Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Lenny Bruce, Picasso, Christine O’Donnell and the gates of hell

Picasso: (Children don't try this at home)

Lenny Bruce: (Children don't try this at home)
Once upon a time a  proud samurai of legendary ferocity approached an elderly zen master famous for his wisdom and asked him if heaven and hell existed.

The ancient monk looked at the warrior with withering contempt written all over his wizened face and sneered, "How dare an ignorant dolt like you waste my time with idiotic questions like that?" The offended Samurai, blind with rage, began to draw out his great katana from its scabbard, fully intent on killing the impertinent monk.

On hearing the sound of metal on metal as the sword was being drawn, the monk calmly said, "Listen, I hear the sound of the gates of hell being opened", whereupon, the samurai, finding enlightenment, bowed humbly before the master and returned his sword to its scabbard.

On hearing the sound of metal on metal as the sword was being sheathed, the monk smiled and softly said, "Listen, I hear the sound of the gates of heaven being opened"
Classic Zen Tale (Children don't try this at home)
David Seaton's News Links
The other day I followed a link and found myself watching a chain of something like 20 stand up comedy routines with a lot of funny people like George Carlin, Chris Rock, Greg Giraldo, Sarah Silverman, and a hugely talented Korean-American, named Margaret Cho, that I'd never seen before... and in the middle of them all was a short monologue by Lenny Bruce. It was obvious to me and probably to the person who stuck the whole series together, that these performers were all the artistic children of Lenny Bruce.

With all their talent, however, these comedians reminded me of the painters that tried to follow or be influenced by Pablo Picasso.  But Picasso had  "squeezed the lemons" of western figurative painting so dry, that all that there was left for other painters to do after he got finished with painting was abstract expressionism and pop-art. He revolutionized painting and sucked all the air out of it.  The law of diminishing returns has set in for stand up comedy too. Après Lenny le déluge.

Bruce suffered like a romantic poet from the 19th century, to see him or to hear him was to participate in that suffering, with his humor as the catharsis. I could say, without moving a muscle in my face, that Lenny Bruce "died for our sins". His comedy sent him to jail, he broke all the rules because he could, because he had heart, and because there were rules that could be broken.

However, it was one thing to say "fuck" on stage in the 1950s and go to jail for it and quite another thing to say it today, when even little children use the word. There is no liberation in the word anymore, only something of the monotony of soldier-speak. How could anybody get the sort of reaction today that Lenny Bruce got in the 1950s. It's hard to imagine something having that effect today: to  have riots break out, videos pulled from Youtube and a performer banned from TV and thus becoming a viral, forbidden fruit. Except for Youtube, that was what happened with Lenny Bruce.

Lenny Bruce was enriching, but I think there is too much comedy today. Finally all the edgy irony is deadening not enriching. Bruce was enriching because, not in spite, of the intensely square atmosphere of the period. Too many people act "hip" today... a bit like Thomas Frank's "Conquest of Cool", there is something shallow and phoney about it. Bruce was deep, in part because of the hostility he faced so bravely.

Probably the only thing that would shock people today like Bruce shocked people in the 50s and 60s would be if a lightening-witted, beautiful,  deep america, white woman did routines about black people etc, similar to Chris Rock's. To say out loud, with the same cutting edge of a Carlin, Cho and Silverman, the sort of things that Sarah Palin only says in code. I think the Tea Party is searching for something like this, but the closest they've come till now is Christine O’Donnell. If ever they find the real thing, listen, and you'll hear the gates of hell opening. DS


Tom Degan's Daily Rant said...

I agree with you about Lenny Bruce. There will never be another one like him. Don't hold your breath.

Tom Degan

bailey said...

That's interesting David, no more taboos. All the mini sub-cultures; lifted, exploited, not to mention enjoyed by most of mainstream culture now...

Anonymous said...

Please give us the link that you followed.. We want to laugh/ cry too

David Seaton's Newslinks said...

Just type in those names in Youtube and you'll find plenty of stuff.