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KINKY FRIEDMAN, RIDING HIGH

'Scuse Me While I Whip This Out

By Kinky Friedman

Morrow, 194 pages, $22.95

From his nascent '70s - riding tall in the cult saddle as Texas Jewboy, clown-prince outlaw - to his latter-day heyday as writer of best-selling detective novels, Kinky Friedman is an iconoclast with a keen sense of self and marketability. Kinkster Inc. is cute, smart and reverently irreverent - all contained in a loosely wrapped package of persecuted Jew, swaggering Texan, Groucho wannabe and conflicted countercultural smart-ass. Top it off with a concussive cowboy chapeau, string tie and a smoldering cigar stuffed in a mustachioed pucker, and - pardner - you've got a seller.

In the delicately titled " 'Scuse Me While I Whip This Out" (subtitled, "Reflections on Country Singers, Presidents and Other Troublemakers"), the Kinkster posits intimate peeks at famous and near-famous folk who have crossed his path - briefly and otherwise - over more than a few decades. Singers and troublemakers stoke the lion's share of BTUs from Friedman's cerebral stogie.

The author is most eloquent and eye-twinkle dazzling in the company of the likes of Billy Jo Shaver, Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson, or radio legend Don Imus and writer Joseph Heller.

Through the Friedman Viewmaster, the late Heller - author of the immortal "Catch-22" and a certifiable member of the "Shalom Retirement Village People" - tells why when they met, he dutifully stopped short of the end game as an expert flirt with the opposite sex: "It's just no longer cost-effective."

Friedman has this to say about the "destructive" early years of his long friendship with radio guru Imus: "I don't know if you'd call a man who drank a tropical-fish aquarium of vodka every day an alcoholic, but then this is coming from me, who snorted the glitter of Loretta Lynn's titter."

The Kinkster postulates that Dylan's disregard for personal hygiene during his Greenwich Village days detonated a cultural revolution: "It marked the end for Tab Hunter, Sandra Dee and Fabian, but it would herald a new beginning for Isaac Hayes, Ira Hayes, Woody Hayes and Gabby Hayes. And purple haze, for that matter."

Not surprisingly, it's when he ruminates on the life of Tom Friedman, his dad - a B-24 navigator who defied the Good War's frightening reaper rate - that he strayes into elegy, and a graceful, wistful text, at that:

"Tom's war is long gone. Indeed the whole era seems gone like the crews who never came home, lost forever among the saltshaker stars. And yet, when the future may look its darkest, there sometimes occurs an oddly comforting moment when, with awkward grace, the shadow of a silver plane flies inexplicably close to my heart. One more mission for the navigator."

'Scuse Me . . ." also is a grab bag of personal contortions on subjects far-flung, from the cult of cigar smokers to Robert Louis Stevenson in Samoa. There's even a Hollywood script treatment of the last days of Hank Williams, with Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby, the assassin's assassin, as the booze-ruined country legend's utmost compadre.

As for the book's presidential billing - encounters with presidents Bubba and "W" - it's mostly fluffy, stuffy and boring, the weak part of the package, and most likely shoehorned into the text as some sort of pretext of credibility to Friedman's bid to become governor of the Lone Star State in 2006.

Impossible?

You gotta love this guy's sloganeering:

"Kinky for Governor - How Hard Could It Be?"

Randy Rodda is a News city editor and Kinky enthusiast.

e-mail rrodda@buffness.com