Kinky, continued from page 9 off “signing line” to have your bounty autographed. Roughly 18,000 people have contributed to the low-budget campaign more than the other three campaigns put togethermostly through merchandise sales. The campaign has raised more than $5 million. Much of that comes from the Internet. In the “store” section of kinkyfriedman.com , you can buy Kinky silk-screen prints; yard signs; hats; “koozies;” and the Kinky Friedman campaign cookbook, Always in Good Taste, which contains recipes from various Kinky supporters. Also for sale are eight CDs of Jewford’s and Kinky’s. The selections include Kinky classics from the early 1980s and more recent fare such as Kinky Friedman and Little Jewford: Classic Snatches from Europe; Kinky and Billy Joe Shaver’s Live from Down Under; and Jewford’s latest solo effort, Live from Uranus. The publicity efforts have been so successful that now there’s a market for everything Kinkyrelated, even Live from Uranus. Without the Kinky for Governor campaign, the album probably would be gathering dust in discount bins. Instead, it’s making Jewford as much as $15 a pop on the Kinky Web site. The campaign buys the CDs wholesale from Sphincter Records, a Houstonbased company owned by Kinky and Jewford that has produced and marketed their music and books since 2000, according to records from the Texas secretary of state. The campaign then sells the CDs to supporters at a markedup price. So while the CD sales do fund the campaign, Sphincter Recordsand presumably Kinky and Jewfordalso profit. The heaviest sales for Kinky ware will likely come in the final weeks before the election, when more people are paying attention, but between November 2005 and September 2006, the campaign purchased more than $29,700 worth of CDs from Sphincter, according to campaign finance reports. During the same 10-month span, the campaign reported paying Jewford, whose given name is Jeff Shelby, consulting fees totaling $76,400. Jewford is paid as part of the campaign staff, Kinky has said. As the lines wrapped around the bar, I sat down at one of the emptied picnic tables. Next to me was Diane Dowdell. She describes herself as a “rogue” academic, so Kinky’s a natural for her. Dowdell teaches marketing and creative thinking at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio. So she also has a professional interest. “I wish I had brought my students here?’ she said. You could write a marketing thesis about the Kinky campaign’s use of branding. From the beginning, Dowdell said, every element of Kinky’s operation has been designed to set the campaign apart and to attract voters who feel orphaned by politics. “First, humor is a great way to get through to people?’ she said. “Any politician has to get through the noise, and humor is a great way to do that.” But, she said, Kinky’s efforts go far beyond good one-liners. She picked a pink-and-yellow-and-black campaign flier off the table. “He’s using color differently,” she said. “If you look at most campaign materials, they use red and blue and white. Here, we have different colors. He’s also made himself different with the merchandise. When you buy the T-shirts, it’s almost like a club`I’m for Kinky.’ What he’s selling is difference?’ She nodded toward the purchasing line and added, “and a lot of people are buying ‘different’ because they’re so fed up with the status quo:’ Texas Monthly editor Evan Smith has known Kinky for more than a decade and used to edit Kinky’s humor column for the magazine. “What people don’t understand about Kinky is that he’s a brand,” Smith told me. “He’s not a person, he’s not a candidate, he’s a brand. He writes books, there’s his video productions, there’s his music, there’s his whole shtick. I assure you he really wants to win… but this is a terrific branding opportunity for him.” There’s no debating that the campaign has made Kinky an A-list celebrity. In the past 18 months, Kinky’s been featured in The New York Times, Washington Post, 60 Minutes, The New Yorker, and the Weekly Standard, among many others. On college campuses, students who weren’t even born when Kinky’s music career was in its heyday line up to buy Kinky T-shirts and albums. When I asked if the campaign was an exercise in self-promotion, Kinky responded, “Bullshit. That’s nonsense. The people will decide what I stand for and what I don’t.” Kinky was adamant that he’s not profiting in any way from the campaign or merchandise sales. He says he doesn’t draw a salary from the campaign, and says every penny raised from merchandise goes to pay for staff salaries and campaign overhead. “It’s not just a scam for me to get rich and a publicity stunt. Only the most cynical, weak-minded fucks in the state would believe that. Only the most cynical, political mind would believe that, because nobody else does… I’m so disgusted with you guys. I know you’ve got to ask questions, but it’s hideous. You guys are pathetic.” As ornery as Kinky can sometimes be, he’s an undeniable charmer. Anyone who has read his essays knows he’s also prone to somber moods, a seeming wellspring for his dark humor. Yet in the wave of news stories and magazine features, Kinky’s lonelinesshis most interesting and genuine sidehas gone mostly unremarked. On a Friday morning in early October, I accompanied Kinky and Jewford to a radio interview at the Reading and Radio Resource Centera Dallas all-volunteer nonprofit that produces radio programs and textbooks-on-tape for the blind. 18 THE TEXAS OBSERVER NOVEMBER 3, 2006
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