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Memphis Flyer Turn Up That Noise!

By Stephen Grimstead

OCTOBER 27, 1997: 

Paul Krassner, Brain Damage Control (Mercury)

The name Paul Krassner may not immediately strike a note of recognition as a mirth maker to the masses, but that hasn't stopped Krassner from foisting his sophomore comedy album, Brain Damage Control, upon the general public. Krassner isn't exactly the popular stand-up type, choosing instead to be known as an "investigative satirist." (Although he's been performing in front of a live audience since 1961, his first comedy effort, We Have Ways Of Making You Laugh, wasn't released until last year -- and was recorded in a bookstore!). If redneck jester Jeff Foxworthy is your idea of ha-ha funny, then you probably won't be amused by Krassner's raucous thinking-man's shenanigans in his role as raconteur.

However, should you prefer your buffoonery laced with a healthy dose of truth-stranger-than-fiction, then Krassner's the man and Brain Damage Control is the plan. An unrepentant agent of chaos and one of the 1960's brightest counterculture figures, Krassner published the radical underground magazine The Realist for 26 years until 1974. (Krassner subsequently revived The Realist as a newsletter in 1985.) He also pulled the outrageous stunt of testifying as a defense witness at the Chicago Seven conspiracy trial while under the influence of LSD (as related hilariously in the aptly named "Conspiracy Trial"). Krassner's pedigree as a street-wise Swift is impeccable, and includes his having edited Lenny Bruce's written testament, How To Talk Dirty And Influence People.

As would be expected from some smart-ass subversive cut-up, much of the convulsive humor on Brain Damage Control relates to the possession and ingestion of illegal mind-altering drugs. Anyone who has ever been accosted by the authorities for simple possession of a controlled substance (or simply scared shitless by the possibility of it happening) will empathize with Krassner's exploits in "Mushroom Bust." An unexpected turn into family values surfaces in "Teenage Daughter," wherein Krassner shares the joy and wonder of ingesting an hallucinatory substance with his own underaged offspring as part of an anthropological journey in some foreign land, which results in shared puking, laughing, and farting, to everyone's amusement. Now, that's entertainment!

Yet, it's Krassner's role as social historian that makes Brain Damage Control an enlightening experience that holds up well under repeated listenings. In "Spin Doctors," Krassner emerges as some kind of psychoactive Noam Chomsky by rightfully claiming that "images have overtaken reality." Penetrating pokes are also taken at political correctness ("Ebonics Lesson"), blissed-out yoga flunkies ("New Age"), and the Vatican ("Condom Blues"). In "Larry Flynt," Krassner cuts straight to the heart of the matter regarding the porno charlatan in three-and-a-half minutes, where it took over two hours for the Hollywood version to airbrush the essential truth.

Krassner dedicates Brain Damage Control to the memory of his dear friend, the late, lamented folk singer, Phil Ochs. In the liner notes, he relates the most exciting moment of his career to Ochs -- leading some five thousand people en masse to shout "Fuck you, Lyndon Johnson!!!" at the top of their lungs, and getting away with it. This kind of civil disobedience is almost unheard of today, and perhaps more significant change for good could be accomplished through such Constitution-sanctioned acts. Increasing the listener's awareness is a lofty goal for a comedy album, yet Krassner succeeds without compromise. Although it looks unlikely that "the sleeping conscience of America" will be reawakened again, Krassner's acerbic anecdotes on Brain Damage Control remind us of when there was hope and promise in what we could have been, instead of what we turned out to be. -- David D. Duncan


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