suggestive language

The documentary Swear To Tell the Truth has given Lenny Bruce a higher contemporary profile even as the compact disc (a format that didn’t dominate until 25 years after his death) continues to restore his recorded work to print, including some LPs that were relatively scarce at the time of their original release. The Knitting Factory’s Knit Classics label has supplied one of the remaining pieces by way of their acquisition of the Alan Douglas catalogue. Even though To Is a Preposition, Come Is a Verb was cobbled together years after his death in 1966 in some ways the collection is one ideal for neophyte and enthusiast alike since it contains several crucial recordings available nowhere else.

Lenny made his aversion to comics who repeated their act word for word without variation clear in “The Palladium.” He was disinterested in performing bits the same exact way twice, even though his Fantasy deal was secured because the proposed first LP was completely scripted by Lenny and his writing partner, William Karl Thomas (which is why the early Fantasy albums contain such obvious splices from different performances). “The Perverse Act” is the only piece on To Is a Preposition, Come Is a Verb that was reconstructed and it is one of the few bits that requires some annotation (since hotels with only one bathroom on each floor are no longer commonplace). The surrealist conclusion of the bit is brilliant.

The collection contains a taste of Lenny’s philosophical perspective: “Would You Sell Out Your Country?” (taken from a noticeably later period in his life), “Dirty Toilet” and “A White White Woman And A Black Black Woman,” a bit that came out of a conversation with William Karl Thomas. The pinnacle of this genius is “Tits And Ass” in which Lenny skillfully strips the facade of Las Vegas and the language of polite society in one elegant move (incidentally one of Lenny’s better characterizations). “To Come” is simply immaculate in its timing. The less serious material includes the self-deprecating take on his notoriety, “I Just Do It And That’s All” and a childhood anecdote, “Huberts Museum.” Lenny, who seldom told jokes, reprises the joke he used to close The Carnegie Hall Concert, “Completely Exposed.”

“A Pretty Bizarre Show” was probably never intended to be anything other than an observational, off the cuff bit. It became the basis of the legal problems that eventually broke him. The logical continuation, “Blah Blah Blah” is one of Lenny’s perfect recorded moments. The bit is the description of his arrest — “They said it was vernacular for a favorite homosexual practice, a ten-letter word... that’s really chic, that’s two four-letter words and a preposition... that relates to any contemporary chick I know, or would know, or would marry” — and court appearance, incredulously realizing that the judge, prosecutor and police “sorta liked saying “blah blah blah” — because they said it a few extra times!”

The disc is a bargain even if, at 24 minutes, the single disc could have easily accommodated material from the second Douglas LP, The Essential Lenny Bruce: Politics, since the Douglas LPs were posthumous compilations with no predevised structure. To Is a Preposition, Come Is a Verb contains edited versions of three of the four bits that Lenny had released as a 10" EP, Recording Submitted in Evidence In The San Francisco Obscenity Trial, March 1962. Given that Alan Douglas had access to the originals it would have been nice to see the complete performance restored.

©2001 Rodney E Griffith. All rights reserved.