in the long-ago loneliness of the horseshit and wild honey that is yesterday, yet a voice forever finding new heads and new hearts.
Waits's audiences are amazing in themselves. They are not the throngs of nostalgia-seeking lawyers; they are not the fallow youth who are there to say they've been there. They are, for the most part, young truth seekers who have found a kindred spirit. Tom can play almost any place in the world and they will come -- not driven by radio or record company promotional bullshit, but because they are some kind of weird indigo children who've been here before and know something will be delivered, and it always is. Tom Waits is a great teacher of truth that is tragic and music that is magic.
Tom and I had a lot of fun wasting time and ourselves in the Los Angeles of the seventies. That Los Angeles doesn't exist anymore, but Waits and I still do, and I believe it's because we both always remained "in character," dressing, acting, and becoming more who we were all the time, wearing sunglasses twenty-four hours a day BBB (before the Blues Brothers), and never, ever playing golf in the afternoons with record company executives.
Tom in those years famously lived at the Tropicana Hotel on Sunset Boulevard. He had a small, spartan room, the only accoutrement being a stove, which he used only to light his cigarettes. He drank cheap wine, hung out at seedy, soulful bars, and wrote great songs about the people and places most of us never get to know. I admired his bohemian lifestyle back then and, frankly, I still do. His spiritual home always seemed to be at the corner of Fifth and Vermouth.
Tom has won two Grammys, for Bone Machine and Mule Variations, been nominated for an Academy Award for his sound track on One from the Heart, and had songs recorded by many other artists, including Rod Stewart ("Downtown Train") the Eagles ("Ol' 55"), and Bruce Springsteen ("Jersey Girl)." The influence of his work upon artists, songwriters, musicians, and young people in general has been incalculable.
"Mostly I straddle reality and the imagination," he says. "My reality needs imagination like a bulb needs a socket. My imagination needs reality like a blind man needs a cane."
The reality is that Tom Waits has always walked his own road in a world that has become increasingly sanitized, homogenized, and trivialized. And why is the world like it is? "We are buried beneath the weight of information, which is being confused with knowledge," he says. "Quantity is being confused with abundance, and wealth with happiness. Leona Helmsley's dog made twelve million last year and Dean McLaine, a farmer in Ohio, made thirty thousand. It's just a gigantic version of the madness that grows in every one of our brains. We are monkeys with money and guns."
I agree with Tom about the state of the world, but I believe Leona Helmsley's dog probably earned his $12 million. Tom's dog, Ginger, is no doubt much happier just rambling down a country road listening to Tom playing the one-string violin, an archaic instrument in this modern world, perhaps, but a private concert nonetheless.
I can't remember any animal-related stories regarding Tom from the '70s, but I have difficulty remembering anything from the '70s. Thusly I have consulted our mutual friend, Chuck...