STARK NAKED AND THE CAR THIEVES

A retrospective on our band in the California Fifties, Sixties and Seventies

 
LEONARD SOUZA IN MEMORIUM

A Visit to Leonard's grave site in Las Vegas

Lenny at the Lake Jam
Lenny Souza - 2000 Lake Jam

It has been several years since I have been back in Las Vegas but I could immediately feel an attack of 'Vegas Throat', that dry scratchy feeling we all remember, that makes you sound like Joe Cocker whether you like it or not. It was probably worst than usual this year due to the substantial late summer and fall rains that had made the desert bloom with every sort of pollen and irritant. Driving into town on Interstate 15 the first thing that I noticed was a big new hotel/casino called 'South Port' rising from the desert on the rise before coming into the valley that Las Vegas is built in. The shocking thing about it was its location; 3 miles south of Blue Diamond road! Las Vegas wasn't even in sight yet! In the late sixties and early seventies, when we played at the Flamingo or Hilton Hotels til the wee hours of the morning, we used to come out to Blue Diamond road, head west for several miles to Bonnie Springs Ranch, an isolated oasis with a ranch house with a breakfast restaurant and riding stables. We could watch the sun come up while feasting on steak and eggs, piles of hash browns and strong hot coffee, and then they would give us the reins to some excellent horses and let us loose in the desert for the next few hours. I had never seen Nevada as a beautiful place until then but those rare hours of absolute silence and earthen colors spent alone with my brothers out in this desolate place were magical and mysterious. Those early hours before the heat spread across the desert were one of my favorite times in all our band days. The fatigue and smoke and liquor and noise from the evening just past would fade into a distant memory.

The shocks continued as I drove down the super highway that Interstate 15 becomes, it was as bad as any LA freeway, past the strip hotels. I'd been here only 4 or 5 years ago and I expected change but ... I got off at Flamingo Road barely recognizing our old stomping ground and managed to figure how to get to the Flamingo Hotel back door since they don't have an entrance for care on the strip. I drove mostly by Braille pissing off many drivers behind me. This page is not to describe what has happened to Las Vegas since we roamed through these artificial canyons but the changes are relevant to our history in Las Vegas and specifically Leonard Souza, our drummer who opted to stay in Las Vegas for the rest of his life. To us, these years loom large and prominent in our past. But Stark Naked and the Car Thieves is a now a distant memory, if that, in Las Vegas anymore. Leonard's presence here after we stopped playing, even as a bartender and auto sales lot owner, did a lot to keep our name alive. The fact that he is no longer among the living in Las Vegas and the transformation of this town has left us in the dust of days gone by, not even accessible in the local library's databases. I know because one of the reasons I was here was to try and find some good information and documentation for our site. I have to try and remember that in his later life, Leonard, as I knew and remember him, actually went by Lenny.

One of the other important goals for me on this trip was to visit Leonard at his grave site. Okay, Lenny from now on, I promise. I hadn't seen him since our reunion at the Lake Jam over 8 years ago. I didn't come back for his remembrance party after he died and I didn't attend his funeral. Les had to bear most of the burden during Lenny's final days. Personally, I think it marked him. The rest of us had good excuses for why we couldn't be there. I had so many things to do in LA, things for the living and those who depended upon me. Lenny's later life seemed to belong to other people and I wasn't really sure how welcome I would be. But the truth is I dreaded it. Lenny's death has affected us all and confronting it all again after our Lake Jam reunion just seemed too much. I have been in and out of town a couple of times since Lenny died but neither time allowed the opportunity to see his grave. I didn't want that to happen again. It's hard not to have the group in mind often in LA, since there are so many places to remind me during travels around town. Only a few days before this trip Laurie and I drove through Hollywood to see all the changes taking place there. Not far south beyond the Sunset La Brea Travel Lodge was the corner that was home to a Pioneer Chicken restaurant, a favorite of Lenny's. You guys remember how he would drive all the way here from Las Vegas to get a bucket of chicken and then drive back. Before leaving for Las Vegas this time I had looked up Lenny's obituary online in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. I had all that stuff earlier but I lost two hard drives last year and everything I had regarding Lenny had been lost. The obit said that he was buried in Palm View Mortuary. I tried to find the website to see if there was an online grave registration. I couldn't find a site but I did find the address.

On Thursday, April 10, 2008, we slept in. Laurie and I had laughed all evening long seeing Spamalot at the Wynn hotel and stayed up late, not by Vegas standards of course, but by our own these days. We had been having terrible Internet connection problems at the Treasure Island hotel, which we had unfortunately chosen to stay in. No Lenny around to set us straight. In a rare window of opportunity that morning we were able to get online and get the most important of our work done. We worked on our laptops until lunch, hit the buffet, cleaned up and headed out, Laurie content to let me work this personal issue out as I needed to.

