"It would be argument for a week, laughter for a month, and a good jest for ever." -- William Shakespeare, Henry the 4th Part 1, Act 2 Scene 2
Behold the late Glenn Leslie. A rock 'n' roll Falstaff for the Ages in the tradition (sort of) of Peter Grant, both of them formerly professional wrestlers, but Glenn without the latter's ruthless, going-for-the-jugular instincts.
Neigh, there was a sweet, dreamy, somewhat clownish side to the late Mr. Leslie, whose main gig was as an Art Carney-esque sanitation engineer in the sewers of Long Island which he would occasionally forsake for the greener, more fragrant pastures of the Music Biz. Where he mixed it up with the likes of Lou Reed, King Crimson, Kevin Coyne, and innumerable avant-garde rock and free jazz ensembles of the Downtown Persuasion, in all sorts of capacities:
Founder and CEO of his one-man operation Art Rock Management (pronounced by Glenn as "Ahht Rawk Management"), a street worker, a hustler, a roadie, a driver, a cartage specialist (Man with a Van), a body guard, bagman, fixer, pot purveyor, a tummler, a rager, and a larger than life Character for the Ages.
Physically, a muscular, heavy set (250 pounds at least) Man Mountain. A Big Hearted lug in other words with a soupçon of bluster and bullshit that, in recalling his antics, never fails to make me smile, if not laugh uproariously, some ten or so years on since he shuffled off this mortal coil -- that was our Glenn.
I first met the guy when he turned up at my third ever solo show at the original Knitting Factory, back when it was situated on the corner of East Houston and Mulberry Streets. You walked down a flight of stairs from the sidewalk out front and traversed a darkened bar…and then walked straight up the back stairs into this longish loft-like room, with a little stage at the end of it set against a curtained picture window overlooking Houston Street.
After the triumph of my debut show and standout appearance a month or so earlier at the What is Jazz? Festival, this one took place a Sunday night -- never a great night to play, anywhere -- especially in late August of 1988. But play I did to a smallish crowd…and this imposing beefy feller comes up to me at the end and in a thick Queens accent says:
"YOU'RE FUCKING EXCELLENT!! LOVE THAT SYD BARRETT STUFF!"
(I was covering Pink Floyd's "Astronomy Domine" on solo electric guitar.)
We chatted. Turned out that like me, he adored late '60s music, especially English psychedelia. He'd roadied for King Crimson! He'd roadied for Lou Reed!!! He told me about his company of one, Art Rock Management, and since there was no one in place at that moment to rep me for bookings at venues and festivals, I told him he was IT, for the time being anyway.
And the guy came up with a few great gigs for me. Admittedly over many years…still...Glenn got me to Israel for the first time performing my original live soundtrack for The Golem silent German expressionist film at the Next Festival in Tel Aviv, playing alongside John Cale and Daevid Allen.
Then after my concert (sponsored by Häagen-Dazs ice cream -- cups of which were distributed to any and all), he had the festival guys set up a merch table out on the street. He then sat behind the table and in a loud voice began hawking my wares to anyone within ear-shot:
"Eric Clapton...Jeff Beck..and GARY LUCAS! Pete-uh Green…Mike Bloomfield…and GARY LUCAS!"
A street worker, like I said. With a totally original "fame by association" approach to branding me on the cheap, in a country where few knew my name at that point unless they were stone music lovers. (Hey, it was my first time playing In Israel...subsequently I've been on national tv there--and later sold-out the Jerusalem Film Festival with my Spanish Dracula live music and film project. Abi gezunt!).
Glenn also arranged for me to be interviewed and play live on John Schaefer's important New Sounds show on WNYC for the very first time in the early '90s, back when John's show went out nationwide on NPR. John and I bonded -- thanks to Big Glenn -- and I went on to return to play live on John's program both in the studio and from Merkin Concert Hall at least 15-20 times over the years in various iterations (even during the pandemic over Zoom).
Glenn also hooked me up to fly to Dusseldorf to collaborate with legendary UK singer/songwriter Kevin Coyne -- John Peel's favorite artist after Don Van Vliet, and Peel's first ever signing to his own Dandelion Records label, with Kevin's band Siren. As I liked to work, I brought finished guitar instrumentals with me and gave them to Kevin, and we wrote and recorded two amazing songs right on the spot in the studio there in a whirlwind of activity. Here's one: "English Rose"
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Several years after my initial encounter with Glenn on my fateful third ever show at the Knit, I went with Jeff Buckley in the Fall of '91 up to the sumptuous Society for Ethical Culture Hall on West 64th Street in Manhattan, where Lou Reed was giving a spoken-word concert. A book of Lou's lyrics and poetry had just come out, and Lou was going to be reading and reciting selections from that.
Neither of us had yet been introduced to Lou. Jeff and I took our seats.
The lights came down...and out from behind the curtain emerged none other than BIG GLENN, who strode centerstage, crossed his powerful arms over his barrel chest, and proceeded to glare and glower menacingly at the audience in the packed theater for five fucking minutes without uttering a single word, before Lou strolled out to relieve him.
