"Basically I just started…with the most insulting question I could think of. Because it seemed to me that the whole thing of interviewing as far as rock stars…was just such a suck-up. It was groveling obeisance to people who weren't that special, really. It's just a guy, just another person, so what?”
– Lester Bangs
Today, after the deaths of so many famous musicians in a single 14-month stretch, being reminded that rock stars are flatulent losers is refreshing.
The late Lester Bangs is an easy journalist to describe: he spoke truth to rock ’n roll power and wielded puncturing snark long before the Internet taught the rest of us to insult each other and hide. And when he wrote that the only truly simple thing in the world is pain, the loyalty he inspired in his readers made him mythic.
This April will mark 34 years since Bangs’ ho-hum rock ’n roll overdose death, but there’s nothing cliché about still waiting for his replacement. Nobody’s had the right combo of childish guts, cynicism, literary chops, and self-loathing to even come close.
Like other journalists and writers from the 70s, Bangs became part of the scene he covered. He partied often with his interview subjects and was himself a sometimes musician.
Bangs was an antagonist known for his fast-moving, entertaining, and contemptuous prose. His observations were as insightful as his humor was snide. He frequently hit the nail on the head, so to speak, with his fans anticipating and savoring his record reviews and State of Rock 'n Roll tirades. For me, nowhere do those two attributes more shrewdly intersect than in his referring to "Whole Lotta Love" simply as "a pulp classic.” P.S. Bangs made that observation soon after the song first hit the radio airwaves, making it less of an abstract remark and more of a bull's-eye prophecy.
While praising both, he called Sabbath “unskilled laborers” and Zeppelin “a dull white blues band.” Jim Morrison, he meanwhile noted, “had not set out, initially, to be a clown.” He dared to write that Bob Dylan used the Civil Rights movement to boost his career. On life with his own mother, Bangs said it was "like being wrapped in wax paper on the shelf of some musty, overheated old thrift shop."
And speaking of mothers, after first calling the Rolling Stones “Wagnerian,” Bangs later called them “lazy, sniveling, winded mothermissers.” (This is easily the greatest refinement and application of the prefix "mother" for purposes of offending.)
Bangs’ efforts were ultimately compared to the socio-bath salt commentary of Hunter S. Thompson, which annoyed him greatly. Both writers reached the pinnacle of their literary popularity during the same era.
To explore how Lester Bangs saw our musical hero-worship and the vinyl we treasure is to explore your record collection’s soft underbelly. Bangs was hardest on musicians and groups he loved, while simply disemboweling those he didn’t.
In the world of record collecting, the more you understand about the personalities behind the stuff you keep, the more valuable your vinyl will become – to you. That’s nothing you don't already know as you hug your copy of Joy Division’s An Ideal for Living original 7" EP, but
have a look at your collection through Lester’s colorful, caustic lens. You’ll likely find humor, humanity, and value you may not have known was there.
For a good time, check out:
Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung: The Work of a Legendary Critic: Rock'N'Roll as Literature and Literature as Rock'N'Roll
Welcome to the Cosmic Vinyl blog.
We share music and hope for the best.
In 1981 a Nelson family friend, and Manager of Wolf & Rissmiller's Country Club offered a “comped,” “safe” balcony seat for any show John cared to see at the venue. His parents reluctantly agreed. The Los Angeles band, X, was young Nelson’s first pick, and soon after, The Blasters, Oingo Boingo, 45 Grave and Agent Orange.
It all went downhill from there, but that's for another website.
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