SOME OF MY FAVORITE Texas Monthly covers are associated with the Bum Steers issue. There’s February 1974, which pictures a man who awakens to find a steer’s head in his bed. There’s February 1976, which features Governor Dolph Briscoe, a herd of cattle, and the words “Find the Bum Steer in This Picture.” My favorite is January 1997, which portrays Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Michael Irvin—who had been arrested the previous year for drug possession—sporting a big, toothy grin topped by a “cocaine” mustache. I have no doubt that this month’s cover, with its parody of Grant Wood’s painting American Gothic, will be just as memorable as those. Yes, the man holding the pitchfork is Willie Nelson, and the bearded lady with the strangely captivating gaze is Kinky Friedman, who writes a monthly column for the magazine. Here are Kinky’s thoughts on shooting the cover, being friends with Willie, and probing the depths of his feminine side.
texasmonthly.com: First of all, let me say that you make a lovely woman. Kinky Friedman: Thank you. The photograph came about because Willie refused to dress in drag.
texasmonthly.com: And so you got stuck with it? KF: Yes.
texasmonthly.com: Do you often dress in drag? KF: Quite often, so it was an easy transformation for me—that’s because I was Miss Texas 1967. That gave me some experience in that field. I just kind of panhandled on the Drag in Austin for a sex change and was able to come up with a very humorous cover. Incidentally, it has created some lifestyle problems for me.
texasmonthly.com: You have issues now? KF: Yeah, yeah, I have a few issues. Of course, I consider this cover to be the high-water mark of my creative career, the defining achievement spiritually for me to be with Willie Nelson in a photograph, which I might point out, the original, done by Grant …
texasmonthly.com: That’s Hugh Grant? KF: Yeah, Hugh Grant. He posed the American Gothic couple—thanks for your help.
texasmonthly.com: I don’t think I can do an actual interview with you. KF: Well, it’s working, if you can follow this rapid train of thought. Anyway, many people don’t know this, nor do they care, but the original models for the painting were Grant’s sister and his dentist. And, of course, as I like to point out, I’m happier than 95 percent of all the dentists in America. All right, we’re off to a good start. Now, on to Willie.
texasmonthly.com: Wait, hold on one second. Tell me who presented this idea to you. Did [Texas Monthly editor] Evan Smith call and tell you that we wanted to dress you in drag? KF: Some sawed-off Jew from New York came up to me. No, we don’t want to say that.
texasmonthly.com: We’ll strike that from the transcript. KF: This idea will probably be claimed by Evan Smith and the art director [Scott Dadich] if it’s successful. If the issue tanks …
texasmonthly.com: Then it’s your idea? KF: Yeah, they’ll both blame me. Speaking of Willie, just before the photograph was taken, I was signing one of my books for him, Steppin’ on a Rainbow.
texasmonthly.com: That’s your thirteenth mystery novel, right? KF: That’s fourteenth.
texasmonthly.com: And it’s available in bookstores everywhere?
KF: Yep. Should you plug Texas Etiquette?
texasmonthly.com: Let’s plug them both. KF: Okay, well, I signed copies of Steppin’ on a Rainbow and Kinky Friedman’s Guide to Texas Etiquette, which is also available in bookstores. Of course, anyone who can publish two books at the same time must have an empty life. So I signed them for Willie, and in one of them I wrote, “From your third favorite Jew, Kinky Friedman.” So we were talking about it, and I said, “That really is true, isn’t it.” And he said yes. I pointed out that his first favorite Jew was Mark Rothbaum, his manager, and the second is Mickey Raphael, his harmonica player. I said that I was probably his third favorite, and he said that that was about right. And then he looked right into my eyes and said, “You’ll always be number three in my heart.” He looked right into my eyes and said something that could well be a future song lyric or a song title. Later he asked me if they have Yellow Pages in China.
texasmonthly.com: Okay, so how long did the shoot last? KF: I said, “He asked if they have Yellow Pages in China.”
texasmonthly.com: Now we’re rolling. So how long did the shoot last? KF: Interminably. It was shot at his little ghost town, his western town west of Austin.
texasmonthly.com: How did Willie get that look on his face? KF: Oh, he looks great. He looks just like the guy is supposed to look. Well, he’s an actor. I’ve always contended that Willie is a really good actor who has never been given a really good role. They’ve only cast him as Willie. That was John Wayne’s problem. He was a much better actor than people gave him credit for.
texasmonthly.com: Can you act? KF: I belong to the John Wayne school of acting. I have trouble forgetting who I am.
texasmonthly.com: Is this your first magazine cover? KF: No, I was on the cover of High Times. That was longer ago than I like to think about. Longer than I’ve known George Bush. But you know, I think this is one of those classic pictures, like John-John saluting his father’s casket or the little girl running in Vietnam …
texasmonthly.com: Kinky, I can’t print that. KF: Okay, well how about: This is one of those classic photographs that will be emblazoned upon the scrotum of the public mind.
texasmonthly.com: Keep thinking. KF: Etched upon the public psyche for generations to come?
texasmonthly.com: Much better. Now let’s just hope the issue sells. KF: Yeah, if this cover tanks, probably my column will tank