Tag Archives: Lester Bangs

Lester Bangs in Rolling Stone (dot com)

His moustache is way cooler than your stupid indie haircut will ever be.Reviving a tradition that we started back in the very early days of Glorious Noise after we got a hold of a collection of old Rolling Stones, here are a bunch of classic record reviews by Lester Bangs. For whatever reason, editor Greil Marcus didn’t include anything from Rolling Stone in his Bangs anthology, Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung. There are, however, several included in the more recent collection, Main Lines, Blood Feasts, and Bad Taste.

One great thing about the internet is that there’s no longer any real reason that anything should ever go out of print. I have no idea why a magazine like Rolling Stone, with Jann Wenner’s vast resources, wouldn’t have its entire historical archive available on its web site. But they don’t. In fact, several reviews that were available a few years ago have been removed in a recent re-design. But what can you do? Anyway, what follows is a grossly incomplete—yet hysterically representative—assortment of Bangs reviews that the Stone has been gracious enough to host on its site.

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Salon Pixies Interview with Charles Thompson/Frank Black

Salon talks to Black Francis: “I want to be Lou Reed and I want the writer to be Lester Bangs. Know what I mean? I want him to be so into it that he’s arguing with me about the validity of a song I wrote. I don’t care if it’s insulting.”

Read more Bangs

I found a site that has more Lester Bangs reviews. Beware: the site is in French even though the reviews are in English. No comments about whether or not Bangs’ writing can actually be considered English, okay? Anyway, it’s nice to see someone else serving up stuff that is otherwise unavailable. That is, unless you want to search them out on ebay.

To read the bootleg Lester Bangs reviews on Glorious Noise, check out our Features page.

Lester Bangs Does Brownsville Station

Posted another Bangs review in the Features section. This one is a review of Ann Arbor’s Brownsville Station and their album, A Night on the Town. It’s from the July 6, 1972 issue of Rolling Stone. Dig it.

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Bangs’ Life vs. His Art

Back in the 1930s, a group that mainly consisted of poets created a practice known as “New Criticism” The method, based on close reading, basically said that a given work of art is the thing that must be analyzed as it is. That is, instead of bringing anything to the work, the work, literally, stood on its own. The background of the writing—personal, social, political—was largely determined to be irrelevant. It was, the New Critics maintained, a matter of simply assessing what was produced. Period.

I have generally thought that the New Critics were often missing too much by not taking the context of the creation into account. After all, the point of view of the artist—be s/he a writer, painter, filmmaker, musician—has a lot to do with what is created. By leaving biographical knowledge out, there is the potential of missing important aspects of the work.

But having just read Let It Blurt: The Life and Times of Lester Bangs, America’s Greatest Rock Critic by Jim DeRogatis (Broadway Books; $15.95), I’m sort of feeling more sympathetic to the New Critics. There is Bangs’s work. There is Bangs’s life. And to the degree that the former is often exhilarating, the latter is disturbing.

Bangs’s father, who apparently didn’t spend a consistent amount of time with his family (being drawn away, apparently, by the lure of booze), died in a house fire when Lester was nine. Lester’s mother was a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, which had a strong influence on her world view (and beyond) [and I am confident that Jeff can provide a Paul Schrader reset in this regard]. Lester didn’t take well to that weltanschauung. He rebelled. As a teenager in El Cajon, California (recently the site of a high school shooting incident), Lester worked to become a rock writer, which he did in 1969, in Rolling Stone. His day job, incidentally, was selling women’s shoes. Out of the box, Bangs was, in the context of his surname, onomatopoeic: writing about “It’s a Beautiful Day” (which is also the name of the group), Bangs didn’t pull back any of his smack: “I hate this album, not only because I wasted my money on it, but for what it represents: an utterly phony, arty approach to music that we will not soon escape.” Imagine his living in the Age of Celine Dion.

Lester managed to get bounced from Rolling Stone. He moved from southern California to what he described as “Deeetroit.” He, as he put it, “did time” there starting in 1971. He wrote for Creem. Five years later, after creating his own form of writerly and personal havoc (the portrait that DeRogatis, whose credits include the Chicago Sun Times, Penthouse, Guitar World, and World of Wrestling, draws of Bangs is a man who had a taste for Romilar and disinterest in personal hygiene), he moved to New York. There he was to write for a variety of venues. And he was to die there on April 30, 1982, probably of a drug overdose (the medical examiner wrote “Acute propoxphene poisoning” and “Circumstances undetermined.”)

Between ’69 and ’82 Bangs wrote many blazing pieces, sometimes changing his mind 180 degrees (e.g., from excoriating the MC5 to extolling the band), but always speaking in his strident, idiosyncratic voice. And speaking of voice, Bangs started bands that he performed with; apparently, he sounded like a walrus. Writing about music wasn’t enough. He had to make it.

A blurb that appears on the cover of Let It Blurt from Cameron Crowe says, in part, of the book, “it reads like rock and roll.” Which may, indeed, be the case. Breakups and screwups. Highpoints and low. Maybe it is less a celebration, and more of a cautionary tale.

Smartass Motor City Punks

Check out this letter to the editor from the July 6, 1972 issue of Rolling Stone:

I can’t help but notice that nearly every time you mention Detroit, it’s some sort of put-down. I wish you wouldn’t pass judgment on an entire city. Not everyone around here holds John Sinclair as his savior, or spends his time grooving on the MC5, Alice Cooper, the Stooges and so on. […] Not all of us are smartass Motor City punks.

Jeff Stern

Southfield, Mich.

