How a Dime-Store Novelist Became a Dime-Store Populist (Hint: They’re Both for Sale)
By Dave Maass
Kinky’s mini-mercenaries came from China, arriving in Texas on 20-foot pallets like grunts on the beaches of Normandy. They are a 12,000-strong Judeo-Hick action-figure army, ready for deployment at $30 apiece. Each doll is a foot tall, molded from cheap plastics, torso stuffed with integrated-circuit organs, and a 25-catchphrase arsenal that spews forth from a washboard belly. Batteries included.
The Kinky Friedman gubernatorial campaign invested $45,000 in the dolls. So far, they’ve sold 10,000. Do the math: that’s $255,000 in profit.
Yes, profit. E-commerce fuels his campaign: online merchandise with a 200-percent markup. In the first half of the year, the Kinky “store” generated more than $515,000 for the campaign, and several hundred thousand more since, $200,000 in September alone. “That’s basically paid our overhead since day one,” said Kinky’s campaign manager Dean Barkley, who was part of the successful push to get another third-tier celebrity, Jesse “The Body” Ventura elected governor in Minnesota.
“Obviously it’s tailored after, I would say, rock ’n’ roll or country-western merchandise,” he said. “That’s the background Kinky’s come from; the band scene and the merchandising that goes on there, with T-shirts and albums and everything else.”
He added, “Whatever we thought would sell, we marketed it. And we’ve done a dang good job.”
Any response, Kinky Doll?
And that’s all Perry left me-e-e. We get it, though Kinky’s campaign-finance report didn’t show a pay-out to Kris Kristofferson through ASCAP.
For the moment, we’re done shrieking about contributions, who took how much from whom. It’s time to look at how they spent it this year. As of September 28, Perry dropped more than $500,000 on private charter flights. Chris Bell sponsored the pro-LGBT Human Rights Campaign for $800. Grandma Strayhorn bought herself several dozen turkey-sandwich box lunches at Apple Annie’s in Austin.
Kinky’s the most interesting of all. In July, he was third in both contributions and expenditures, but comparing the size of Kinky’s campaign-finance reports to, say, Strayhorn’s, is like comparing Gravity’s Rainbow to The Crying of Lot 49. Some of the largest and most numerous expenses were for merch: That’s where they getcha.
The Kinky Friedman franchise existed long before he threw his Stetson into the ring. The campaign strategy has been to turbo-inject his established merchandise system with hundreds of thousands of campaign dollars. Kinky paid his label Sphincter Records (owned by collaborator Little Jewford) 60 G’s for CDs, DVDs, and labor. From January to September, he gave his signature salsa distributors about $200,000 to handle his distribution. He bought $400 worth of cowboy gear from his ex-college-roommate’s outfitters in Houston. (But not his stogies. “I don’t know where he gets his Cuban cigars, and I don’t ask,” Barkley said).
It’s a perpetual-motion device — the more merchandise he sells, the bigger he becomes, and the bigger he becomes, the higher the demand for his merchandise. Hell, collectible dealers are already hawking the Kinky Doll on eBay for as much as $56 a pop. (Of course, the buyers are morons who don’t know that the campaign’s website’s currently running a $10-off clearance special).
In other words, you could say it’s the products that sell the man, and it doesn’t matter what came first, man or merch, chicken or egg. When the campaign’s over, win or lose, Kinky will land sunny side up. Care to explain, Kinky Doll?
Kinky Doll: Money can buy you a fine dog, but only love will make him wag his tail.
If Kinky loses, he’s not going to leave with his tail between his legs. Although his standard response is that he’ll retire in a “petulant snit,” that’s not exactly true. He’s working on an album, and five days after Texans go to the polls, he kicks off the promotional tour for his new book, The Christmas Pig, about a mute, clairvoyant, idiot-savant, nativity-scene-painter’s friendship with a talking pig.
Some folks would see that as a bit inappropriate and not just because he’s Texas’s most famous Jew (Yes, Kyle, it can be fun to be a Jew on Christmas). That explains why, unlike his music, Kinky’s been very careful to keep his literary sales completely separate from his campaign. Kinky Doll, do you think your supporters will buy your book, or feel exploited as a market?
Kinky Doll: I’m running for governor, not God.
That’s not exactly true, either.
“One of the things we’re talking to him about is doing a book called ‘What Would Kinky Do?’ and just have him talk about all the hot issues of the day with his inimitable answers,” Kinky’s nonfiction editor at St. Martin’s Press, Diane Reverand said. She’s also very adamant that the campaign is not an elaborate publicity stunt; he’s genuine about winning and they aren’t yet planning for a campaign memoir.
Nevertheless, with a late release for the novel, his fiction publisher Simon & Schuster barely mentions his detective novels and is selling The Christmas Pig on Kinky’s maverick politician image. He’s a hot property now, Reverand said.
“His core market for his fiction is there, and they’ll read anything he writes, they’re so devoted,” Reverand said. “But once he decided to run for office he became really a national figure and people who had never been exposed to him are suddenly seeing him interview on 60 Minutes or they’re reading a seven-page profile of him in the New Yorker, and they’re captivated and fascinated.”
Can you comment, Kinky Doll, on any of this, or your seven Myspace pages?
Kinky Doll: I don’t know how many supporters I have, but they all carry guns.
This story ran on the cover of the Current with the headline “Citizen Kink,” but ran inside and online as “The Material Curl.” This version omits a doubly obscure reference to artist Guy Jukes and the show Beavis & Butthead that my editors should have slapped me for writing.