Thursday, July 5, 2018

LENNY KAYE’s Connection [1981]

Text by Carolyn Lee Boyd / FFanzeen, 1981
Introduction and live photos © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2018
Video from the Internet
Lenny Kaye solo at the FIX (W)PIX benefit (pic: RBF)

This article was originally printed in FFanzeen, issue #8, dated 1981, by Carolyn Lee Boyd, a bard who often went by the nom de poem Tarantula.

Carolyn was a big fan of the Lenny Kaye Connection, as was I. This band was formed after Patti Smith famously retired at the height of her punkitude period, running off to Detroit to marry guitarist Fred Smith and to raise her brood. With a well-underappreciated LP, I’ve Got a Right, the Lenny Kaye Connection often played at CBGBs among other places, and Carolyn and I would often go to see them. At the time, she lived a block away from the infamous Binibon Restaurant,  and I’d pick her up and off we’d go.

Beyond Lenny, part of the focus of the band was an electric piano, which can be heard especially in their political song, “I’ve Got a Right,” which is as relevant today – or more so – as when it was released during the Reagan administration (see video below). The Connection was also the back-up for Jim Carroll’s [d. 2009] album, Catholic Boy, including his biggest hit, “People Who Died.” Often, Jim would jump up on stage and sing the song with the Connection. Carolyn would inevitably get mad at me, because I would boo him. I had read Carroll’s autobiographical The Basketball Diaries, and I hated how much he made taking heroin and stealing sound cool in a day when the drug was such a prevalent negative force in the music I was listening to at the time.

Whenever Lenny would play something off the Connection’s only album, however, I’d be happy, including his cover of the Left Banke’s “Walk Away Renée.” Sometimes their long reggae riffs would be a bit much for me, but in all, the band was great fun and I have Carolyn to thank for introducing me to that. – RBF, 2018.
Lenny Kaye Connection: Lenny and Patrick, CBGBs (pic: RBF)
The time is 10:02 PM. The place is Max’s Kansas City. The fabulous Lenny Kaye Connection is topping the bill, and the Faithful Activist Neanderthal Society (FANS) is coming to order (so to speak). For those who have not been exposed to recent national and international journals, magazines, newspapers or broadcast programs, and haven’t heard of the FANS, it is a secret society dedicated solely to the Presleyan Theory of Evolution, that all life began at the invention of the electric guitar, and all history before that is a mass hallucination. Obsessive? Bizarre? Anti-social? Know thy enemy!

Winner of the “Conceptual Art Barstool” for “Drink Until You Only Think You Have Passed Out” competition and the honorable, venerable, and redeemable at your local grocer curator of the Museum of New Jersey Rock Stars Except Bruce Springsteen and President of the Lenny Kaye Clone Association is Victor. A microphone sticking out of his lapel and a movie camera up his sleeve, he plans to record the whole show and next time save the cover charge by playing the tape and film, and just pretending he is at the show. Victor is from the Bronx.

At Victor’s sides are Reta and Shorty Cookie (the Laverne & Shirley of New York rock’n’roll), 10 days off the Lear jet from death-defying Detroit. Reta is struggling and starving out the long years until super-stardom: charging it to Mom and Dad at Bloomingdale’s, crashing elite parties (it’s all in how you dress), and wearing $1200 worth of second-hand clothing. Shorty Cookie is working on her rock star crush #4968. She’s grown out of dead stars, media stars, and is now concentrating on a member of the band. Fortunately, the band is half blond and half brunet, in case she switches types between the first and second set.

Fashionably late, Renaldo, celebrated rock’n’roll magazine entrepreneur, journaliste and Man-About-Town, fait son entrée, dressed in a purple pirate outfit with red sash and plumes, and accompanied by his cowering entourage of writers, artists, and other flunkies, who are rolling out a red carpet saying, “Mr. Big is here.” He is on the cover of this week’s National Enquirer in a story about “The Terrible Secret He Hides” – he has met Doris Day, Faye Wray and Murray the K, but never the Big Boombah from New Brunswick. He just can’t face tight, black leather pants ever since his mother made him wear them to school in the first grade and all the other children laughed. (And even if he could, he’d just use his influence to welch a copy of the “Child Bride” single.)

