Friday, March 9, 2012

Ladies and Gentlemen...Mr. Lenny Bruce!

I was fifteen-years-old when I was first confronted by the work of Lenny Bruce. This came via the Christian Slater movie Pump up the Volume. Slater's character starts a pirate radio station in his parents' suburban home basement in Phoenix, Arizona. From a sleepy-ass community, "Happy Harry Hard-on," as Slater's character called himself, stirs trouble when he realizes the power he possesses over the airwaves. Songs by Bad Brains, The Pixies, and The Jesus and Mary Chain blast nightly as Happy Harry Hard-on stirs his classmates toward a social revolution. Inspired by Bruce, the thoughtful loner, Mark(Slater's character), inspires others to think for themselves and to take the future into their own hands. At the end of the movie, Mark...

Lenny Bruce fascinated me immediately. I watched documentaries and read bios, preparing for the revolution I was going to help ignite in El Centro, California. My band of misfits united! I rented the Dustin Hoffman flick, Lenny, from Video 2000, and paid dearly in late fees and scowls from the owner at the counter. Bruce tackled racism, class, and other institutions in ways that no one had done before him. Reading about this dude inspired me to pick up the pen and play music, to think more closely about how humor could be used to combat social problems. In short, it was an education that was so removed from high school textbooks, yet evaluated the power structures that were glorified within them, that I was immediately intoxicated and grew ten feet a day as I ingested this stuff.

I mention this now, because one of my oldest friends has recently completed Looking for Lenny, a documentary project about the legacy of Lenny Bruce that he's (and his associates) been working on over the last few years. I remember the initial stages of the project: biographies and papers everywhere in his (Matt Amar) small room in Banker's Hill, San Diego, just a few blocks from San Diego's The Casbah. That's where it began. And now it's available on demand and Netflix. Luminaries in the film include Paul Krassner, Lewis Black, Sandra Bernhard, Robin Williams, and others.

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