Monday, February 28, 2005


1964 was a great year for me. Age had not yet wreaked its havoc on my face and body. I lived in a pension (boarding house) in downtown San Francisco that catered to foreign ladies. I was resting up from an 18 month tour in Viet Nam but figured to go back. In the meantime, I played around, did some civic work and worked in the Johnson presidential campaign.

1964 was a lousy year for Lenny Bruce. He spent days in court. Police were in attendance at his every performance. He had to spend much time in San Francisco because that’s where his trials were. But in the city there was only one club with the courage to hire him, the Off Broadway which, if memory serves, sat no more than 50 or 60.

I went there often, dragging friends with me. Bruce was amazing. He must have been the greatest extemporaneous story teller that ever lived. He never did his act. If he had been in court that day, his entire performance would be his interpretation of what had happened in that court. From his character sketches of the participants, his common sense evaluations of the laws, and his insights into what was going on, the presentation was brilliant.

It was a lecture but it was a lecture that kept the packed house laughing. Just as remarkable, it was structured. There was a premise, then he would carry us on until he wrapped everything up in his conclusion. Did I say amazing?

Everything had the ring of honesty. He’d tell us why the police and prosecutors and judges were doing what they were doing but he’d tell it from their side, very sympathetically. I don’t think he did that because there were police in the audience.

On that subject, Bruce several times mentioned that he had to tape every performance in case he had to defend himself again in court. I have often wondered if those tapes still exist. If they do, they are worth millions.

I was very sad that he died and the way he died. He had sworn to me, (as an audience member, I didn’t know him personally) that he didn’t use drugs. Perhaps drug use helped him to reach the heights of clarity that he achieved. I don’t know. But I would compare his efforts to the work of George Orwell in Orwell’s autobiographical books.

Rest in peace.


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