(FYI: in the 90's we called this 'blogging')
In defence of Lenny Bruce - 10/04/17
Two comedians were discussing on a podcast recently, whether or not Lenny Bruce was funny. For some reason it moved me to write this (right this?). This argument is one of the most eternally boring yet habitually persistent complaints of the modern comic. So few people seem to have any idea why this guy is worth the ink that's used in copious amounts (everything is digital now, yet the author will allow the sentence to stand as he is on a train, and not in the mood to edit, alter, prune, nor improve) to ensure his name be secured in the perpetual timeline of comedy legion. Whether or not he was funny is completely beside the point. Was he funny? Obviously. But he was more than that. As he himself said, 'I am not a comedian. I am Lenny Bruce'. That statement alone is so radical, so far ahead of its time, so artistically transcendental, that I would argue we still haven't totally caught up to the concept. Well, he was on drugs, you say. Yes, he certainly was. Which I am sure helped guide him or at least give him the balls. Or to use another anatomical metaphor, it assuaged the restriction of his anus enough to allow his subconscious to totally flourish. A little smack goes a long way.
It took me so many listens to understand Bruce. On my first go, I tossed it in the heap. The first album was Carnegie Hall. It's ok. It's Lenny kicking it into professional high gear. Which is incredible to behold actually. Mostly, during that time, he had begun to work totally free form. That album is essentially going, right, watch this. Then he blasts out a near two hour air tight masterpiece of intelligent flow. A captured artifact that says to the audience, industry, everyone, everywhere, forever, essentially, just so you know, I can actually do it the 'proper way' too. And he does. And considering the context, which is extremely important when listening to his records, that hour is light years ahead of anything that was being laid down at that time.
I know, but is he funny?? That is the question I have yet to answer. Indulge me further as I point out the other areas he broke ground that to this day have hardly been scratched. Notice I never mention his use of dirty language. That is the biggest concern with Bruce. People focus way too much on that as the big door he busted down. To me that fact never comes in to play. Yes, he swore, but as Eddie Murphy would point out years later on his special 'RAW', it's not like he just came out and said, 'Hey, fuck you, suck my dick, good night'. What sticks out to me forever is the way he pushed the medium. Listen to 'comic at the Palladium'.
The closest thing we have to a comic breaking down in such vivid detail the straight up inside baseball of being a comic, to an audience, is probably Stewart Lee. Even he would have to explain to a modern audience the differences, the minute details, of playing a club versus a theatre. From a comics perspective, yes, that is funny. A club comic on stage in front of a theatre crowd, doing hack club stuff, is so acutely funny even now. The detail of that bit. For Gods sake, it is a 20 minute chunk! The sheer mass of it.
It's literature it's so well crafted. Ok, I'm gushing. I just get annoyed. My favourite Bruce records are the absolutely most self indulgent. The ones where he speaks for thirty minutes between laughs. 'Live at The Curran Theatre' is a very obscure record. It's my favourite.
He was going through his trial at the time. He talks to the audience. Just talks. It's a symposium. It's free form. It's his audience. In one section he reads a long letter from an old woman that he has found. Now, remember he is on trial at the time. His fate will be decided by a jury. He points this fact out.
He reads the letter. It's a long racist diatribe. The women prattles on and on through the letter about her various opinions of which they are all bigoted, myopic, right wing, garbage. The letter comes to a close with her adding one last thing, which is to say, oh yeah, and I'm also to begin serving JURY DUTY next week. The crowd goes insane. There was twenty minutes of silence preceding that eruption with everyone in the house not quite sure where it was going. Bruce, staying the course, completely in control throughout. It is just absolutely masterful if you know anything about anything related to comedy.
Back to style: it's so original it couldn't even be stolen in another form.
So, my advice is listen to it. Then listen again. Then, if you're main concern is still just whether or not he's funny? Then it's not for you, which his cool. I suggest remembering one more time that he's already told you, 'I am not a comedian, I am Lenny Bruce'. Now give it one more try.
