Lenny Bruce—The Berkeley Concert

The Berkeley Concert

(Lenny Bruce, 2LP, Bizarre/Reprise 2XS 6329, February 17, 1969)

December 12, 1965
Berkeley Community Theatre, CA

Executive Producers: Frank Zappa and Herb Cohen
Recording and Engineering: John Judnich
Cover Art: Basset Hand Graphics
Art Direction: Cal Schenkel

Lenny Bruce voice


Notes & Comments

Lenny Bruce—The Berkeley Concert

Release Info

Executive Producers: Frank Zappa and Herb Cohen
Digital Remastering by Bill Inglot and Ken Perry/ K-Disc
Recording and Engineering: John Judnich
Cover Art: Basset Hand Graphics
Art Direction: Cal Schenkel
Published by The Lenny Bruce Estate and Douglas Music Productions (BMI)

This album is being released with the cooperation of
The Douglas International Corp and the LENNY BRUCE ESTATE

Why Berkeley?

FZ, interviewed by Dick Lawson, ZigZag, July, 1969

Who else are you recording apart from Beefheart?

We have Wild Man Fischer, a group called Alice Cooper, Judy Henske and Jerry Yester, we just bought 20 hours of Lenny Bruce tapes, we have Lord Buckley—the police did him under in New York a few years ago—and he was a sort of strange type of comedian—definitely an underground comedian of his time which was the '50s. We also have a documentary album on the Kennedy assassination—the last one—which is very interesting. It's got all the actual tapes of the assassination, interviews with Sirhan in his jail cell, interviews with the witnesses telling what they testified in court and what the police told them to say.

From: Christopher Ekman

Does anybody know why FZ picked that Bruce concert to immortalize?

From: Biffyshrew

I don't think he had much choice; it's just the tape he happened to get his hands on. (Have you heard the Lord Buckley album FZ put out? Some of the tracks are so badly recorded and full of bad splices that they're virtually unintelligible—FZ released 'em anyway.)

The Liner Notes

It is typical of the way in which this society anything with which it disagrees the Lenny Bruce was always referred to as a "dirty" comic.

The first thing anybody found out about him, if they took the trouble to listen, was that he didn't have to say "fuck" in order to be funny. The second thing they found out, if they listened a little harder, was that Lenny Bruce was not a comedian at all, as he said himself the night he was busted at the Jazz Workshop in San Francisco. When he returned to the club after being taken to the city jail, booked and let out on bail, he told the audience "I'm sorry if I'm not very funny tonight, but I'm not a comedian, I'm Lenny Bruce."

And 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.

Lenny Bruce said that this society is insanely paradoxical. That they call it the Hall of Justice but the only justice is in the halls. That the law is beautiful, the only trouble is the people who are in charge of it. He went ahead in his determined, logical brilliant analysis of the laws and he fought the judges and the district attorneys and the newspapers and the trade press, that incredibly hypocritical house organ for vested interest.

Lenny Bruce was the prisoner of truth and no society will tolerate the voice which tells it the truth about itself because to face that truth is to admit it and be forced to change.

So it is easier to refer to Lenny Bruce as a dirty comic, as a convicted junkie and menace to youth. What he was, really, was a menace to THEM.

Lenny Bruce was a brilliant legal mind and a terrible lawyer. That's what defeated him in the end in the courts, even though he was victorious in his appeals on his obscenity conviction in New York and the one in Chicago was automatically reversed.

Lenny's problem with the law was that he believed in it. He had a fantasy he used to speak of and which is in his book, "The Essential Lenny Bruce" (Ballantine), about a party they would all give him sometime, all the cops and the lawyers and the DAs and the judges because "Lenny you never lost faith in the law, you always believed in it." He did believe, with all his heart. He believed that if only he could get the cops and the DAs and the Judges to obey the law he would be saved. That's what made him a bad lawyer.

He would walk out on stage sometimes with the transcript of his New York trial (he does it in the film, the only performance he ever made) and discuss its hundreds of errors, the inconsistencies and the fact that he was always getting busted because some cop went to see him perform and then went to court and testified what Lenny had said and the cop "did my act lousy. "

"I found out in New York that I was judged by people who never saw my show," Lenny said. They reduced his show to paper and then read it to the Grand Jury. "My art is public speaking and the cop did my act and he's not a good comic!"

Nelson Algren, in a brilliant talk, once told how, after he had written "Man with the Golden Arm" he was praised by all the critics. Then he wrote "A Walk on the Wild Side" and they panned him. "They discovered I wasn't kidding," he explained. They had also discovered his importance.

Lenny was greeted by everybody at first, except an assortment of prudes, as a great comic satirist but then he began to be more of a serious satirist and they couldn't take it. A society which can tolerate the TV serial of bombings in Viet Nam, the female impersonations of Milton Berle, the sadism of Mayor Daley and Joe Pyne and the rest of the scenery along Desolation Row couldn't take Lenny Bruce. He hit too close to home.

