Allow me a break from the normal music discussions to recognize this day. On this day 43 years ago, Lenny Bruce took one trip too many. Morphine overdose. Broke and in debt, paranoid and overweight. 40 years old.
I am not gonna go into a big drawn out synopsis of his life here. Anyone on this site also has access to Wikipedia, and those folks have already gone through all of the effort for me. If you are not familiar with Lenny or his material, you should go read it. In 2004, Bruce was voted No. 3 of the 100 Greatest Stand-ups of All Time by Comedy Central, behind Richard Pryor and George Carlin, both of whom cite Bruce as an influence. In fact, Carlin was arrested for refusing to show identification while attending Bruce’s 1964 show at the Gate of Horn in Chicago, and after the police ended the show and arrested Bruce for obscenity, they were both placed into the back of the same paddywagon together.
My first exposure to Lenny’s material was when I was a pizza delivery person. One of my coworkers handed me a cassette tape one night and said “Check this out. You’re the kind of person that would probably get into that kind of stuff.” They were right. I did not know it at the time, but that was one of those life changing moments. Personally, Lenny Bruce ranks right up there with Hunter S. Thompson and Leonard Cohen as a person I would most like to spend a night over dinner with, and if I could get a night out on the town boozing, drugging and whoring with those three….well, just kill me the next morning, because the rest of my life would just be a big fucking let-down. I just wanted to acknowledge Lenny today and post some of my favorite bits of his.
Before we got to the bits though. I wanna post this description of one of Lenny’s more famous shows at Carnegie Hall. It was written by a Mr. Albert Goldman and is included in the liner notes of the show’s 3-album release:
This was the moment that an obscure yet rapidly rising young comedian named Lenny Bruce chose to give one of the greatest performances of his career. … The performance contained in this album is that of a child of the jazz age. Lenny worshipped the gods of Spontaneity, Candor and Free Association. He fancied himself an oral jazzman. His ideal was to walk out there like Charlie Parker, take that mike in his hand like a horn and blow, blow, blow everything that came into his head just as it came into his head with nothing censored, nothing translated, nothing mediated, until he was pure mind, pure head sending out brainwaves like radio waves into the heads of every man and woman seated in that vast hall. Sending, sending, sending, he would finally reach a point of clairvoyance where he was no longer a performer but rather a medium transmitting messages that just came to him from out there — from recall, fantasy, prophecy. A point at which, like the practitioners of automatic writing, his tongue would outrun his mind and he would be saying things he didn’t plan to say, things that surprised, delighted him, cracked him up — as if he were a spectator at his own performance!
I’ll drink a few and say Fuck the Goverment for you tonight Mr. Bruce.
Lenny Bruce – `To’ is a preposition, `Come’ is a verb
Lenny Bruce – How The Law Got Started
Lenny Bruce – Blah, Blah, Blah
Lenny Bruce – White Collar Drunks
Lenny Bruce – The Defiant Ones
Lenny Bruce – The Steve Allen Show
Here is Bob Dylan’s tribute to Lenny: Bob Dylan – Lenny Bruce
Finally, here’s an old animation based on Lenny Bruce’s standup bits. Extremely funny.