Lenny was not the time to proclaim anything, though he proudly displayed the photos that his celebrity fans would give him on the shelf behind the counter. Sarah Jessica Parker (‘Sex in the City’) had her photo in there, as did Matthew Broderick. Lucy Lawless (‘Xena the Warrior Princess’) had her photo in there; she was wearing a sort of leopard skin outfit which I refer to in the song as a ‘jungle dress’, feeding us with ‘fire and thunder’
There were a few other notables in the neighborhood too, there on the corner of MacDougal and Houston, who either had a mailbox at Lenny’s or just stopped in to say “Hi”.
As I recall, Patti Smith had a house next door or nearby, for instance. I bumped into her a few times while stopping off to get a donut or coffee soda, or to pick up my mail. Nobody bothered anyone if they were visiting ‘Something Special’, as if it were an unwritten code of conduct. I mean, you could run into someone notable there and just say ‘hey’ or ‘ how’s it going?’, and then go and get your mail.
Lenny would greet everyone the same way: ‘Hi Patti’. Or to me, when I showed up once with a box of videotapes of my movie after it had finally been released:
(My real name is Rosette, which is French actually, though Lenny converted this into Italian)
‘Hey Rosetti. When you gonna’ be famous? You got a movie now. You wrote a book too.’
‘Ah…I don’t know Lenny. I’m just doing what I can.’
(It didn’t matter to Lenny that I was still scraping to get by – literally. I even painted his storefront once in exchange for mailbox rental, I was cutting it so close)
‘You want a cup of coffee?’
Anyway, Lenny and his shop, ‘Something Special’ is at the heart of the song, ‘Bazooka Joe Don’t Live There Any More‘. I’m quite sure that any listeners who knew Lenny or his shop, or some of the folks who hung out there, would recognize a lot from the lyrics.
Actually, I should now explain how the song got its title. Lenny told me once, I think it was a winter day actually, maybe that’s how we got on the subject, how he’d served in the Army during the Battle of the Bulge, aka the Ardennes Offensive, in 1944. He mentioned that, while he was not a front line soldier (*I forget now what he told me he was doing, he could have been an engineer or support troop), the offensive took place so suddenly – per Hitler’s plan – that the US forces had no time to compose themselves properly.
So Lenny related to me how a seargent had come up to him with a Bazooka, which is a shoulder launched anti-tank weapon and told him:
“Cecere, take this Bazooka and guard that bridge. Nothing crosses that bridge. Not even if it’s one of our tanks or vehicles, ’cause the Krauts are using our stuff against us. If they try to send a tank across , you take them out with this. Aim at the ground just in front of the tank, so’s it bounces up underneath where the armor is thin” (All this is per my recollection now, from our discussion, I may have some details off but that’s essentially what Lenny told me).
Lenny took the Bazooka, without any training, and guarded that bridge. He told me nothing happened in the end, but for the few hours or a day that he was standing there, it was just Lenny with a bazooka against the Wehrmacht.
(*There’s actually an extended bridge section in the song which refers to this moment, but I had to take it out because the song was running too long. Here are the lyrics for this missing section:
EXTENDED BRIDGE (*extended version only, not present in current track)
When the battle lines bulged / I stood there at the bridge / My finger on the trigger / On the Ardennes grimy ridge
Take this rocket, son / Front line’s gone, pick up a gun / Punch it at the lip of Earth / ‘Neath the Tiger’s grey steely girth
I saw squirrels some birds / But no charging tank / Clouds broke for our Thunderbolts / I went back to my rank
Transition Back to Main Bridge C-> A -> C -> A
So, I had to put the bazooka reference in the song, and I fit it into the title. It also made a bit of sense to allude to the popular Bazooka Joe bubble gum comics which were launched in the 50’s. The Bazooka Joe sensibility kind of matches the feeling of ‘Something Special’, which was in its multi-purpose way, also a candy shop for school kids passing by on their way home from school.
Now, WHY did I write the song? Well, per the lyrics, I found myself many years later, in 2017 or so, living far, far away, starting to make more music and writing more songs. I had pivoted from filmmaking to songwriting. So, I was poking around on the internet one afternoon looking for ‘Dean Martin songs’ (per the lyrics of the song), as I wanted something with a crooner-like aspect to cover.
Then it occurred to me, as time had passed, and as life had grown busy (and sometimes frantically so, as I had been trying to make creative projects and stay afloat for a couple decades already) that I’d lost touch with Lenny over the years. He flitted into my mind though as I looked for Rat Pack music, you know, Dean Martin, Sinatra, and the like. Something about Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra reminded me of Lenny all of a sudden.
Well, I figured, that, yes, it’s possible or even likely that Lenny may have passed away – I think this was 2017 that I was looking for the Dean Martin songs – but I couldn’t know for sure until I looked.
Anyway, I did search for him online and found out that, indeed he had passed away, I think the year before.
Even though I now knew, logically, that time passes by and waits for no one, it still hit me very hard for some reason when I saw Lenny’s obituary there facing me online. Because he was a kind of neighborhood hero, along with his wife Lucy actually. Real life, everyday heroes, quite possibly saint, or at least saint-like, though I am not Catholic, I believe he and his wife Lucy were.
Not to mention that I had some great personal memories of him, his shop, the ‘real New York’ portal that it was, and all the folks who passed through and populated ‘Something Special’.
On the other hand, there’s also a wistfullness to the song, in that ‘Bazooka Joe’ does not live there any more. He (Lenny and many other old school neighborhood heroes) is physically gone. His memory is not gone, but that type of person – open, frank, character-driven – seems to be becoming scarce these days.
Passing elephant nose man from the Greenwich Village, NYC documentary, ‘BookWars’
New York City’s character, well Manhattan at least, also seems to be homogenizing somewhat as it develops and prices the ‘characters’ out of the city, bit by bit. I’m not the first to point this out, by the way – this is also one of the themes that appears in the aforementioned New York documentary I made, ‘BookWars’.
I should also say though, in fairness, that Jackson Heights and other areas in Queens and beyond still seem to have a lot of character…but in terms of Manhattan and the Village, the old school people like Lenny and places like ‘Something Special’ are disappearing, bit by bit. It would be great if a new generation of ‘old schoolers’ may somehow emerge to take their place, if that may somehow be possible.
Anyway, I don’t know why it took me a couple years to actually gather the song fragments, formulate them, and produce them into a final track. Well, I’m still emerging music artist, with limited (self) funding – that’s one reason. My creative mind and momentum was also derailed here and there for rather long stretches when financial situations demanded my full attention.
Of course, that’s not my motivation with this tune, as it’s an homage, and is beyond strict valuation.
Which is why I had to push ahead with it…it’s really something straight from the heart.
So, I chugged ahead, along with some other great session players (some working remotely) and finally completed the song. The elapsed time from recording the first scratch guitar and vocals to the final master and mix was about 5 months.
The elapsed time from reading about Lenny’s passing to releasing the final track was about 3.5 years.
Who knows, maybe the song needed a long time to sit and brew, as it’s really rather a dense and detailed clipping of a real time and place, and full of memories to handle with grace and care. I think I approached this song like a documentary to some degree, maybe because of my filmmaking background?
Anyway: I hope folks can gather something nice from the song, and that they may be moved by it in a ‘Special’ way!
Gone Marshall, Songwriter, ‘Bazooka Joe Don’t Live There Any More’