It's Elementary: Shooting from the Lip, Cocky Kinky Friedman Has a Talent for Music and Mysteries

updated 11/09/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/09/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

Deep in the Texas hill country, amid the weeping willows and wildflowers, sits a decrepit green trailer with no wheels. The door is left ajar, but the three cats that live there and the itinerant critters that drop in don't much care. Neither does the other inhabitant, a cigar-chomping, crinkly-haired ersatz cowboy named Kinky (né Richard) Friedman. Though his daddy's ranch house is just up the hill on the family's 500-acre spread, Friedman prefers the solitude and squalor of his trailer. Wearing a Western shirt, jeans, cowboy boots (fashioned from a brontosaurus' foreskin, he says) and a tomcat grin, Kinky, 43, leans back in a rickety chair and pronounces, "Things are going well for the Kinkster."

Indeed they are. Friedman has just published his second novel, A Case of Lone Star, which has earned a passel of good reviews. "Mr. Friedman's ear for dialogue is first-rate, as are Kinky's out-of-the-corner-of-his-mouth one-liners," says the New York Times. The hero once again is the author's alter ego, Detective Kinky "Kinkster" Friedman, who is busy solving a series of murders at Manhattan's Lone Star Cafe. The plot is almost incidental to Friedman's one-liners ("I'm in the middle of someone," he tells a friend who calls when he's making love) and basic black humor ("I survived by heating up Bill Dick's frozen Five-Alarm Chili, drinking espresso and smoking cigars. The Beverly Hills Diet"). Friedman's first novel, last year's Greenwich Killing Time, recently came out in paperback. It has been bought by Universal for a movie, and Friedman intends to screen-test for the role of his wisecracking, dirty-talking detective.

For Friedman, researching Lone Star was as easy as swigging from a longneck. As a country singer in the '70s and early '80s, he often jammed the night away at the Lone Star with his band, the Texas Jewboys. "I am the bastard child of twin cultures," says Friedman, who was raised a nice Jewish boy. "Both cowboys and Jewboys wear their hats in the house."

At the Lone Star and on his five albums, Friedman became something of a cult legend for his outrageous songs such as They Ain't Making Jews Like Jesus Anymore and Get Your Biscuits in the Oven and Your Buns in the Bed. Then, about four years ago, to the obvious delight of certain Christians, Jews and feminists, Friedman turned his talents to writing. "I was fresh out of charm," he says. "I was tired of disgruntled bass players and amplifiers and the whole scene." Besides, he found writing books easier. "I can spit those little buggers out like sunflower seeds," proclaims the Kinkster.

Friedman did plenty of seed-spitting while growing up on the family ranch near Kerrville. His father was a professor of psychology at the University of Texas, and his mother, who died two years ago, was a teacher and speech therapist. Kinky himself never could figure out just what he wanted to accomplish in life. He did, however, dabble with a band at the University of Texas, where his untamed hair and mannerisms won him his nickname. After graduation he drifted into the Peace Corps and spent 2½ years in Borneo. Friedman's proudest achievement, he notes, was introducing the Punan tribesmen to Frisbee.

When Friedman returned to the U.S. in 1969, he decided to try to make a living playing Country and Western music. Kinky and his Jewboys made it to the stage of the Grand Ole Opry in 1973. Then Kinky toured with the likes of Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan before settling into a regular gig at the Lone Star in the late 70s. By this time Friedman had developed problems with drugs and alcohol. ("There's a little Judy Garland in me," he once said.) According to the Kinkster, he quit.

Then, one night in 1984, he rushed to help a woman being mugged near a Greenwich Village cash machine. Dazzled by his own bravado, Kinky figured he was daring enough to spin the experience into a mystery. Soon after, weary of his seedy Village loft, Friedman headed home to his seedy Texas trailer and the literary life.

Naturally, it wasn't long before Friedman figured he needed to stir up the locals. So as a lark, the man who broke a law or two in his heyday decided to run for justice of the peace in Kerrville last year. To Kinky's surprise, he actually beat one opponent but lost to another.

Politics and other peccadilloes presumably behind him, Friedman is determined to make it big as a writer. He's well into a third Kinky Friedman detective novel and has written the score for a musical comedy about a Texas con man-preacher called Billy Sol Hargus (a character invented by his friend New York deejay Don Imus). And his live-in mounted Texas longhorn will serve as his muse, thank you. "Yeah, I'm going to get married someday," says the lifelong bachelor, "but not this fiscal year. I've got my eye on a couple of little buggers out there, but right now I don't want to demystify myself any more than necessary."

Besides, Friedman is relishing his privacy after years on the road. "I always wanted a life-style that didn't demand my presence. An author can be arrogant, boring, self-directed, and people love it. They'd be shocked if John Denver or a performer acted that way. But I think I'm still too charming," he worries, adding with a great belch of smoke from his cigar, "I need to work on that part."

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