Hero Worship Deconstructed - 20/04/17
It’s not uncommon for artists to revere other artists, usually dead, or well beyond the point of their immediate surroundings, to an unhealthy degree. Many a car journey I have been in where the conversation between comedians tips to Bill Burr, the Christ like unflappable confidence of Kitson, Louis CK, Ross Noble, Tommy Tiernan, et al. It’s a practice of which I was one of the greatest offenders. I delight in taking part in this excercise. Mention an artists name which sits somewhere on my list of inhuman artistic deites, then watch as my face lights up, an uncontrollable amount of information comes storming out in marching order about the person. In minute detail iwould dissect exactly why they were great, how they were great, how they never floundererd, where they came from, the path, the way, the everything about them.
It’s a practice from which I now ardently abstain. Mostly becasue I realised it is notign more than self flaggellation. the heros we mythologise are nothing more than a result of our own perfectionism. We see oursevles in those heros. Not in the sense that we see a relation which connects us more to the art in which they create. No, we see ourselves as we SHOULD be in our own eyes. Which is to say, perfect.
They are the pure perfect representation of us. They are the diamond we should be, the diamond we strive to become each night. the unreachable, the unattainable thing, that we must become, that we will become, or in our worst moments, will we ever become?
The problem here is that we judge them on their twenty fifth year, well past their ten thousandth hour, usually based on televisual or audio digital representation of their absolute best, up to that moment, captured, possibly even edited, down to it’s absolute perfection. We hold our six or seven years up to that. No wonder we fall short.
Then we do the other thing. We compare our six or seven years to where we percevie them to have been at their six or seven years. We never match up here becasue their six or seven year representation is only available to us in the form that has already been gone over with the glossy romanticised pen of a media hostorian. Even more reasons for our lack of worth.
Hero worship is unhealthy. We only see in them what we should be, not even what they are, becasue we can never know that. How immature are we to beleive that there actually exissts any man onthis planet that os himself not plagued with doubt? Ever notice how we only assimilate the very quakities we lack in ourselves with the hro version of ourselves. Ever notice how the emotions that plague us are the very ones that we are the best at hiding on stage? Because we like them have learned to overcome. I’m don with hero worship. A great man once said, ‘My only war is with myself’. Look to yourself for the answers. Be your own object of desire. It makes for a much more interesting journey. A great men once said, ‘Don’t beleive the hype’.
Just know this: everytime you look to a hero all you are doing is holding yourself to a perfect image which does not actualy exist. It is self harming, it is another form of self shaming. Iused to think only genius can recognise genius. Bitter people disparage it when it comes close becasue to aknowledge it would be to admit what they can never fathom which is to say that they know they do not possess the ability to ever come close to what the perfect man is capable of acheiving.
But the genius or the supremely talented is suceptible to somethign else, which is over awareness of the greatness of the object f ther affinity. What you have to understand is that geniuses are aware of a reality beyond themsevles. The mind is so powerful that existence drags them down. The brain has become so powerful, so over worked, so big, that it threatens to outgrow the body. So an affliction develops wherein the man within whom the brain dwells, begins to feel binded by some force, inhibited.
Neitsche saw this as his pesky little emotions, without which he could easily become the ubermensch. When we see our heros on stage, in their best moments, we see ourselves, as the emotonally stripped ubermensch. We see ourselves as we should be. We superimpose us on them.
This can turn nasty. For the down side to this can result in the harming of the hero in real life. This coudl explain John Lennon. At some point the unhealthy observer could interpret the hero as mocking him on a daily basis. So he then takes the ancient kohan of ‘Kill Buddha’ far too seriously. Take Salieri and Mozart as another example. This is a reare case and at best a mere speculation as most men are of sound enough mind to recognise when they have encroached upon a bondary of genuine insanity.
Critics love to indulge in the idea of the ubermensch more than anyone, becasue they are even below the desperate artists. They themselves are failed artists who have found a cozy nest outside the engagement of the medium while at the same time exacting revenge on the able bodied artists who they feel pushed them out.
