CD Shut Your Mouth and Open Your Mind: The Rise & Reckless Fall of Lenny Bruce (CD 15790221),
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Shut Your Mouth and Open Your Mind: The Rise & Reckless Fall of Lenny Bruce
1. Story of a Boy and His Father Who Spoiled Him, The
2. Funniest Man in the World, The
4. So Sick and Dirty
6. Trials and Tribulations
7. Who Are the Thought Police?
Manufacturer Part Number (MPN): 9007
Keith Rodway; Amanda Thompson
Personnel: Lenny Bruce (vocals); Joel Fort, Arthur Schaeffer, Sally Marr, Steve Allen , Honey Bruce, Kenneth Tynan, Nat Hentoff (vocals).
Reader: Robin Clifford.
At first glance, the premise of a 70-plus-minute audio biography on Lenny Bruce may seem irresistible to enthusiasts of the controversial comic and First Amendment martyr. But what 2003's Shut Your Mouth and Open Your Mind: The Rise & Reckless Fall of Lenny Bruce possesses in potential, it lacks in execution. Keith Rodway's somewhat disjointed text -- which is narrated by Robin Clifford -- is presented in seven primarily chronological chapters. Complementing -- at times distractingly so -- the recitation is a recurring musical motif. The anachronistic light techno pop is completely out of context. However, its cardinal sin is that it is almost unbearably annoying. While factually accurate, the presentation is heavy on the more salacious details of Bruce's life and subsequent death. Conversely, comparatively little is examined pertaining to his drug and sex-fueled madness, which he then turned into an artistic/political statement. To its credit, "The Story of a Boy and His Father Who Spoiled Him" devotes a fair amount to Bruce's early life and the unfettered insolence that paved his chosen pathway to indulgence. Scattered throughout are a variety of vintage soundbites and clips -- some of which feature Bruce on-stage -- in extremely low-fidelity vinyl recordings. In fact, both the comments from Sally Marr, Bruce's mother and particularly those of his wife, Honey Bruce, are practically inaudible thanks to the copious surface noise. "The Funniest Man in the World" commences as a teenaged Bruce served for two years (1941-1943) during World War II on the U.S.S. Brooklyn as a gunner's mate. Although when returning stateside he reunited with Marr, she was reticent to encourage him to become an actor or standup comedian. Bruce's infamous debut public appearance on the Arthur Godfrey-hosted Amateur Hour radio show -- described here as a "false start" -- is followed by the crucial meeting with Joe Ancis, who became a mentor to Bruce. Ancis' ability to improvise and work off an audience, as opposed to simply retelling well-worn jokes, would become a crucial device in Bruce's comedic arsenal.
As the title suggests, "Honey" is dedicated to the mutually impaired relationship between Bruce and his wife. Even as he could not stand to live with her, he was equally tormented by the prospect of being without her. This would lead Bruce to nark out his own wife -- who was working as a stripper in Hawaii at the time. His inability to sustain a meaningful relationship heavily informed his work with a new level of cynicism, if not downright detestation. Bruce's burgeoning rise to national and international infamy is traced on "So Sick and Dirty" with a retelling of his true-to-life account of the breakthrough gig at Ann's 440 in San Francisco. In this segment, noted British drama critic Kenneth Tynan speaks about his impressions of Bruce's scathingly raw performance style, one in which there are no stones left unturned and absolutely no taboos that remained unexplored. Of course, it was not long before that ultimately led to being "Busted!" As if he didn't have enough problems, Bruce's considerable infatuation with narcotics made him an easy target, while his legal "Trials and Tribulations" were taking a collective toll on his creativity and, frankly, his sanity. The concluding "Who Are the Thought Police?" is one of the more revealing tracks. An audio vrit montage exposes the artist's increasing unwillingness to perform his old schtick and his blatant "tryin' to make a buck" mindset. His rapid decline came shortly after an arrest at the Caf Au Go-Go in N.Y.C. This kicked off one of the costliest obscenity legal battles to have ever graced the American annals of jurisprudence. It also meant that Bruce would become and remain a pauper for the rest of his life. None of the all-too-gory details are spared, including actualities from his flatmate, famed audio engineer John Judnich, who found Bruce's body on August 3, 1966. But it is "Dirty Lenny" who gets the final word with a quick joke about finding salvation through the admission of frivolous sins. ~ Lindsay Planer
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