Kinky Friedman's psychedelic tour of the Texas capitalOn a sunny Saturday morning in Austin, Texas, I'm trying to get Kinky Friedman on the phone, a process that's proving as complicated as the plot of one of his mystery novels. Treated to the greeting on his answering machine, I get an earful of exuberance: "This is Richard K.D. 'Big Dick' Friedman, the next guvenuuuhhh of the great state of Texas! Please leave a message!"Although the word "governor" is punctuated by a slow, faux, Southern drawl, the recording isn't a prank. Armed with a Texas - sized persona, the support of author Molly Ivins and a slew of memorable slogans (including "How Hard Could It Be?" and "Why the Hell Not?"), the popular author and songwriter intends to run for office in 2006. But more on that later.When I finally reach him at his ranch in the Texas Hill Country for a discussion of his new book, The Great Psychedelic Armadillo Picnic: A "Walk" in Austin, Friedman is flustered. "My cigar clipper just blew up. I'm having a rough morning here," he says. But he's soon at ease and explaining the challenges of writing a book about the city in which he grew up. The son of a University of Texas professor, Friedman himself attended UT before joining the Peace Corps and embarking on a career as a writer/musician."My big problem in writing the book was that every restaurant I like went belly - up about 20 years ago," explains Friedman, who will turn 60 next month. "Now I have a choice of writing about what used to be there, or grumbling about how it's changed. I tried to be a good spiritual sport about it. If it had been someplace like Hawaii, say, it would not have been difficult to write the book, because I don't have any history there."Readers shouldn't fear: Armadillo is an easy ride, a quick trip unmarred by the author's inner conflict. Providing plenty of background on the Texas capital, along with games, quizzes and Austin - based anecdotes, Armadillo is vintage Friedman, an unconventional little travel guide that offers a whimsical mosaic of one of the hottest spots in the country. With chapters on outdoor attractions, noteworthy landmarks and shopping, Armadillo delivers a sense of the city's singular appeal, a taste of the town's laid - back allure. Best of all, the book bears the stamp of the inimitable Kinkster. No doubt about it, reading this brief volume is a blast."Austin is a town that really does have native charm," Friedman says. "But like all the rest of America, and the world - wherever people go - some of the charm starts to slip away. All cities look the same, mostly, so outsiders are usually amazed when they see Austin, because it's a beautiful, natural city."It's also a town with enough live music to rival Nashville. To get a taste of the true Texas sound, Armadillo tells fans where to go (The Broken Spoke, Threadgill's), and who to hear (Billy Joe Shaver, Toni Price). A list of the city's top 12 restaurants directs visitors to the tastiest spots in a city full of good food. ("After a night of festivities," Friedman writes, "a little food is necessary so you don't wake up feeling like there's a small Aryan child playing an accordion in your head.") For historical context, there's also a section on famous Austinites - a hodgepodge of one - of - a - kind characters such as Jerry Jeff Walker, O. Henry and Charles Whitman, the guy who climbed the Texas Tower at UT in the summer of 1966 and shot 45 people.When discussing his own books, Friedman is demure. Of his work as a novelist, he says, "Everybody finds what they can do. Writing mysteries is something that seems to have clicked, because now there's about, hell, 19 of them that I've churned out - I mean carefully crafted." He cites Paul Theroux, Charles Bukowski, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Robert Louis Stevenson as his favorite authors. His final mystery novel, due out in April, is called Ten Little New Yorkers, and in it, the Kinkster dies. That's right, the popular series, which features a private eye named Kinky Friedman, is finally winding down."It's a literary suicide, which I guess is more than a literary suicide since I am the character," says Friedman. "It's close to a real suicide. I've attempted to kill myself for years now," he says. "The way I think I'll do it is to jump through a ceiling fan. I was trying to do it the other night at Antone's [a bar in Austin], and this fellow was giving me an assist, a leg up, but I still couldn't reach it."Extinguishing the Kinky character will, of course, result in many disappointed readers. "Let's say I do kill myself," speculates Friedman. "Who could Kinky Friedman readers read who would pick up the slack? I donct know what they will do."Next up for Friedman: a career shift, as he hopes to become the next governor of Texas. For once, Kinky ain't kidding. He plans to run as an Independent and feels his prospects are "looking very, very good. The first poll in which my name was included, done by the San Antonio Express - News, came out extremely well. The question was who would you pay $250 to go to dinner with? The list was George Bush, Dick Cheney, John Kerry, John Edwards, Hilary Clinton and Kinky Friedman. I came in third," the author says, "right behind Bush and Hilary Clinton."The move into Texas politics seems natural for Friedman, a bachelor who has said he is married to the good ole Lone Star State. Indeed, his new book is nothing if not a reflection of his affection for home. That's partly why The Great Psychedelic Armadillo Picnic succeeds so well in capturing the attraction of Austin."The city does seem to be a magnet for people," Friedman says. "I notice as I travel around the world, the one place people really want to come to is Austin. Part of the reason is that the world does love Texas. It may not love America, but it loves Texas."So does Kinky.

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