Isn’t that great! Associating “punks” with the MC5 and the Stooges (and Alice Cooper — huh?) back in 1972. How cool is that?

Posted another Lester Bangs review. This time it’s Black Sabbath’s Master of Reality.

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Lester Bangs reviews Bark

Just added another Lester Bangs review to the Features page. This time it’s of the Jefferson Airplane album, Bark from the November 11, 1971 issue of the Stone (which happens to also contain the first installment of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by “Raoul Duke”).

The next one will be a review of Black Sabbath’s Master of Reality from the November 25, 1971 issue.

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Random thoughts on a Saturday

Random thoughts on a Saturday morning…

So I am currently ensconced in the Ritz Carlton hotel on Amelia Island, off the coast of J-ville, Fla. Working… or something like it. Perhaps the accurate way to describe it would be, “earning my paycheck,” since this hardly passes for work, even in our spoiled-rotten society. I’m here for the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, which, if you care about antique cars, you already know about. If you don’t care about cars, more power to you, I’m not even going to explain.

So yesterday I flew here in the morning because I had to attend a party at 6pm, at which I drank prodigious amounts of free Heineken and talked about old cars. But since I didn’t have a whole lot to do in the afternoon (rain, antique cars and photography don’t mix), I ordered up one of those movies on the Spanktrovision.

‘Cept I ordered Almost Famous instead of one of the Caught From Behind series. Two hours and about 50 “Fuck yeah!”s screamed out loud at the TV set while making the sign of the devil with both hands raised above my head, my only lament is that I had no lighter with me. God, I love Stillwater, but that is the obvious line. Now I’m not going to go into some great marvelous ranting about why this movie is a must see for anyone who’s reading this Web site—just look at our freakin’ title. “Rock and Roll can change your life” is right. It did and it still does, despite the fact that Lester Bangs proclaimed it dead before I was even born (according to Crowe, if you believe that this flick is an autobiography of sorts).

What I am going to say is that for those of you who have your doubts about the veracity of the scenes played out with the band, you know, the Stillwater-on-tour-with-the-journalist stuff, well, as Orson Welles was like to say, It’s All True. No, I was not hanging with Cameron when he was a teenager (we’ll have to chalk that one up to a fantasy for the time machine), but I’m a “journalist” right now, so I know. That’s what my life is like. Just replace the rock stars with old white dudes who buy and sell and design and build and race cars. (And unfortunately, replace the Band Aids with auto industry flacks who, like the party girls of the ’70s, want nothing more than to screw you.)

The point is that I travel all over the country/world, being wined, dined, and ass-kissed by a bunch of people who all want the same thing as Jeff Bebe (nice job, BTW, Jason Lee)—to be made to look cool. And the auto people I run with, despite their aged-ness, their honkey-ness, even their corporate-ness, are cool, to me. I am an auto nut, a gearhead, a race fan—but I’m never going to be one of them. I’m a hanger-on. I go to the parties and I’m the guy getting introduced, not the guy introducing. You, reading this right now, have a much better chance of being my friend than any of these people. Because in the end, I am left with the words of Lester Bangs in the film echoing in my head: “Be honest. Be unmerciful.”

No one wants honesty. No one wants to be shown for what we all are, even the cool ones, especially the cool ones, the rock stars, the Ferraris. We’re all human, we all have silly pictures to post on Web sites. We’ve all done a lot of stupid things, we’re all decidedly not perfect, we all have Skeletons In The Closet. Corporations are just as susceptible to this fact of life as individuals. Somehow though, the ones that I deal with seem to think that creating the disconnect between reality (“The first rule of the [auto] industry is to make money.”) and perception (“Wow! Look at the all-new [Ford, Toyota, Cadillac, BMW, Dodge, Audi, etc.]! It’s the best car ever built.”) is the way to success. Denial of the Truth—as we learn from Russell in the flick—is not the way to fame and fortune or the cover of Rolling Stone. Yet this fact seems to be lost on most.

Which brings me to the next point, which brings me back to last night, after the party, after I had ordered room service (on The Man’s tab, of course). I watched Walter Kronkite on Larry King Live. I heard him—Kronkite—bemoan the lack of responsibility and adherence to basic journalistic principles (like Lester “said,” Be Honest, Be Unmerciful) in our contemporary era. I sat there, eating my Cobb salad, saddened by the fact that I know it to be true. I am a part of it.

There are so many people out there, claiming to be writers, claiming to be “journalists” that are only there for the parties, the free trips, the camaraderie, the fun. I can see through 99% of what passes for “news” or “journalism” these days—it’s nearly all dreck, a part of creating that disconnect that enforces images of perfection of all our idols, be they athletes, rock stars, politicians, or corporations.

Ever notice how journalism, as a word, has been replaced by the term “Media?” There’s a self-evident reason for this.

We’ve let corporations buy everything—they own Stillwater and Rolling Stone magazine now—and it’s become all too convenient of a world, devoid of anything real. If Russell was driven to getting his head full of acid and climbing on a roof in 1973, what would he do today?

To be continued…

Lester Bangs on Zawinul

And here is one more review by Lester Bangs. This one is a double review of a couple jazz albums. It originally appeared in the August 5, 1971 issue of Rolling $tone, and hasn’t been published since…

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Lester Bangs on Chuck Berry

Here is the latest installment in the series of reviews by Lester Bangs that have remained unpublished since their original magazine appearance. This one is also from the August 9, 1969 issue of Rolling Stone. This time it’s a Chuck Berry review.

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