In her new book, Everything's Bigger in Texas: The Life and Times of Kinky Friedman, biographer Mary Lou Sullivan provides an intimate look at Richard "Kinky" Friedman culled from hours of candid, in-depth interviews with the Kinkster, his friends and his associates – revealing the man behind the legend.
In this exclusive excerpt, we find Friedman and several hundred guests at a star-studded Sunset Boulevard shindig. With a guest list ranging from Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell to Jack Nicholson, Elliot Gould and Dennis Quaid, Kinky’s recollection of this night frames it best. Simply put, “it was a cool fucking party.”
Before Kinky joined the spring 1976 leg of the Rolling Thunder Revue tour, Bob Dylan invited him to perform at the January 25th benefit concert for boxer Ruben "Hurricane" Carter at the Houston Astrodome. Dubbed Night of the Hurricane II [the first benefit concert was held in Madison Square Garden in December], the line-up included Dylan, Stevie Wonder, Carlos Santana, Stephen Stills, Ringo Starr, Isaac Hayes, Dr. John, Richie Havens and the Rolling Thunder Revue.
Rehearsal for the Astrodome show, held at the S.I.R. soundstage in Hollywood, included Ringo Starr, Dennis Hopper, Santana and members of the Band. Dylan bankrolled a shopping spree at Nudie's for stage attire for the entire entourage, and provided four-star rehearsal buffets and unlimited room tabs at the Sunset Marquis.
After the rehearsals and buying spree at Nudie's Rodeo shop, which was rumored to cost $50,000, Dylan flew the entourage to Houston on his chartered plane. Although the exact circumstances of when and how Kinky obtained the Jesus jacket depends on who's telling the story, Kinky did wear it to the Houston benefit. Kinky's performance, which included leading a sing along on "Asshole from El Paso," gave credence to McGuinn's observation that "he stood out as a character and made an effort to do so." If his choice of "Asshole from El Paso" wasn't enough to capture the audience's attention, his stage attire sealed the deal. A bearded Kinky performed in aviator sunglasses, a sequined sombrero, the Jesus Jacket over his Grand Ole Opry satin menorah shirt and dark blue white-fringed chaps emblazoned with three red stars on a white background.
"Bob bought this gorgeous Jesus coat with Jesus's head and rainbows and palm trees," remembers Kinky. "God knows what it's worth today. He got it from Nudies, wore it for a show or two and then gave it to me. I wore it for a little while, kept it for some years, and eventually the jacket was sold at auction. I told Bob years later that I had hit some hard times and sold the coat. He said, 'Bad move, bad, bad move.' It was a bad move."
Eager to enjoy the lifestyle of a hip and happening artist, Kinky splurged on an apartment in Sunset Tower on Sunset Boulevard. Inviting friends to the fifteen-story art deco hotel, he regaled them with tales of celebrities – Frank Sinatra, John Wayne, Marilyn Monroe – that lived there during Hollywood's golden era. He also had stories about his new friend Iggy Pop.
With Pop's lust for life and drugs, and intelligence masked by his wild stage antics, Kinky had found another kindred spirit. "I used to hang out with Iggy Pop at the Sunset Tower and the Sunset Marquis too," he says. "He was great – a very bright guy. Iggy was extremely talented and a lot of people vampirized his natural style."
Pop also had a habit of jumping off the balcony of his Sunset Tower apartment and into the swimming pool. When Kinky told Baker about Iggy's wild antics, he couldn't resist. The actor's naked leap from Kinky's third floor balcony soon became part of the "Tom Baker, Troublemaker" mystique.
Kinky enhanced his own mystique by throwing a Hollywood party with his own star studded guest list.
"Everybody came – Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Jack Nicholson, Elliot Gould and hundreds of people – it was a cool fucking party," says Kinky. "It was like you died and went to heaven. Everybody you could think of was there – big stars, little stars. About 500 of them all crammed into this room. Bob Dylan played guitar in one room; Jack Nicholson is in the other. People watching Bob sleep on the floor. Everybody, Tom Waits, Art Garfunkel – on and on. I knew them all.
"Dennis Quaid was sleeping on my floor; crashing at my apartment because he'd just gotten to Hollywood and didn't have a place to live. Randy [Quaid] was around – he was already famous. I played chess every day with Dennis, who was trying to get into commercials.
"Dennis said it was the best party he ever went to in his life. He wanted to meet Elliott Gould so I introduced him. I really liked Elliott but he wouldn't shake hands with Dennis Quaid – he looked at him like he was a cockroach. It was bad. After that, Elliott's career went over a cliff. So be very careful about not shaking hands with somebody."
Chuck Weiss, who had his own cheeky sense of humor, enjoyed his role of gatekeeper.
"Kinky invited the who's who of Hollywood and had me operate the intercom to see who was buzzed in and who wasn't," he says. "I was screwing with a lot of people trying to come in. I'd say who is it – he'd say Elliot Gould. I'd say who? Or Jack Nicholson – I'd say who? I eventually let them in after I screwed with them for a while.
"Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan ended up in Kinky's bedroom doing a mini concert. Everybody was reverent and I farted in the middle of one of Joni Mitchell's songs," he adds. "It was like they were in church and I farted. The girl I came with got so appalled she never talked to me again. It's not something I do now, but back then it was my thing – to be as irreverent as I could."
Dylan Ferrero, who shared Kinky's apartment, remembers Nicholson and a number of celebrities dropping by and hanging out. "When Randy Quaid was doing The Missouri Breaks with Jack Nicholson, he came in one day and said, 'I just got off the set,' and Nicholson said, 'Another day, another $36,000.' Danny Hutton was always hanging out at Kinky's apartment, and Bobby Neuwirth came over drunk one night and threw hamburgers in the pool."
Although Kinky has no recollection, Ferrero has vivid memories of another celebrity-studded party that almost cost Kinky his life.
"Kinky is such a magnetic personality that one day, he said I bet by tonight I can get this place packed with people," says Ferrero. "He told about four people in L.A. and the party was packed. Bob Dylan showed up. So did Lowell George, Robbie Robertson, Levon Helm and most of The Band. It was incredible. Kinky did so much blow that night, he was passed out in the bedroom and I thought he was gone. He was that zombied out – it was scary.
"David Cassidy was in the bedroom putting a teaspoon of blow under Kinky's nose," remembers Ferrero. "We thought Kinky had ODed on blow and these guys are mixing it with ludes [Quaaludes] or giving him a joint because they thought it would take you out of that. I said you got to get out of here; Kinky doesn't need that shit. I had my friend Squid stand in front of the door so nobody could get in to give him any more drugs."
When Kinky came to the next morning, he had no memory of the party or his near-death experience.
"The next day Kinky is pissed off at me because I didn't introduce Robbie to Lowell George," says Ferrero. "I told him they met and were playing guitars with each other. Sorry you missed it. Each picked up one of Kinky's piece of shit guitars and they played together in a corner. Lowell took a beer bottle and played this great slide guitar on blues songs. It was amazing. Levon came over to listen but there were about 100 people roaming around the apartment stoned, not even noticing it."
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