Liner Notes: Jenny Simon’s ‘Lost’ Album

Poor Jenny Simon. R.I.P.
Poor Jenny Simon. R.I.P.

By Peter Gerstenzang

I have mixed feelings about writing the liner notes for the finally-issued debut by the late Jenny Simon. Sure, I produced it. But, back in 1972, her label said the disc was appalling. And that although Jenny and I belonged in a mental hospital, we should still be released before the album was. As for my writing? I’m not the world’s most literate man. Sure, I just finished reading a book about farming. But when you get to the middle, little plastic cows pop up and moo. Still, Strange Brown Rainbows’ reputation has only grown since Jenny’s fatal overdose. So I feel much better now. Bellevue likes to say it was those shock treatments. But it’s really the music.

Jenny was in bad shape during the recording. Her boyfriend, J. D. Songman, was having an affair and she was using drugs. She’d put up a brave front, smile and say, “It’s cool man, I’ve found Jesus.” But minutes later cry out, “Oops, I just lost him again.” Still, Jenny, however desolate, wrote her best songs for these sessions. Several in the studio. Over the years, various session players have complained that Jenny’s charts were indecipherable. But some anecdotes are apocryphal. Bassist Karen Clay did not say about one, ‘Hey, these are the instructions for Yahtzee!’ Untrue. It was for Chutes and Ladders.

Although often stoned, Jenny cut 10 great tracks for the record. My favorite is the bleak, Night Is Just Day With The Plug Pulled Out. With that bridge featuring five water glasses played in unison. The worst part was, I had to find five waiters to play them. Sadder, was the tune Flowers Without Names. Which would’ve been longer, if Jenny knew  what they were actually called. Years ahead of House Music, she also did a dance track, Funky, But. Until Jenny found out her boyfriend was two-timing her. Which prompted her to rename it, Castration Complex. It seemed to be about J.D. But, if any guys had to walk past Jenny that week, they kept their hands over their crotches.

When we turned the record in, the label called it “execrable” and “irremediable.” We were thrilled. Until we looked the words up. Jenny then fell apart completely. She started seeing J.D. again and her heroin use intensified. It didn’t help that one day, sitting with her boyfriend, she missed her arm with the needle and jabbed it into J.D.’s instead-killing him instantly. Within months, she followed suit. Strange Brown Rainbows was forgotten, until ‘Flowers’ was used in a feminine hygiene commercial. Which finally forced the album’s release. Of course, now I’m inundated with production offers. Which I’ll get to this summer, when I get two weeks off from Raymour and Flanigan. The final stamp of approval? Fox News, even knowing she’s dead, just accused Jenny Simon of being “anti-capitalist.” Wherever she is, I hope she hears this. And 40 years after recording a masterpiece? Jenny Simon has finally made it.