Later, a Melody Maker writer wrote in his review of this concert:
"Lou Reed’s revenge on the audience began with him sending out a huge, B-movie bruiser of a minder, who silently stared down the crowd arms akimbo before Lou came out to read…"
Among my other favorite Glenn Leslie moments: I'm home alone one summer day in my West Village apartment working on guitar music, when the door bell rings and it's Glenn downstairs, relating a sad story over the intercom. Turns out that the engine of his van -- that same van that carried many a musician and their gear from rehearsal space to venue and back at 100 bucks a pop -- is overheated and the radiator is low on water.
"I gotta come up and get some wawtuh for my van, man. The radiator is boilin'! Please can I come up there? I'll just be a few."
"Sure." I buzz him up.
Two minutes later (a slow elevator) and he's at my door, sweating profusely.
"Man, it's hot out there."
I give him some cool water in a thermos for his radiator.
"Hey buddy, got anything to smoke?"
I do indeed. An on and off pot head since the age of 16, I'm back at it again at this point (although hey, it's been fifteen years since my last puff -- and I ain't resuming). So without further adieu I bust out my bong and we go at it.
Now Glenn had left his van parked in a no-parking zone on leafy, cobblestoned Perry Street, which abuts our apartment building on one side. And every so often, after inhaling copious amounts of smoke from my hubble-bubble, he glances out the window to check on the status of his temporarily and illegally parked van, looking for cops and the dreaded tow-truck.
Time drifts by timelessly, we're feeling no pain, when all of a sudden Glenn looks out the window and yells:
"Holy Shit! They're clamping my van!! THEY'RE GONNA TOW ME!!"
Glenn immediately dashes out of the apartment with the thermos of water to try and fix things, and I climb up on a chair under the window to crane my neck to get a better view of the street scene about to unfold below me.
Within two minutes (darn slow elevator), Glenn rounds the corner of my building into my line of sight -- a Man Mountain bearing down fiercely on the tumultuous scene, hauling ass towards his van, and panting and hollering at the tow truck:
"STOP!! That's MY VAN!! THAT'S MY VAN !!"
It's no use. His words are falling on deaf ears. He tries to explain the circumstances.
"I was gettin' wawtuh!"
A note of righteous anger mixed with desperation creeps into his voice.
"I was gettin' WAWTUH!!"
His van has been clamped and the tow truck operator is about to pull out with it tethered to the back of his truck.
In desperation Glenn bellows:
"WORK with me!!"
This prelude to a bribe has no discernible effect on the stony-faced tow-truck operator, and shaking his head, he putts off down the street towing Glenn's van behind him.
Glenn slaps his head Homer Simpson-style and collapses on a nearby tenement stoop, flummoxed, absolutely pole-axed by the merciless roving Manhattan traffic police, who hunt down scofflaws and tow away illegally parked vehicles all over Fun City.
It's gonna cost Glenn at least 250 bucks and countless hours to get his van out of the bureaucratic Twilight Zone that is the Midtown Lot where illegally parked vehicles are towed and stowed until necessary fines are paid.
My heart goes out to Glenn.
He comes back upstairs for a farewell toke, and much commiseration on my part. He then actually tries to get me to cover some of his (sure to be sizable) impending fine.
"If you hadn't way-laid me with this killuh pot, Gary, I woulda been outa there much earlier and on my way right now!"
But what can a poor boy do?
"Take another hit…of fresh air!"
Glenn also had occasional fallings out with some (well, many) of the Downtown Musicians he tried to represent and book. Me included.
Glenn was on my ass for several years about a fictitious commission I owed him for my live score accompanying The Golem at the Silent Movie Theater in Hollywood, a gig he claimed he'd once pitched me for. A gig I'd set up up myself in fact many years later through Victoria Larrimore. I had to fast forward through many rambling phone messages on my machine from Glenn threatening me with God knows what, usually with him concluding with:
"You can run, but you can't hide!"
Another case in point: my Gods and Monsters drummer for many a year, Benjamin Shane, who well before we began to play together in the mid-'90s had once booked Glenn to cart his drum kit back to his Manhattan rehearsal space, after a gig at BAM (the Brooklyn Academy of Music). A gloomy caged warren of a space in a dilapidated 19th century tenement on the Lower East Side that had been parceled up as rehearsal rooms for many a group, in a spectral crumbling brownstone originally used during the Civil War as an infirmary and temporary morgue for fallen Union soldiers.
Glenn is somehow missing in action after Ben's Brooklyn gig. Glenn is a no-show!
So my drummer grabs another ride back to Manhattan with his drums, and makes it back to this haunted rehearsal space. He's just re-setting up his drums in the little room he occupied when a furious Glenn busts in.
Glenn, who'd showed up late on the pickup, became incensed upon realizing that Ben had swooped the BAM scene courtesy somebody else's ride, and had driven his van at a furious pace back to Manhattan in hot pursuit of my friend, with the aim of collaring Benjamin for not waiting for Glenn to show up, resulting in a non-payment of their agreed upon fee (although, hey, to be fair to Benjamin Glenn hadn't done the work he'd contracted for).
Now my drummer was a big, strapping 6-footer himself, but Glenn had him flat on the floor in no time with one of his patented wrestling take-down moves.
