. . . Lenny Bruce was really, along with Bob Dylan and Miles Davis and a handful of others (maybe Joseph Heller, Terry Southern and Allen Ginsberg in another way) the leader of the first wave of the American social and cultural revolution which is gradually changing the structure of our society and may effectively revise it, if the forces of reaction which are automatically brought into play by such a drive, do not declare military law and suppress it. – Liner notes by Ralph J. Gleason, “Lenny Bruce -The Berkeley Concert,” Bizarre/Reprise Records, 1969.
(Please note – Some of the links below lead to articles with adult language).
Leonard Alfred Schneider was born on October 13, 1925, and died on August 3, 1966.
Bob Dylan and Lenny Bruce were both performers in Greenwich Village during the early 1960s. They’ve often been mentioned in the same breath, whether it was in a Village Voice article, in a Paul Simon song, or on a Frank Zappa album cover. Cut-outs of both Dylan and Bruce appear on the cover the Beatles’ 1967 album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Bruce was arrested numerous times for obscenity as well as possession of narcotics.
On April 3, 1964, Bruce was arrested on obscenity charges in the dressing room of the Cafe Au Go Go shortly before he was to go on stage for his 10 P.M. performance.
The arrest of Bruce in New York sparked a firestorm of protest from the city’s intellectual community. Poet Allen Ginsberg announced formation of an “Emergency Committee against the Harassment of Lenny Bruce.” Over eighty prominent people, mostly entertainers and authors, signed a petition protesting the prosecution of Bruce, dated June 13, 1964:
We the undersigned are agreed that the recent arrests of night-club entertainer Lenny Bruce by the New York police department on charges of indecent performance constitutes a violation of civil liberties as guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth amendments to the United States Constitution.
Lenny Bruce is a popular and controversial performer in the field of social satire in the tradition of Swift, Rabelais, and Twain. Although Bruce makes use of the vernacular in his night-club performances, he does so within the context of his satirical intent and not to arouse the prurient interests of his listeners. It is up to the audience to determine what is offensive to them; it is not a function of the police department of New York or any other city to decide what adult private citizens may or may not hear.
Whether we regard Bruce as a moral spokesman or simply as an entertainer, we believe he should be allowed to perform free from censorship or harassment.
The signators included theologian Reinhold Neibuhr; psychoanalyst Theodor Reik; Arnold Beichman, chairman of the American Committee for Cultural Freedom; entertainers Woody Allen, Theodore Bikel, Richard Burton, Godfrey Cambridge, Bob Dylan, Herb Gardner, Ben Gazzara, Dick Gregory, Tommy Leonetti, Paul Newman, Elizabeth Taylor, Rip Tom, Rudy Vallee; novelists and playwrights Nelson Algren, James Baldwin, Saul Bellow, Kay Boyle, Jack Gelber, Joseph Heller, Lillian Helman, James Jones, Norman Mailer, Arthur Miller, Henry Miller, John Rechy, Jack Richardson, Susan Sontag, Terry Southern, William Styron, John Updike, Gore Vidal, Arnold Weinstein; artists Jules Feiffer, Walt Kelly and Ben Shabo; poets Gregory Corso, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Allen Ginsberg, Leroi Jones, Peter Orlovsky, Louis Untermeyer; critics Eric Bentley, Robert Brustein, Malcom Cowley, Les Crane, Harry Golden, Michael Harrington, Nat Hentoff, Granville Hicks, Alfred Kazin, Alexander King, Max Lerner, Dwight Macdonald, Jonathan Miller, Philip Rahv, Mark Schorer, Harvey.Swados, Jerry Tallmer, Lionel Trilling, Dan Wakefield, Richard Gilman; editors and publishers Ira Gitler (Down Beat), Robert Gottlieb (Simon-& Schuster), Irving Howe (Dissent), Peter Israel (Putnam’s), William Phillips (Partisan Review), George Plimpton (Paris Review), Norman Podhoretz (Commentary), Barney Rossett (Grove Press).
On Novermber 4, Bruce was found guilty in the Cafe Au Go Go trial by a 2 to 1 vote of the three-judge panel.
Dylan mentioned Bruce in his book Chronicles Volume One. While describing a night at the Cafe Wha?:
. . .the whole daytime menagerie would come to a halt and then the professional show would begin. Comedians like Richard Pryor, Woody Allen, Joan Rivers, Lenny Bruce and commercial folksinging groups like The Journeymen would command the stage. . .
While recalling talking with U2’s Bono, he mentioned . . .
Names that have a certain feel to them. Idi Amin, Lenny Bruce, Roman Polanski, Hermann Melville, Mose Allison, Soutine the painter, the Jimmy Reed of the art world.
Bob Dylan supposedly wrote “Lenny Bruce” the night before he recorded the song at a April 29, 1981 session. It was included on his album Shot Of Love. Some have interpreted the song as actually being about John Lennon, who was murdered in 1980.
In 1981, while Dylan was in London. WNEW-FM DJ Dave Herman asked him about the song:
Herman: On Shot Of Love is a song called Lenny Bruce, which you perform just at the piano and I love the song, because I loved Lenny Bruce, I was a great admirer of him, when he was alive and working, and of course since his death. It occurred to me it’s a long time since Lenny’s gone, I think he went in the summer of 1967, I think it was. Why, after all these years this song about Lenny Bruce?
Dylan: You know, I have no idea!
Herman: Did that song just come to your …
Dylan: I wrote that song in five minutes! It is true, I rode with him once in a taxi cab. I found it was a little strange after he died, that people made such a hero out of him. When he was alive he couldn’t even get a break. And certainly now, comedy is rank, dirty and vulgar and very unfunny and stupid, wishy-washy and the whole thing.
Herman: Some people thought he was rank and dirty and vulgar ..
Dylan: But he was doing this same sort of thing many years ago and maybe some people aren’t realizing that there was Lenny Bruce, who did this before and that is what happened to him. So these people can *do* what they’re doing now. I don’t know.
The lyrics for the song, along with a picture of a 45 release, were included on page 68 of the 2004 Shout Factory box set release, Lenny Bruce – Let The Buyer Beware.
From the official Lenny Bruce website:
“Bruce stands up against all limitations on the flesh and spirit, and someday they are going to crush him for it.” – The New York Post
“Lenny Bruce died from an overdose of police” – Phil Spector
On December 23, 2003, Governor Pataki pardoned Bruce. It was the first posthumous pardon granted in New York state’s history.
Keep up with Bob Dylan Examiner news. Just click on Subscribe above, or follow @DylanExaminer on Twitter. Thanks for your support.