Anyone who claims to take rock music seriously should absolutely know the name Lester Bangs.
Lester was not a member of some monolithic rock band, he did not try to save the planet, and he did not have panties thrown at him on stage. What he happened to be was the greatest rock critic the world has ever seen.
Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung, a collection of his articles from 1971 to his sudden death at 33 in 1982, is as much his story as it is a manifesto.
A prolific writer, Bangs worked for Rolling Stone (before being fired), was the senior editor for Creem Magazine, contributed to The Village Voice and to every other publication of consequence. The pieces found in this volume are written in an amphetamine frenzied, wild man style that proves literature can be as in-your-face confrontational and rebellious as rock ‘n roll itself.
There were no sacred cows in Lester’s world.
He went toe to toe with a notorious asshole for the article “How I Slugged It Out With Lou Reed and Stayed Awake”, exposed the racist underbelly of the early New York punk scene with the expose’ “The White Noise Supremacists” and told the world how Dick Clark was responsible for exposing an entire generation to and convincing them to buy incredibly inane and exceedingly crappy music in “Screwing the System With Dick Clark.”
The most moving and telling piece here is “Peter Laughner.” It is essentially a six-page eulogy for a friend; it is, in my mind, Lester’s most poignant and honest work. Inside of the booze and haze filled stories of his misadventures with Laughner, founding member of Rocket from the Tombs and Pere Ubu, Bangs weaves a tapestry of warnings against a life spent in and out of vodka and drug induced comas. Try as he may (or may not) it was a warning even Lester himself could not heed. Bangs died accidentally after mixing Darvon and codeine cough medicine while fighting a cold.
Rest assured, there are less weighty subjects covered in this book. In “New Years Eve”, Bangs gives a humorously detailed list of how he spent a decade worth of New Years Eves getting high and staring at the TV or blowing money on drinks for a girl, only to end the night not getting so much as a kiss on the cheek.
In another story, he tells of interviewing future political punk gods, The Clash. It turns out Joe Strummer and the boys were not as serious and uptight as their publicity machine portrayed them. They did have their stances and beliefs, but mostly they just wanted to hang out and shoot the breeze.
However, what may be Lester’s greatest achievement in the art of bullshit is his nearly convincing argument for Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music, as “The Greatest Album Ever Made.”
It is not an easy task selling that album, one of the most annoying, self-indulgent pieces of shit ever put on vinyl, as the greatest ever but with Lester’s flare for exaggeration and unrelenting use of vocabulary, he ALMOST pulls it off.
What Lester did was take Jack Kerouac off the road and through the doors of CBGB’s. He mixed the styles of his heroes, the 1950’s Beat Generation writers, threw in Hunter Thompson’s love for drugs and put himself smack dab in the middle of the action, and in the process, created a way of writing that is as uniquely Lester Bangs as his own DNA.
You may not believe a word of what I say here. You may think I am a full of shit fan boy. I couldn’t care less. As long as you discover what Lester had to say, you can think what you want.