So they did the thing they always do when the voice of protest penetrates too deeply. They killed him. Those whom the Gods would destroy, they first make mad. They kept saying they had made Lenny mad but they really hadn't. They just insisted he must be mad to continue fighting. They drove him to demonical concentration on his fight. They make him into Joseph K. in Kafka's "The Trial," blindly and determinedly struggling to get before the right judge. At the end of "The Trial " Kafka wrote "Where was the Judge whom he had never seen? Where was the High Court to which he had never penetrated?"

Lenny kept trying. And it became more like "The Trial" where there is a verdict of "ostensible acquittal" under which, the accused is told, it is possible "for the acquitted man to go straight home from the Court and find officers already waiting to arrest him again . . . the case begins all over again, but again, it is possible to secure an ostensible acquittal. One must again apply all one's energies to the case and never give in."

Lenny's first bust was in Philadelphia and, dig!, the case was dropped! He claimed in a news broadcast on TV that he'd been offered a deal if he'd come up with the cash. In any case, the arrest was for possession of a medicinal drug for which he had prescriptions. That set off the syndrome. He got it next in San Francisco (tried and acquitted to the eternal glory of that city) then Chicago, then L.A. and then New York.

It got so bad that they used to roust him from the L.A. club and never even book him. Just take him down. When he returned to his first San Francisco date after his acquittal there, he had a house half full of cops in and out of uniform. There were squad cars parked all around the joint. Lenny look one look at the audience—half of them on the taxpayers payroll and expense account and said all the Magic Words in the first 60 seconds and then went on with the show.

His famous Los Angeles narcotics conviction was on the testimony of a sheriff's squad member who was himself at that time under suspicion for smuggling narcotics and was eventually arrested, tried, convicted and jailed for a narcotics offense. But the society in that city—media being its representative—wouldn't treat the Bruce case as a serious perversion of justice. Had he lived he might still have worn on his appeal on that one as well. He made a good case for being framed.

Lenny's whole point was really epitomized in his troubles with lawyers. He didn't want to be defended on the basis that he didn't do it. He wanted, rather, to show that what he had indeed said was not obscene. In an incredible dialogue with the arresting officer on the steps of the paddy wagon in San Francisco Lenny, busted for using the word "cocksuckers," asked the cop if he had ever used the word. What cool!

The most incredible thing about Lenny was not that he was so brilliantly funny, but that he was funny at all under the circumstances of his persecution and in the corollary circumstances of being unable to work most of the time, for the essence of the satirist is to keep the wit sharp by constant use.

"Lenny, you're honest!" the head waiter at on Broadway shouted the night Lenny returned to San Francisco. And that honesty was the key. He was frightening because of that honesty. In a town where the top columnist, Herb Caen, has a power Walter Winchell alone ever exercised in a major American city, Lenny told him to his face from the stage in full view of 308 people that he was chickenshit.

The outrage against Lenny really was caused by his honesty and by his unerring instinct. He touched everyone of us. Lenny outgrew night clubs. He look on that whole society. Entire classes of law students attended his performances. The night he did the Berkeley concert, the audience was dotted with lawyers, professors, poets and authors. All by himself, with little advance notice, he drew 2000 people to that hall, which is more than any other comic could have done, I suspect.

For a long time it was clear that Bruce essentinily was religious and a religious symbol rather than a comedian. It was not surprising that his posters are displayed on the walls of the faithful and now and then in their windows like the pictures of Jesus in The Latin American ghettos.

He was afraid of the younger generation, worried that he could not communicate with them knowing how TV had made sophisticates out of six-year-old girls. But the oncoming wave of long-haired rebels picked up on him at the end. He had some at his Berkeley concert and he had more when he played the Fillmore a few months later. And now he had the true status of a myth and a martyr with them that the pretenders like Malcolm Boyd convince TIME that they have.

Lenny didn't have to say the controversial words to be funny. Religions, Inc. and Comic at the Palladium will rank as classic American satires as long as we exist. But he did use these words, taking from them by his use their magic power to do harm to anyone but him. He used them and he was funny with them or without them. More than funny. He was a teacher and the greatest thing he ever taught, from which the philosophy grows, is that there is only what is. And it's paradoxical and somehow dramatically perfect that he should at the same time insist on the reality of the legal dream, the reality of what, in the law, ought to be. The "what is" of the law is deals in inequity and chicanery and legal fictions. Lenny wouldn't buy that. He insisted that the law be taken seriously. That was his trouble.

A library of Lenny Bruce tapes would raise the educational potential of the national school system to a considerable degree. They should all be made available. This is the Berkeley concert, the first Bruce full concert performance issued unexpurgated.

Ralph Gleason.

Back Cover

Lenny Bruce died August 3, 1966


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