"And he sits on me with his Big Stinky Ass," Benjamin shuddered in retrospect, relating this traumatic scene to me a few years later.
"And he says: 'No scumbag musician is gonna beat me out of my fee!'"
So there's my guy, pinned to the ground in his own rehearsal room, and he reluctantly agrees to pay up, and only then does Glenn release him from his deadly buttocks-hold.
But ever since that encounter, Benjamin bore a smoldering enmity, a fine curdled hatred for Big Glenn.
Anyway, I on and off continued checking in with Mister Ahht Rawk Management. Mainly, off, as like many agents, the guy was flaky and unreliable as to the volume of work he might generate for you in any given period. Finally, Glenn comes up with a good paying gig for me solo, and with Gods & Monsters; a Gary Lucas Double Header up in Hartford, Connecticut at Real Art Ways a/k/a RAW.
I make the fatal mistake of informing my drummer at rehearsal that this is a Glenn-booked gig, and he hits the roof:
"That fucking guy! Just keep him away from me, okay?!"
And then scoffing, says:
"Really, he should call his agency Bluto Management."
In truth, Glenn looked alot like Bluto, EC Segar / Max Fleischer's lovable lug who is the bane of Popeye's existence.
Although in pointing this out once to Big Glenn, he replied to me with great insight into the characters:
"Awww, Popeye always really loves Bluto, and vice versa."
The pair complete each other, really, like Lucky and Pozzo, Frank 'n' Don, Laurel and Hardy, you name 'em.
(FYI: Glenn once worked as a bouncer at a party given by my friend Bill Dube, and he worked the door wearing a Bluto t-shirt).
So we get up to Hartford, the theater is full, we play the gig, and the audience loves us!
When we're done and packing up, here comes Glenn dressed to the nines, like I'd never ever seen him before -- clean shaven, all duded-up in suit and tie, and reeking of heavy men's cologne.
I'd warned Glenn how my drummer had reacted about having to play a gig booked by his bad self, and Glenn now wants to make amends. He thrusts out his hand towards my drummer and says:
"No hard feelings, Benjamin!"
My drummer snatches his hand away from Glenn's as fast as he can, outraged by Glenn's friendly demeanor, and snaps:
"I'm not gonna shake hands with you, Glenn! You threw me on the goddamn floor! And then you sat on me with your Big…Stinky...Ass!"
Glenn's eyes narrow, his voice drops to a low sinister level, and without missing a beat he switches over to wrestling mag-speak:
"No. That's not true…I never laid a glove on you!"
Then he goes for broke:
"You fell to your knees out of Fear!!"
"Just stay away from me, you lowlife prick! I'm not gonna shake hands with you!"
Glenn tries another tack:
"Wait a minute! I never touched you!"
And continues helpfully:
"Our legs happened to get entangled."
"Fuck you, Glenn!"
Benjamin shoots me an enraged look.
"Gary, if you want to continue dealing with this guy in the future, be my guest. I'm outta here!"
He turns his back on a chastened Glenn, and walks away, fast...
Last Glenn story as told to me by Glenn himself.
Couple years later, Lou Reed hires Glenn to roadie, drive, bodyguard, and tour manager him on a few West Coast dates, which eventually takes them down to Mexico City. They check into their hotel in separate rooms at 6pm.
At 6:30pm Lou calls Glenn and summons him to his room, where he interrogates Glenn calmly and deliberately:
"Glenn. We checked in at 6pm. At 6:15pm I called your room, and you didn't answer."
He leans in:
"Where'd you go??"
In point of fact, Glenn had availed himself of a rather short window of opportunity post hotel check-in, and had scurried down to the hotel lobby, where he left a stack of Art Rock Management flyers on the front desk promoting the immediate availability for booking of his entire Art Rock Management roster of avant-jazz, rock and New Music artists (myself included).
Glenn doesn't mention this to Lou, of course. But the evidence is there, a ticking time-bomb hiding in plain sight for Lou to discover if he perchance chooses to stroll through the lobby again, where he might just get a gander of Glenn's entrepreneurial handiwork rendered during his employ.
Lou surmises as much though -- and draws himself up to his full height (5' 10"). And then he gets deadly serious with Glenn, who is currently on his payroll:
"In case you don't realize it, Glenn -- I am FUCKING LOU REED!!"
LOU! Who was at that precise moment addressing BIG GLENN LESLIE.
Having gravitated into the orbit of many colorful characters with a capital C during my 40-plus years in music, (let me recount the names -- oh hell, just check my bio at http://www.garylucas.com/biog.shtml )
Glenn Leslie, for better or worse, holds a lovable rapscallion-like rock 'n' roll place in my heart, still.
I miss you, Big Guy.
"That trunk of humours, that bolting-hutch of beastliness, that swollen parcel of dropsies, that huge bombard of sack, that stuffed cloak-bag of guts, that roasted Manningtree ox with the pudding in his belly, that reverend Vice, that grey Iniquity, that father Ruffian, that Vanity in years?" --William Shakespeare, Henry the 4th Part 1, Act 2 Scene 4