Dylan Cover a Day 72: Lenny Bruce

By Tony Attwood

This is going to be an oddity in this series, because I can only find one cover of “Lenny Bruce” and obviously as that is the only version by another artist I’ll include it.   If you know of any other versions please do write in.

I take it that the artist in this rendition is an amateur performer, but he’s none the worse for that, and does a damn sight better than I ever could achieve… which isn’t saying much, but it does show what can be achieved by people with real talent, even if there is no recording contract to go with it.

So why does no one cover this song?   It can’t be because it doesn’t lend itself to re-interpretation as it is fairly easy to think up an orchestral accompaniment to the piece while keeping the time and rhythm the same, and indeed to deliver a performance with some heavy percussion to relate to the fact that it is about death.

But that is how it is, so since I don’t want to pass this song by I’m going to pick up on a few of Dylan’s own variations on the song.  He has played the song 117 times on tour, so we have a few to choose from.

In the version above there are some really interesting slight variations in the melody, and the instrumentation changes its rhythm, while Bob restrains himself beautifully in terms of the vocals.  Goodness knows what the crash from the lead guitar is doing at the very end, but still, it is at the very end so is not too hard to ignore!

In this  next version with Tom Petty, Bob shows how the harmonies can work, and for me this is very effective indeed.


And of course, I do have to include this very strange version from 2019.   I’m really not too sure about this; it feels to me like an experiment that has been made public before it is quite ready for release.  The idea of the strings in the accompaniment is excellent, but I feel the piano part is just not right playing those half scales.   And the electric bass and the viola seem to me to contradict each other.   It is so frustrating because the idea is brilliant, but I just don’t feel the orchestration is right.

But that of course is just me, as ever.

Here’s a list of most of the articles from this series…


  1. I wouldn’t call Daniele Brillo an ‘amateur’

    Stan Ridgway aso well as others cover the song “Lenny Bruce”

    Dubious can be conclusions reached from inadequate research

  2. Syn-Anon was a drug rehab organisation, an oft shaven-headed cult, whose leaders enrich themselves, and were arrested for criminal activity.

    Bruce died of a drug overdose, likely accidental.

    Using his poetic licence, Dylan presents him as a heroic anti-establishment figure akin to fictitious John Wesley Harding.

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