I’d patronized the dive bar / rock club known as Lenny’s perhaps a half dozen times in my life, mostly at its old Memorial Drive location. Its word-of-mouth was more influential than my personal experience, having heard “concert calendar” mentions on WRAS and seeing its lineups listed in Creative Loafing and Stomp and Stammer. After reading the Loaf’s “RIP Lenny’s” piece, I asked WXIA’s Manager of News Content Ben Mayer if he’d be interested in a sendoff TV story. A musician his ownself, Mayer bought it. The fact that I pitched it during the slow-news holiday season didn’t hurt.
The tough part was coming up with a story line. I didn’t want to produce a piece that overstated Lenny’s charms and influence. In early December, Stomp and Stammer editor Jeff Clark had published a harsh but clear-headed sendoff piece that said, in essence, good riddance to a poorly-run business and lousy venue (I can’t find it online). My own experience was mixed, but here’s what stood out: The wife and I had visited Lenny’s a couple – three times to support our friend Eddie Cortes, a former WAGA news photog and erstwhile band leader, when he played on Lenny’s stage.
In so doing, I’d often thought: Damn, they’ll let anybody play here.
Eddie and his mates played their instruments well. Eddie had some stage presence. Eddie bravely sang in a couple of his band’s incarnations. But it’s fair to say that Eddie’s bands represented one end of the spectrum of talent hosted by Lenny’s. Because Eddie has a great sense of humor, is a friend, and is a reasonably self-aware individual, I asked him to help me with the story. I told him that his presence would show that Lenny’s welcomed musicians to play on its stage “regardless of talent.” He got it and played along
To add a bit of heft, I sought out Frank Dreyer of the defunct performance-art band Heinous Bienfang. The wife and I still chuckle about a Heinous show we witnessed at Lenny’s / Dottie’s ten years ago, which involved a bucket of vegetable oil, a Fulton County police officer, and Mr. Dreyer bleeding from the head onstage, buck-ass naked.
I also contacted Mack Williams in Blackshear, GA. I first knew of Mack as the cartoonist who preceded Bill Richardson the editorial pages of the Red and Black. (Bill was frequently and unfavorably compared to Williams by readers angered by Bill’s political viewpoints.) Williams’s band, Attractive Eighties Women, is also into performance art.
Eddie Cortes’s bass-thumping presence bookended the story visually and thematically. He and I worked together for ten years in the news biz. We were sidekicks on my biggest-ever TV news adventure, the 2003 invasion of Iraq. It made sense to seek him out to represent a certain quality of musician that played at Lenny’s.
His participation was, as the Brits might say, “very sporting.” I have an uneasy feeling I’m in his debt now.