Which One's Red?
Red Lenny: The Forgotten Band, part two
A year ago Spare Bricks brought you part one of the history of Red Lenny, the notorious band from the small Cambridge suburb of Forkhamshireton-on-Trentcamyorkentonshirebridgewickwhydontyoujustgopissuparopenham. Named by founder Ralph "Sy" Barnett after two of his favorite comedians, Red Skelton and Lenny Bruce (although some sources claim it's Red Bruce and Lenny Skelton, a little-known Catskills duo known for their climactic "cat shaving" bit), Red Lenny languished in the British music scene for several years, unable to book paying gigs because of persistent tardiness and utter musical ineptitude. But it was the Sixties, and as long as the audiences stayed stoned out of their collective gourd, musical ineptitude was no problem, and, in fact, could be perceived as a plus. Unfortunately, once the Lennies started to amass a following, Barnett had made a habit of extensive experimentation with acid, spending far too much time in the lab with beakers and Bunsen burners. The band was able to deny his problem for some time, but when he moved on to bases too, all bets were off. Before long he was trying 'hard' stuff like organic metallocarborane synthesis, nuclear magnetic resonance analyses, and heroin.
Finally, the Barnett's unreliability became too great for the rest of the group, and one night they decided not to bring him to a gig at all. Barnett was crushed, and started asking mutual friends to ask the other bandmembers--drummer Vic Anson, keyboardist Dickie Knight, and recidivist/thug Sven "Codger" Walters--if they were still mad at him. Barnett kept coming to shows anyway, staring at the rest of the band from the front row, giggling every time they made eye contact with him, and passing them little notes that read "Will U take me back? If so, check this box." Dismayed by the chronic rejection, Barnett made one final, desperate cry for help--he locked himself in a hotel room at the Chateau Marmont with 175 pounds of Hostess Twinkies and attempted to eat himself to death. He would have succeeded, too, except that years of chemical experiments without proper safety equipment had altered his metabolism so dramatically that instead of dying from acute hyperglycemia he slipped into a deep coma, where he remained for some 15 years, allowing the massive doses of carcinogens in the yellow dye #11 to slowly work their evil magic. Oddly, hotel management did nothing, having endured years of rock star shenanigans, and instead chose to promote the room as the "Has-Been-Rock-Star-Covered-in-Twinkies Suite."
Meanwhile, the Lennies pressed on. They hired a dashing young guitarist named Dan Gaylord to fill Barnett's shoes, and when they saw that Barnett's stage costume fit him so well, they asked him to start performing with the band, too. Their manager concocted an extended European tour, entitled "Red Lenny's British Invasion," designed to give them maximum exposure to continental audiences and to establish the group's identity without Barnett. Unfortunately, the first stop was Brussels, and as soon as they heard the word 'invasion,' the Belgians basically packed up and fled. The band simply couldn't overcome such an inauspicious beginning, and the tour was cancelled after a week of wandering the countryside looking for someone to play for. They did, however, play a highly successful week of shows for more than 10,000 field mice, although the event was marred by several incidents of "bad bark trips."
Meanwhile, "Codger" Walters' unhealthy fixation on Dick Clark continued, stemming from Clark's cancellation of what was sure to have been Red Lenny's breakthrough appearance on "American Bandstand." Walters started talking about wanting to produce a snuff film called "Codger Walters Presents A Codger Walters Film of Codger Walters in Faces of Dick Clark's Death Starring Codger Walters and the Lifeless, Bloated Body of Dick Clark (with music by Codger Walters, performed by Red Lenny featuring Codger Walters)." He made several inquiries at Regent Street A&M's film school, and several more inquiries around the London arts scene, and a few inquiries around the London mob, just for kicks.
Finding no takers, Walters eventually lost interest in the project. But he had made valuable contacts in the film community. One such contact was a maker of dull, ambiguous independent films named Pierre Carcassone, who was looking for a pop band to exploit. After buying Walters a few drinks, he convinced him that Red Lenny should invest in Carcassone's upcoming series of films: Le Deep Throat, Debbi Does Bologne-sur-Mer, and Henri the Fun-Loving Hippy Gets the Clap. These films were financial failures--or so Carcassone told the band--and they ended up losing their shirts (except for Dan Gaylord, who technically lost Barnett's shirt).
The only saving grace was that the shrewd Frenchman had convinced the Lennies to score the films themselves, which meant that they had recorded some two hours of bad French porn soundtrack music. In an effort to salvage their investment, their dignity, and their flagging careers, the Lennies inked a deal with Plowshare Records to release the soundtrack albums. The music was dreadful, and the sales figures were abysmal, but the Lennies' agent was now able to promote them as "Plowshare Recording Artists Red Lenny," and secured them a place on a tour of Masonic Lodges in Northwestern Scotland. Things were clearly looking up.
Though the group's music was largely unlistenable, the drunken Scots couldn't be bothered to care. The tour spawned a live album Boogie Oogie Oogie, including the avant garde track "Sissypuss," in which Walters locked a rabid cat into an upright piano and recorded the resulting chaos for 20 minutes. During a rare visit back home, Red Lenny's Vic Anson and Codger Walters stopped in on a show by their old Cambridgeshire mates, Pink Floyd, who were starting to amass a cult following. Impressed by the experimental concept pieces and the daring use of stage props, Walters was inspired to create his own epic masterpiece. He holed up for two months to work on a new batch of songs, then ultimately gave up and recycled some of the group's old porn numbers (such as "Backdoor Man," "No, In the Other Ear," and the crowd favorite "Boom Chick-a Wah Wah") under new titles that fit his concept of an all-nude rock revue. As an experiment in spontaneous art, the band passed out rolls of toilet paper, cans of Cheez Whiz, and air horns to the audience, encouraging them to use them in creative ways during the show. The climax (ahem) of the suite was when the band dropped 150 inflatable sex dolls on the unsuspecting audience, to rave reviews. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the dolls were never returned, and within a week the stunt had to be eliminated entirely.
