Ladies and gentlemen - Lenny Bruce!! by Albert Goldman
New York : Random House, 1974. First Edition. Hardcover. 565 pages ; Photographs ; 25 cm. $10.00 dust jacket with a few rips and tears around the edges. Pages are clean and unmarked. Binding is firm.
Once in every generation a man appears who seems intent on exploring to the bottom the fantasy system of his day: the shadowy network of dreams, desires and delusions that most people allow to lick around the edge of consciousness without ever once daring to act them out. Such a man was Lenny Bruce, the legendary comedian, social satirist, free-speech crusader and martyr to the uptight social and moral repressions of the Age of Conformity.
Fantasy was Lenny's essence. His genius lay in his capacity to articulate his fantasies in comedy and live them to the hilt in life. By profession a stand-up comic, a spivily handsome, jive-talking denizen of the dapper decadent nightworld of the fifties—where jazz rhymed with junk and the test for manhood was the willingness to live as though every moment were your last—Lenny revolutionized American humor by making it jump to the bebop tempo of his surrealistic imagination. He took American life and politics—Ike and Nixon, Billy Graham and Cardinal Spellman, Lawrence Welk and a Mafia hood—and jumbled them up in a hilarious and mind-blowing collage that paved the way for everything that has happened since in American comedy, from Dr. Strangelove and Portnoy's Complaint to Woody Allen and Cheech & Chong.
Using obscenity as a miner uses dynamite to blow up the deeply impacted prejudices and repressions of middle-class society, Lenny eventually provoked the wrath of the Catholic Church, the police and a lot of people who knew nothing at all about him except that he had a dirty mouth. Arrested as many as seven times in a single city, he eventually abandoned his stage career to become a free-speech crusader, employing a score of famous attorneys in a history-making series of trials that ended finally with the defendant exonerated but the man utterly destroyed. Dying of an overdose at the age of forty, Lenny Bruce soon became a sainted martyr of the counterculture and a commercial property ripe for exploitation by Broadway and Hollywood.
Behind the comic, the crusader and the martyr, however, there lay always a far more fascinating and ultimately more significant figure: the authentic embodiment of all those fictions and films about the Underground Man, the existential hero of our times. Lenny Bruce was just such a hero dedicated to acting out every fantasy that obsessed his own uptight middle-class consciousness. A moralist and preacher on the stage, offstage he became an immoralist and a vicariously criminal figure who would stop at nothing in his headlong round-the-clock pursuit of his obsessional impulses. First among these was drugs, which he consumed in epic proportions; next was sex, which he preferred in the setting of the spontaneous, crazily staged orgy. Not least was revenge, which he took first on his wife and then on others by setting them up for dope busts with the very same cops who had once busted Lenny. Not beyond good and evil but morally ambivalent to a radical degree, Lenny Bruce acted out the American subconscious by striving simultaneously to be the best and the worst of men.
In his own day, Lenny's life was a mystery unpenetrated by even his closest friends. Only today and after years of exhaustive research can his incredible story be told. The story of a naive, sweet-natured, stage-struck kid, a lonely only child grown up in a small town on Long Island, who gradually curdled into the acid-tongued hero of the hipster world of the L.A. strip bars and the big city nightclubs, where the boss was the Mob and the payment was always in cash. Here you have the story of his lifelong love-hate affair with Honey, the ultimate sex fantasy of a nice Jewish boy—a voluptuous red-haired stripper with a taste for violence, drugs and other ladies. Here you have Lenny's secret model, Joe Ancis, "the funniest man in America," a comic genius too scared to step onstage. Here is the real underground of the fifties —at play in the circles of hell. And here, too, are all those famous stories and routines that made Lenny a legend long before his death. All the trials for obscenity and drugs are described and analyzed, all the mad strategies of the ultimate operator caught in the ultimate trap unfolded to their full and surrealistic length.
The frothing torrent of funny words and crazy pranks and only when Lenny leaps out of a hotel window high on;hallucinogens and comes crashing down a broken and ruined man, living out his last days in a paranoid's stronghold on top of a Hollywood mountain, surrounded by harem of slavishly devoted groupies and left alone to die as he had lived—seated, naked, on a toilet, clumsily injecting in his badly scarred arm a fatal dose of "God's medicine."
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