and Lenny Bruce Is Not Afraid

When I was about 14 or 15 years old, I found myself riffling through the discount bin at local record store called “the Satisfied Ear”. In amongst the rows of cutout inventory, I found a recording that has remained a personal favorite to this day. The album was a double album. The cover bore a simple illustration of the performer, from a slightly narrow and elongated perspective, with the addition of a rainbow to one side. The venue of the live performance was listed beside the boldly printed name of the comic. Lenny Bruce. Carnegie Hall.

The purchase was motivated by both interest and nostalgia. The nostalgia came from having grown up with a few of his albums being in my parents LP collection. I distinctly remember two of then, one of which was pressed on clear red vinyl. And i even remember hearing some of the routines, but obviously not being conscious of the undertones or meanings.

Lenny Bruce has gone down in history as having been well ahead of his time. He was unjustly persecuted for saying things you’ll see on cable TV on any given day today. It’s a tragic story of a man’s rise and fall, and the powers and system of a society taking an extreme and unreasonable stance, as if to make an example of a man that in time becomes recognized as an innovative genius.

lennybruceMontageThe Carnegie Hall concert is considered by many to have been a creative peak, and it’s still an amazing performance to listen to. It’s a complete recording of an entire show, not just the snippet of ‘bits’ that were found on the majority of his ‘comedy’ records. And it’s brilliant. It’s a wonderful opportunity to hear a creative man blend humor and social commentary, to follow his “stream of consciousness” dialog through a 2 hour performance, and to consider and question the norms and hypocrisy of our society at the time that still applies today. And over the past 30 years I’ve routinely returned to this recording over and over again, always finding it as good if not better then I remembered from the last listen. And always with a greater appreciation for the message and the man.

A great documentary, “Swear to tell the Truth“, was aired a few years back on cable TV. It’s an insightful look at the man and the events that transpired that took him from being a “Hollywood darling” to a black-balled outcast, unable to book performances without being summarily arrested. He spent the last couple of years of his life battling for the rights for free speech.

Lenny Bruce died of a drug overdose at the age of 40, on this day in 1965. Forty-one years ago today. He died beaten down, obsessed with the law and the unjust outcome of his court cases. Today, I don’t know of a comic that’s not tipped their hat to the legacy and influence the man had on the art of comedy and of social commentary.

A few days ago I put the documentary on while doing some work at home, and I stumbled across the reminder that he died on August 3rd. Over the course of the past few days I’ve made a point of listening again to the Carnegie Hall performance as well as the Berkeley Concert and selections from the wonderful box set, Let the Buyer Beware.

Any and all of these recording or the documentary are well worth your time. I can’t recommend them enough. If you’re a friend, let me know and you can borrow any or all.


Written by gsm

08/03/2007 at 10:47 pm

Posted in  Journal 

2 Responses

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  1. Put me down on the borrow list.


    08/03/2007 at 11:57 pm

  2. And, your parent still has two clear red vinyl recordings as well as one black vinyl recording, all on the Fantasy label #s 7003, 7007, and 7011. They are titled: The Sick Humor of Lenny Bruce-1958, Togetherness, Lenny Bruce-1959, and, Lenny Bruce–American-1960.
    Too bad I don’t have a turntable to play them on. There is a lot of classic content and cmment on these old albums.


    08/04/2007 at 11:21 am

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