Two girls grew up in the Bronx, only four months in age separating them. I don’t know if their paths ever crossed, the Bronx and New York City as a whole being a massive place and teeming with people when they were growing up in the 1940s and 50s, but there’s a decent chance that at the very least they were in the same place at the same time at some point. On a bus or a subway, in a store or a movie theater… or maybe just passing one another on the sidewalk. Both girls were named Carole, and both spelled it with an “e”, the extra letter something that one of them always mentioned when telling someone her name to ensure her name was spelled correctly. The Bronx hadn’t fallen into the arson-ravaged squalor that would overtake it in the 1970s, but parts of it were still pretty rough and poor. One of the girls grew up and became an actress, and later a director, won some awards and even has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The other went to work for a sugar company, met a guy, got married, and later became a hair stylist and managed an entire region’s worth of hair salons. She also had a kid who, in his 40s, started a vinyl blog.
My mom and Penny Marshall had something else in common, besides both being girls named Carole who were born in the Bronx in the mid-1940s (“Penny” is actually Marshall’s middle name). They looked a lot a like. A LOT. Plus of course there was that Bronx accent, and they had pretty much the same hairstyle. So when Penny Marshall’s show Laverne & Shirley became a big hit in the late 1970s/early 1980s some of my mom’s friends just started calling her Laverne. Needless to say I always had a certain attachment to that show, a show that also spawned another significant acting career, that of Michael McKean who played the goofy neighbor Lenny and later became recognizable to rock fans everywhere as lead singer and rhythm guitarist David St. Hubbins of the band Spinal Tap. McKean and I have an odd connection in that we both attended Carnegie Mellon University (though he graduated from there, while I did not). McKean and his Laverne & Shirley partner-in-crime David Lander (a.k.a. Squiggy) put out an album in 1979 as their show personalities Lenny & Squiggy (♠), an album that also included Christopher Guest, who later joined McKean in Spinal Tap as Nigel Tufnel. Oh, and did I mention I saw McKean perform live with Spinal Tap as part of the Break Like the Wind Tour in the early 1990s? It all comes full circle.
Lenny and the Squigtones is a live performance, a blend of music and comedy done entirely in character. Musically it’s early-style rock ‘n’ roll with a bit of rockabilly thrown in for good measure, and “King of the Cars” could be a lost Beach Boys classic. The lyrics are funny and at times absurd, but what’s notable is how good the band sounds. I get it, it’s a comedy record to some extent, but these guys know what they’re doing much in the same vein as the Blues Brothers (the keyboardist on this album is none other than Murph Dunne, who played keys for said Blues Brothers). The show is recorded in front of a live audience and the sound quality is surprisingly good. My guess is it will be more enjoyable if you actually remember the characters from Laverne & Shirley, but if you’re down with some goofiness you’ll probably find yourself smiling from time to time.
As far as I can tell this was never re-released, and given that it’s a bit of a period piece that isn’t a surprise. Some copies come with a fold-out poster – mine includes a stick on the front noting this. So if you pick one up, looking inside to see if you’re getting the poster as well.
(♠) The pair actually came up with and performed as Lenny & Squiggy prior to being cast in Laverne & Shirley.