Eastern avenue is a north-south street running roughly parallel to Las Vegas Boulevard out to the east, past Paradise and Marilyn Parkway. When I turned from Flamingo onto Eastern, I seemed to remember that Lenny had lived just off from Eastern somewhere out this way, to the west I think, on a residential street that ran parallel to Eastern. I had stayed with him once or twice while on treks from Salt Lake City to LA. It was well into mid-afternoon and the temperature was moderate but the Santa Ana winds that blow across in the San Fernando Valley in California had turned around and were blowing off from the western desert across the valley here. It was a hot, dry, scratchy sort of breeze. Humidity must have been in single digits. It seemed to me if I continued in this direction I would run into the airport. I was partly right, Eastern runs just east of McCarren International Airport and the planes landing thundered in above us.

A couple of miles beyond the airport the Palm Mortuary sign showed up on the left and we drove into the park. I drove into the main building parking lot and went in. If I had gone to Catholic school I would describe the lady that I first met as a crotchety old nun. She seemed to have little time to speak to me but the building appeared as empty as the parking lot outside excepting a nearby clerk, quiet as a mouse. I guess that here, the dead have their priorities over the living. I asked for Lenny's grave registration and she grumpily looked up a card in metal box, pulled out a Xeroxed map, referred to her computer and then drew in pink highlighter a circle around 1824 Resurrection, Lenny's address here. Noticing flowers displays in a nearby waiting room I asked if I could purchase something for Lenny but she said I had to see if the grave had a flower holder, otherwise it would be wasted; the grounds people would just throw them away in the morning. I didn't want to argue but it seemed to me that since these were live flowers they weren't going to live very long out there anyway. I wanted them for Lenny of course, but also for the picture I intended to take. Something for us, from us, the out of state band guys, something in the picture to remind us that we were here. Flowers would do since I couldn't put my hand on a Pioneer Chicken box. It seems increasingly unlikely that the out of town band guys may get here as we get older.

I drove the car out of the lot and around to the south and then back to the east, beyond the main building to near the end of the park. My directions showed that Lenny was just to the left of the final walkway out into the graves. I tramped around trying to figure out the numbering system. The 18 meant something and the 24 meant something else but not anything related to the markers I could find. Only temporary markers, planted until a permanent stone or monument was placed, even had numbers. After looking at every single marker in this section and trying to use 'Stark Naked radar' to try and sense where Lenny was, I finally gave up and returned to the Mortuary building.

In exasperation my original help replaced herself with a 'cemetery specialist', called to help the feckless visitor that I was. Before leaving, I enquired again about the flowers, explaining to my original helper that if the flowers were discarded that would be okay. She asked me to pick something out, which I did but she was unable to find a price and distractedly said $10 would do. The phone rang and she thrust them at the clerk, some 10 feet away. With dexterity the young clerk caught the sprig of purple flowers and began to write a receipt asking me for $15. I told her that they had been offered to me for $10. She quickly agreed to the new price and we traded. Yep, that's the way I remembered it. Lenny can always get a deal in Las Vegas.

We rode a golf cart around to approximately the same spot I had been exploring while Laurie followed in the car. My new guide was much more pleasant and she guided me to a spot on the other side of the walkway near a tree. She pointed out the tree on her more detailed map and how Lenny was just to the left of it.. Unfortunately, there was no Lenny. She said she believed that there had been a temporary marker here but perhaps the family had taken it up. My heart dropped. It would have been a huge disappointment if somehow this had happened. She continued to circle around, trying to pinpoint exactly what body-sized piece of turf might have our buddy underneath it. Finally she pointed with an obvious sense of achievement. There he was, several rows away. Apparently, they had re-planted the tree since the map had been drawn. It was a big moment as I looked down at the stone and I was overcome for a second. I was kind of glad Laurie had decided to stay in the car as I swallowed for a moment and thanked the lady who left on the cart.

There was a bench just below Lenny's grave site. I sat there for awhile. Trying to find the site had distracted me from my real feelings and now they were coming into focus. I started to talk to him. I thought maybe I would feel foolish about that. As you all know I don't believe in any of the Christian afterlife scenarios. I have my own suspicions about an after life but I only point this out to note how strange it was for me to even consider that there was a way to carry on a conversation with someone who has moved on. But as I began the words just gushed out and I spoke for a long time there with Lenny. He very politely let me do all the talking. I talked about all of us, how and what we were doing. I told him there had been some scary moments for Mac and Dave that I knew of, probably Les, too and Mickey for sure, though I'd heard it third hand. I talked to him about how estranged Les and I are. How distant I am from Mickey and Laura. I told him how much Las Vegas had changed. I didn't think he would like the new town so much, I said, and told him why. I talked to him about things that are personal between us. After awhile I looked up, around, and decided that Lenny had chosen a spot that really suited him. It was obviously the desert and obviously in the town he remembered. It was quiet here away from the incessant racket and insanity of the strip. Then I got down on my knees, cleared the overgrowth around the stone and jammed the sprig of flowers into ground above the grave. Time to take some pictures.

    Where Lenny Lives Now

lenny souza gravesite

This is a picture of Lenny's grave stone. The line that you can barely read at the bottom says
"Beloved Husband, Father & Friend"

I took my video camera that day not sure that I would use it but I did. The video I recorded there is at this
LINK.

I have some more still shots around Lenny's grave but perhaps what is here is enough.

2011 Stark Naked & the Car Thieves
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