Crazy Jerry

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From The Real Frank Zappa Book (1989) - "Just Plain Folks"

I had seen Lenny Bruce a number of times at Canter's Deli, where he used to sit in a front booth with Phil Spector and eat knockwurst. I didn't really talk with him until we opened for him at the Fillmore West in 1966. I met him in the lobby between sets and asked him to sign my draft card. He said no -- he didn't want to touch it.

At that time, Lenny lived with a guy named John Judnich. John earned his living part-time by renting PA systems to local groups. A state-of-the-art system then consisted of two Altec A-7 cabinets powered by a 200-watt amplifier, and no monitor system (they hadn't been invented yet -- the old-school audio wizards had convinced everyone that it was impossible to put a microphone that close to any speaker). Vocalists had no way to hear what they were singing -- they could only hear their voices bouncing off the back wall, from the main PA. We used Judnich's system to perform in the Shrine Exposition Hall (about five thousand seats). Anyway, John used to visit every once in a while, and it was on one of these occasions that he introduced us to "Crazy Jerry."

Jerry was about thirty-five or forty, and had been in and out of mental institutions for years. He was addicted to speed. When he was a young boy, his mother (who worked for the Probation Department) presented him with a copy of Gray's Anatomy. He read it dutifully and noted that in some of the illustrations of muscles it said, "such and such a muscle, when present --," and so it was that Jerry set out to develop the "when present" muscles of the human body. He invented 'exercise devices' for those 'special areas' that had not been inhabited by muscle tissue since the book was written.

He didn't look like a bodybuilder, but he was very strong. He could bend re-bars (the steel rods used to reinforce concrete) by placing them on the back of his neck and pulling forward with his arms. As a result of this personal experimentation, he had sprouted weird lumps all over his body -- but that was just the beginning.

Somewhere along the line, Jerry discovered that he loved -- maybe was even addicted to -- electricity. He loved getting shocked, and had been arrested a number of times when unsuspecting suburbanites had discovered him in their yards, with his head pressed against the electric meter -- because he just wanted to be near it.

He and a friend once jumped over the fence of the Nichols Canyon power substation for the same reason. The friend nearly died from electrocution. Jerry escaped.

He lived for a while in Echo Park with a guy called "Wild Bill the Mannequin-Fucker," in a house filled with store mannequins. Wild Bill was a chemist who made speed. Jerry used to carry equipment and ingredients up the steep hill to the lab, in exchange for lodging and free drugs.

Wild Bill had a hobby. The mannequins in the house had been painted and fitted with rubber prosthetic devices so he could fuck them. On festive occasions, he would invite people over to "fuck his family" -- including a little girl mannequin (named Caroline Cuntley).

Jerry wanted to be a musician, so he taught himself to play the piano by using a mirror. He told me that by watching his hands in a mirror, placed "just so," it made the distance between the keys look smaller, and it was a lot easier to learn that way. He also wore a metal hat (an inverted colander) because he was afraid that people were trying to read his mind.

One morning, my wife, Gail, and I woke up to find Crazy Jerry hanging by his knees -- like a bat -- from the branch of a tree in our backyard, right outside the bedroom window. Later that night, in our basement, I made a recording of his life story.

He didn't have any teeth, so it was hard for him to talk, but in the course of a few hours we learned that, once, when he was in 'The Institution' and they were shooting him full of Thorazine, he was able to jump a twelve-foot fence and get away from the guards.

He went to his mother's house to hide out. The house was locked, so he crawled in under the house and came up in the kitchen through the bread drawer. He got in bed and went to sleep. His mother, the probation officer, came home, found him and turned him in again.

Compared to Jerry and Bill, Lenny Bruce was quite normal. At that time, according to Judnich, Lenny used to stay up all night dressed in a doctor's outfit, listening to Sousa marches and working on his legal briefs. It was sort of colorful in Southern California in those days -- but a couple of Republican Administrations and poof!