The critic is angry at those he reveiws becasue they are perservering in an art form that we all decided whether consciously or not, that they were not cut out for. So, they lash out at us when pertinent, in a passive agressive version of the homocidal exaction mentioned earlier.
The other side of their affliction comes in the form of their exuberantly gushing nature towards the untouchable picture of perfection. They love to polish the shining balls of anyone they perceive to be flawless as it serves two purposes: one, the artists in question serves as their own proxy of perfection as they should have been, an affliction they share with the perservering artists, even though the critic is a quitter, which probably made them quit in the first palce. And two, it serves as a passive slap to those of us who have not reached perfection in their eyes.
The critic is a failed artist so they are as susceptible to the illness f perfecionism as the artists only the critic never defeated it, they slunk away, and quit. They have dedicated their lives to showing us all that perfection is the only level of attainment worth reaching, and that the rest of us should quit if we haven’t reached it on the night they were in the crowd.
That is the critic, but I digress.
The artist should ot buy into this. As Isaid before it is an unhealthy practise that at it’s core is so pathetic it is embarrassing to admit ever having partook.
How does one kill budha, though? How does one begin a process of abstention from worship? How does one apostotise from the relgion of hero worship?
The process is simple.
Engage with the self.
Imagine you are at a cocktail party full of your heros. You are walking around mouth agog at all of them. they engage with you. They speak to you. You ask them question upon question. They answer you in full. Long detailed answers, satiating your every desire about their process, development, bad shows, hard times, everything.
You will find none of it takes you any closer to your own personal enlightenment.
There is only one solution.
First, fire a gun in the air, and tell each one of them to beat it. Kick them all out of the room. No hard feelings fellows, you are all brilliant, but I need to think for a while.
Now, go stand in front of the mirror for as long as it takes until you start laughing.
Occassionally you might invite one or two of them back to the party. To say hi, to an old friend. See how they have been getting along. Something incredible may start to happen. Suddenly, they are human. You start to notice how they move, you start to see them as men.
The critics voice is less resonant to you because it is echoing a philosophy which you have unsubscribed. Their criticism reverberates against itself within a framework which has no bearing on the quality of the product. They can only critique you against yourself now. That’s when you know you have them. When their only salvos left in the chamber are to pit you against young you. Now you know they love you. They are whiny little imps at the end of the bar that you never took home to fuck. They whimper and cry, until they realize that they love you so much that they hate you. How much of their lives they have spent first trying to break you, then submitting, then loathing their submission, as you represent the thing that cast them out, then loving, then sef rebellion as you refused to aknowlegde the worth of their praise just as you refused to aknowlegde the owrth pf their art.
Critics only love the ones who were there before them. Everyone else represents their class of which cast them out.
This has digressed into an indictment on the critic more than anything for a very specific reason.
The critic, like the flawless hero, represents nothing more than a projection of an aspect of the self. Within the artist is a voice that says you should be great while right next to him is a voice that screams bloody murder, you are not. Replete with a litany of reasons as to why not. The critic in their best moments represents this to the artist. The tendency is to lash out at the critic, the voice.
To lash out at your voice can be good. Tell it to shut it’s fucking mouth. This helps. To lash out at the real life anatomical critic feels very nice. To beat real flesh while simultaneously telling the voice to silence is divine although could lead to jail time. Plus, it is a temporary solution to a greater problem.
The road to salvation in the mind of the artist is to ‘Kill Buddha’.
What the perfectionist never sees is his real self. Of all the illusion he puts before himself of who he should be, he never sees himself as he is now. Others see it. Which is why the gifted artists can progress, though afflicted. Although it is disconcerting for the observers to see the taut stare of a man who is perennially having a mental civil war.
See yourself as you are, with no fictitious image to reference.
With no expectation this is no image of perfection. With no image there is no castagating voice. There is only creation, a never ending, never beginning act of love.
The eyes soften as the soldiers lay down their arms inside the mind of the man.
He collapses on the ground where he sleeps for days.
A long, peaceful rest.