1976 also saw the release of concert film Red Lenny Live in Istanbul. Due to a scheduling mix-up, the band arrived to the gig six hours late. Unfortunately, their stage props (such as an enormous pair of furry pink handcuffs, a giant puppet wearing nothing but a leather G-string adorned with 3-inch stainless steel studs, and 1,000 paper pimp hats for the audience to wear) had arrived on time, and the audience had exhausted themselves and left. Nonetheless, the intrepid Lennies played the concert in the empty (and slightly soiled) arena, and released the film on the art-house circuit. Musical numbers were intercut with candid footage of the band arguing about what sort of toppings they wanted on their pizza, tuning and re-tuning their instruments (sometimes even to the correct pitches), and emotionally abusing a Sri Lankan prostitute named Gunsasekera who Codger Walters had been trying break up with for several weeks.
The tours and the film gained Red Lenny a certain degree of notoriety, and they managed to book a tour of the Eastern US for the summer of 1977. After playing a series of shows in New York City in late June, in which they handed out fireworks along with the Cheez Whiz and begged the audience to 'create your own chaos' during the performance (as immortalized in the legendary Post headline "Morons Play Rock Shows, Get Sued"), they took a break for the week of July 4th to recuperate and nurse their severe burns. Dan Gaylord got his hair washed for the first time in six years. Vic Anson competed in a pie-eating contest, but was disqualified when he refused to eat anything but the filling. Dickie Knight married a goat, although the union was later annulled when the goat turned out to be Pamela des Barres. Walters punched himself in the face for six days. Rested and slightly charred, Red Lenny headed north to Canada, where their show in Montreal quickly turned into a disastrous food fight, then a riot. Montreal mayor Jean Drapeau called for a moratorium on all rock concerts for six months, and the story made international headlines. Red Lenny was denounced by a number of celebrities and advocacy groups, including the LAAFA League (Ladies Against Artificial Food Assaults), Richard Nixon (who called Red Lenny "despicable free-loving hippies"), Jerry Falwell ("deviants of the worst kind--i.e., ones who won't let me watch"), and Redd Foxx ("bunch of crazy honkies").
But the unkindest cut of all came from Dick Clark, who went off on an unprecedented, unscripted, profanity-laden tirade in the middle of that week's American Bandstand. He called on all decent people of America to wage a holy war against Red Lenny and everything they stood for. (Clark also called for a holy grudge-bearing against Kraft Foods, makers of Cheez Whiz and other fine snacks.) Clark then went on to dedicate "Muskrat Love" to Jenny in Wichita, from Stan.
While Red Lenny reeled in utter disbelief at the tempest that surrounded them, the tightly wound Codger Walters finally snapped. He started stockpiling small arms and bomb-making equipment in a secluded shack in upstate New York. He continued writing songs, but they were often degenerate ramblings about the kinds of unspeakable things he was going to do to Dick Clark, Dick Cavett, Casey Kasem, and a number of other prominent American showbiz figures. His plans culminated in December, when the FBI uncovered his elaborate plot to assassinate Clark on New Year's Eve in Times Square in front of a national television audience. His trial was brief, and he received a 25-year prison sentence.
Dan Gaylord, Vic Anson, and Dickie Knight were stunned by these developments, and kept a low profile while waiting for the anti-Lenny sentiments to blow over. Each recorded a solo album, one more fiendishly awful than the last, and indulged their hobbies--Gaylord turning his hair into a shelter for stray squirrels, Anson building the world's longest pinewood derby track, and Knight heading up the local chapter of the Dana Plato fan club. Then one day Gaylord read an interview in Enormous Juggs Magazine, in which Codger Walters blamed his former bandmates for all of his failings, and claimed that he had been the only productive member of the group all along.
Gaylord decided to prove to the world once and for all that Red Lenny was bigger than Walters and his unquenchable desire for assaulting television personalities. He gathered Anson and Knight, an army of songwriters, and a battalion of producers. He mustered a brigade of session musicians, and hired a great multitude of publicity agents and spin doctors. He publicly announced that he was re-forming the legendary (though largely forgotten and unmourned) Red Lenny without Codger Walters, and neither Dick Clark nor his unholy legions of zombie followers was going to stop him.
Walters, for his part, filed a series of legal motions--mostly written on the backs of envelopes in crayon from his prison cell--to stop Gaylord, having devoted much of his time behind bars to the study of the law, thanks to the tutelage of a kindly serial murderer named Sugar. Walters claimed variously that Gaylord had no rights to the Red Lenny name, that Gaylord had never been a part of Red Lenny, that Gaylord had stolen all of Walters' good ideas, that Gaylord was the Son of Sam, that Gaylord had secretly been behind the Hindenburg disaster, that Gaylord was a big fat stinkyface, and so on. Gaylord countered by unleashing his manager, the tenacious Corky McStevens, and an ungodly number of bloodthirsty lawyers.
And so began the Great Lenny Wars.
Don't miss the thrilling conclusion of the epic saga of the legend of the chronicles of Red Lenny, the band that time forgot--coming soon to a website near you!