15th September 2008
Spanking Kinky Friedman
by Mike Scott
I haven't thrown away many books in my life. I've given lots away and got rid of plenty to second hand book stores, but actually thrown away, as in cast aloft on the air, well that's a select few.
Two to be precise. The first was a volume about rock music's interest in the occult, so loathesome, so completely missing the point of spirituality and esoteric wisdom, that I flung it from a boat into the Sound of Iona, off the west coast of Scotland, and a very satisfying moment it was.
The second was Kinky Friedman's late 1990s novel Spanking Watson, a wafer-thin detective story I read while on a European tour. It wasn't loathesome, I just suddenly had had enough of Kinky's interminable bon mots, repeated puns and cosy little homilies about life, America and the trials of being a Texan Jewish cowboy. I rolled down the window of the car I was in and flung the book onto the streets of Hamburg with nary another thought.
Eight or nine years on, and needing something light to read, I felt like re-igniting my acquaintance with Kinky. So I checked him out on Amazon, found his recent books, and ordered a couple. They arrived in the mail two days ago.
One of them is called "'Scuse Me While I Whip This Out". The cover is a cartoon of Kinky playing poker round a card table with Bill Clinton, Willie Nelson, George W. Bush and a loose-tongued controversial racially offensive shock-jock called Don Imus. Kinky knows 'em all and the book is a collection of articles, mostly reprints from magazines, about these four characters and other Kinky-pals.
My nine year hiatus from reading Kinky meant I was returning to his prose with a fresh perspective. But within four, maybe five pages, my exhaustion with his bon mots and homilies returned. It's not that they aren't funny or clever - they're both - it's that there are too many of them. The effect is like eating a chocolate with too many nuts in it. After a while you realise there are more nuts than there is chocolate and you begin to feel sick.
But I persevered. Just 'cos I like Kinky. He's a character and the world needs more characters. As long as they aren't Don Imus characters. And 'cos I like America, and Kinky's writing is so America-centric it takes me there.
But in chapter 9 Kinky made a cardinal error. He wrote about being in Britain. In London, specifically. "As I walked the cobbled streets" he mused, for his back home readers. Where in God's name did Kinky Friedman find cobbled streets in London? And even if he did find them in some rarified ancient corner of the city, what on earth is he doing presenting the fact as if that is what you find everywhere in London? I smelt the rancid smell of worn-cliche-pushing and my bullshit detector flickered into action.
But a page later Kinky sank the big one. Here's the paragraph, written in 2003, shortly after the commencement of the Iraq war.
"As I did interviews...the subject of President Bush and Iraq popped up often, sometimes acrimoniously. I found myself defending my country, my president and my cowboy hat. Soon I was going on the pre-emptive attack myself, calling every mild-mannered Brit who engaged me in conversation a "crumpet-chomping Neville Chamberlain surrender monkey". After a while I realised the futility of this approach..."
It's just as well he did. If he'd said that to me I'd have cleaned his cowboy hat for him in a place where the sun don't shine. "Neville Chamberlain surrender monkeys"? Kinky means that if gallant America hadn't come to the aid of "surrender monkey" Britain, we'd all be wearing jackboots and singing "Sieg Heil" now. (The phrase "surrender monkeys" was made famous in 2003 when Republican US commentators used it to describe the French who wouldn't subscribe to USA policy on Iraq.)
It's all tosh of course, ignorant Dubya Bush-type moron cowboy tosh. It was Chamberlain who told Hitler that if he invaded Poland, Britain and France would declare war. And when Adolf went east on his homicidal holidays, we did exactly that. After France, Belgium and Holland were invaded (an experience the USA has never had, unless we count the fate of its original inhabitants), Britain battled alone from June 1940 to December 1941 while the USA debated whether to pursue an isolationist policy (let Hitler do whatever he wants, it's not our problem; a popular view among many Americans at the time) or an interventionist policy. Fortunately Franklin Roosevelt was a far-seeing man who aided us, notably with the 'lend-lease' policy, during our lone stand.
Kinky might maintain his comments were a joke and - the comeback of all bullies - "you shouldn't take it so seriously". And so might some readers of this blog. But there is something infinitely tiresome about laced and loaded comments masquerading as humour.
Actually, Kinky's "surrender monkeys" quote reminds me of a conversation I had in a Los Angeles dressing room in 2003. A Californian journalist was asking me what I felt about 9/11. And he said to me "of course, you Brits never had anything as big as this happen to you." "On the contrary, Sir," I said to him, "we had something called the Blitz - 9 months of nightly bombing of our cities by the Luftwaffe."
Kinky's comment was dumb. But I still kinda like him.