Who says rock’n’roll isn’t high-class entertainment? Take Lenny’s opening band – please! After paying the standard cover of $6 (“You didn’t really want open heart surgery, did you, Ma? Great! See you tomorrow!”), the most that FANS (being basically cheap) can muster for the bound and gagged Cleveland art band, banging on its pots and blowing into saxophones, is light clapping. They are polite in case the band is friends of Lenny’s. Victor unobtrusively sets up his two-storey soundboard, while club patrons pace back and forth peering – is it really Lenny or is it Memorex? Reta’s antenna bleeps away – It’s Cheetah Chrome showing metal! Keef picked with Jack Daniels! Bob Dylan blowin’ in the wind! Shorty Cookie chairs a meeting of the Yours-For-A-Song Society in the Ladies Room. Renaldo’s beeper goes off – a reminder from his secretary that it’s time to go to some trendy club that doesn’t advertise, in order to get back in time for Lenny’s opening chord.

It’s common knowledge that right before the first show is the best time to catch Lenny backstage (except now that everyone knows who’s read this, it won’t be true anymore). Victor is always at the head of the line with something to autograph (having wallpapered his apartment with Lenny autographs, he is now plugging up the holes in his walls) or a photo of the band to give Lenny (as if he doesn’t know what they look like). Abandoning their fearless leader of his fate, three-quarters of the Connection creep down to the bar, deserted now that all the customers are backstage, for five minutes of peace and privacy. Reta and the sobbing Shorty Cookie, her face pale and Hawaiian-print mini-skirt wrinkled, smash against the wall as HE passes, staring blankly, not realizing she is his fate, his destiny, or doom. So, oblivious to the obvious, he orders a beer as if nothing had happened between them at all.

Twelve midnight and each FANS scrambles to the front row that s/he always sits in. The band walks on, in order: Patrick O’Connor on bass, a Robert Redford look-alike and the band’s compass and big brother figure. He’s steeped in more affection than he knows (the FANS plan to take him out to dinner, if they can figure out which Patrick O’Connor he is in the phone book); Lenny Kaye – you all know Lenny Kaye, and his address and phone number too; drummer David Donen, Keith Moon talent and teen idol charm, he is an extreme example of Einsteinian energy, and none of the FANS spend less than half the show watching him; newest and leftist (on stage) is that gorgeous Prince of Staten Island, that classy King of the Keyboards, Jan Mulaney, sitting quietly and extraordinarily in his little corner playing his heart out, the fourth member in the winning combination.

Halfway through the first song, Shorty Cookie grabs the set list for the Connection collection and is charged by a 300 lb. roadie around the stage until she jumps back to the seat. The band begins “Giving It All Up (For Love Again),” a rocker Patti Smith would love.

Lenny (minus a set list) has just done the bathroom humor intro to “Passin’ Through” (try it backwards), a melodious and melancholy, egalitarian Lenny love song. No connection set would be complete without a nugget-if-you-duggit, and my favorite is “Party Doll” which, as usual, sounds a lot dirtier when Lenny sings it than on the original [by Buddy Knox – RBF, 2018]. Then the experimental rhythm track over the time-travelling verbal avalanche of “Beast Language.” “Child Bride” is the band’s registered trademark and rumor has it that Lenny was up to 4 AM autographing mail order copies of the single. Prehistoric or future tense, rocking or tear-jerking, first show tight or second show loose, the Lenny Kaye Connection is a fun band on the verge of going to places I don’t think even they knew they were aiming for.

One AM. Time to run after a cab, split the fare, and go home to dream each FANS’ special dream. For Victor, it is to own that one unique, cosmic, ultimate and most rare of Lenny Kaye relics in the world, to put into the museum. For Reta, it’s to appear on Tom Snyder in front of an audience of her own screaming FANS after a sell-out show at the Palladium, and have her face on Rolling Stone and People. All Shorty Cookie wants is one amused inkling of recognition from HIM. For Renaldo, it’s for Lenny Kaye to ask to interview him.

All the FANS share the same nightmare: success for the Lenny Kaye Connection. Well, not success, but success – Shea Stadium, no backstage passes, Bianca Jagger, losing the band to big-time hype success. Horror after horror – Lenny goes to Washington to be Special Advisor on Cultural Affairs and Liver and Onions; Jan Mulaney, 16 Magazine “Hunk of the Month”; a new Clairol hair color named “Patrick O’Connor Red”; David Donen guest-hosting “The Tonight Show”… where will it end?

So remember, when you go to a Lenny Kaye Connection show, you are on FANS turf; you are an intruder, outsider and contagion. Show some respect. You have been warned! 

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