Lester Bangs - Rock critic god.
October 7, 2003 7:32 AM   Subscribe

Lester Bangs, rock critic. Some reviews to read and enjoy. Patti Smith. Astral Weeks. Captain Beefheart. The Shaggs. Black Sabbath. Weather Report. Lou Reed. There are books you can read about him, too. (Previous mention in this thread.)
posted by ashbury (18 comments total)
Lester Bangs.

*begins salaaming helplessly*

I'm not worthy! I'm not worthy!
posted by jonmc at 7:43 AM on October 7, 2003

I once read a piece on Lester Bangs written by a member of The Mekons. He claimed that Lester liked to eat the mentholated gauze from a Vick's inhaler.
posted by Mayor Curley at 8:06 AM on October 7, 2003

To be more coherent and (slightly) less fanboy: Lester, along with Dave Marsh, is my idol as a music writer. Unlike a lotta rock critics (Christgau, Marcus), however insightful or talented they might be, Lester and Dave seemed to be "one of us," a person to whom without rock and roll, life would be empty and pointless. So Vick's inhalers and all he walked it like he talked it. He was in the audience with us, not taking notes in the corner but slamming around the floor. So thank you, Les.
posted by jonmc at 8:18 AM on October 7, 2003

Thanks for the links, ashbury. Lester was a supremely talented, but intensely messed-up human being. The whitewashed portrayal of him in Almost Famous made me want to puke.

Just sayin'...
posted by MrBaliHai at 8:20 AM on October 7, 2003

Thanks for bringing this up, he was one of the greats. But you forgot a link to the magazine that helped to define modern music, that helped to define, and that helped define him. Punk Magazine. Do a search for 'Lester Bangs' in the search box and you'll get some of his best work. His piece on the Dictators is a not-to-be-missed slice of rock history.
posted by lumpenprole at 8:28 AM on October 7, 2003

I still wish I had my March '75 Creem with the blond Sally Can't Dance Lou Reed on the cover under the headline LOU REED: WANTED DEAD OR ALIVE - What's the Difference?--which I now see I've mentioned once already in (& Hey! Bonus points to Ashbury for linking it!) MrBaliHai's wonderful Creem magazine (Also, from re-reading that thread: how I miss rodii) post!--and within Bangs coming up with bon mot after bon mot in Let Us Now Praise Famous Death Dwarves.

From memory yet green: scamper across the stage in epicene fits like a monkey on cantharides... puke up a gargantuan slab of maggoty rancor... That latter was a reference to Reed's concept album/rock opera about two speedfreaks in Berlin, the former, his stage act circa Rock 'n Roll Animal. How I howled when reading that.

Because of Bangs, I bought The Modern Lovers in 1976. What a wit Bangs was but what a tragic life was his, ending in death by Dextromorphan.
posted by y2karl at 8:42 AM on October 7, 2003

Thanks for this, ashbury. I still remember the disbelieving horror with which I read the news of his death over 20 years ago now. He could write reams of crap on autopilot (or whatever he was on...), but when he focused, when he cared, he was one of the greatest music critics ever. That Beefheart review is the best thing I've ever read on a great musician who never really got his due (and has stopped making music, dammit); everybody go read the review and then go out and buy Trout Mask Replica NOW. "The rhythms may be shifting a lot, and the players all jutting off at squiggly angles, but that heartbeat always rocks on as surely as an old up-and-down boogie." Yes.
posted by languagehat at 8:51 AM on October 7, 2003

i liked philip seymour hoffman's portrayal of lester bangs, which was true to the filmed interview clips of bangs from the 1970s that are on the dvd. in some defense of cameron crowe, perhaps some of the whitewashing comes from his naivete or from bangs not wanting to give a fifteen-year-old the full-on lester bangs experience? (though this second interp would run counter to bangs's general character.)

also of note: bruce sterling's short story "dori bangs", which imagines a union of less-than-holy matrimony for bangs and for underground cartoonist dori seda. someday i will make this into a movie. some day...
posted by pxe2000 at 8:57 AM on October 7, 2003

I read an interview of Brian Eno by Bangs, a couple of weeks ago. First time I'd read anything he'd produced, though I had heard of him.

The interview itself was great: insightful, revealing, informative, etc. until it came to the point where Bangs decided to show us his insight into Eno and his methods.

It was dire, self-indulgent bollocks. Really bad, kind of like those wanky 70's art-critics I used to watch on the Open University, late in the morning.

Rock-God Critic, maybe, but not Rock-Critic God.
posted by Blue Stone at 9:47 AM on October 7, 2003

the best thing I've ever read on a great musician who never really got his due (and has stopped making music, dammit)...

Lucky me then, language hat--I saw Beefheart in 1980 at the Showbox here in Seattle. And long before that, I bought Trout Mask Replica on the strength of that review. I only wish I still had my copy. Your call on his reams of crap when on autopilot is in harmony with blue stone's comment, let it be noted. His insights were not always deep nor on target but he did have some flights of wicked prose when they were.
posted by y2karl at 10:28 AM on October 7, 2003

I especially love his defenses of (then) unpopular things like 60's bubblegum pop, Alice Cooper and Blue Cheer.

Oh and this is probably heresy, but I always preferred Safe As Milk to Trout Mask Replica..."Abba Zabba" is the most weirdly whimsical record.
posted by jonmc at 10:38 AM on October 7, 2003

y2karl: Lucky you—you caught him just in time. He gave up music in '82 (hm, same year as Lester passed).  You can read all about it here.

jonmc: Anybody who knows enough Beefheart to prefer one album to another is fine by me! I got turned on to the Cap'n by having a fan (also my employer at the time) blast Trout Mask from his car speakers while I was a captive audience, so it was either sink or swim, and I got hooked on it. If he'd played Safe As Milk, that might be my favorite.
posted by languagehat at 12:30 PM on October 7, 2003

Then what do you think of the music made by the reunited Magic Band? I agree with this opinion - "Back To the Front" is great. Honestly.
I have to say as something of a purist I was nervous about anything minus Don but have been hugely and pleasantly surprised.

And I'm a "Trout Mask Replica" man myself, BTW

[/thread derail]

Lester Bangs is God. I brought "Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung" at an early age and I've never looked back. In some ways I owe the man my life.
posted by soundofsuburbia at 1:26 PM on October 7, 2003

Mayor Curley, I think the Langford essay was in the second or third McSweeneys (i.e., "back when it was cool").
posted by yerfatma at 1:48 PM on October 7, 2003

soundofsuburbia: First I've heard of it; I'll have to check it out. Thanks! (I saw the Arkestra minus Sun Ra and they were still great, so I'm certainly willing to give the Magic Band a chance.)
posted by languagehat at 2:01 PM on October 7, 2003

Safe as Milk over TMR, if anyone is counting (thought I was the only one.)
posted by GiantRobot at 4:00 PM on October 7, 2003

sound of suburbia: I actually heard some bits of the Magic Band CD from a Beefheart fan club guy who was sitting next to me in a bar in the East Village, who told me to keep it on the DL. It was pretty damned good. The odd coincidence is the next day at work (I work at a music company) we recieved ad copy about the same record. So much for the DL.
posted by jonmc at 6:28 AM on October 8, 2003

I'd been waiting for Psychotic Reactions from the library for months. It finally came in yesterday and I read the intro last night. I think I'm going to savour this book slowly in order to let it soak into my consciousness like a beautiful virus.
posted by ashbury at 7:29 AM on October 8, 2003

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