“Here I was, stuck in the middle of a dying nation with all these funny looking children who didn’t even realize the world was coming to an end, and now on top of everything else they expected me to turn my room into a hippie crash pad!” — Lester Bangs

It’s his birthday today.

A lot of ink has been spilled on Lester Bangs, including on this site. My feelings for him are as chaotic as his writing style. There are times I read him and I think, almost wildly, “How is he doing this?” Everything seems fueled by amphetamines, and that’s probably the case. I get the image of him sitting down to write and just starting. And not stopping until he’s done. No dilly-dallying. But out of him pours memoir, reference points, anecdotes, opinions – and he doesn’t worry about contradictions. He contradicts himself multiple times, sometimes even in the same piece. He is ENGAGED with the art he is writing about, and sometimes that engagement is akin to mortal combat. He’s also hilarious. Sometimes I think, “What the hell are you even going on and on about, Lester?” He’s written a couple of pieces that have become essential to me, pieces I reference all the time, in my head, in my writing, pieces that have organized themselves as perfect expressions of this or that difficult or complicated subject. His wild piece on the Troggs. That might be my #1 favorite piece from Lester Bangs. It’s WILD. And it includes all the elements I mentioned above. It’s about adolescence, first sexual feelings, high school, sexual inexperience, it’s about the Troggs’ frankness in re: sex, and finally … all of his observations pour into a small bottle of rage, rage pointed at James Taylor, of all people. Now I love James Taylor, but I cannot deny that Lester Bangs makes his case, and it’s a very convincing one. The piece is so long it’s impossible to predict where it’s going, and no matter how many times I’ve read it, I continue to discover new things.

But there are gems throughout. He died so young but he started writing early, so we do have a lot of him.

Here’s a smattering of excerpts:

Lester Bangs on Nico:

There’s a ghost born every second, and if you let the ghosts take your guts by sheer force of numbers you haven’t got a chance though probably no one has a right to judge you either. (Besides which, the ghosts are probably as scared of you as you are of them.) Nico is so possessed by ghosts she seems like one, but there is rather the clear confrontation of the knowledge that she had to get that awfully far away from human socialization to be able to write so nakedly of her love for damn near anyone, and simultaneously and so crucially the impossibility of that love ever bearing fruit, not because we were born sterile but directly the opposite, that we come and grow ever fiercer into such pain that we could sooner eat the shards of a smashed cathedral than risk one more possibility of the physical, psychic, and emotional annihilations that love between two humans can cause, not even just cause but generally totally as a logical act of nature in its ripest bloom. Strange fruit, as it were. But only strange to those who would deny the true nature of their own flesh and spirit out of fear, which reminds me somehow that if you seek this album out you should know that this is a Catholic girl singing these songs, and perhaps her ultimate message to me was that the most paralyzing fear is not sin, not even the flight from the feared object/event/confrontation/who cares what – that the only sin is denial, you who would not only turn your eyes way from what you fear as I sometimes must turn my ears away from this album, but would then add injury to what may or may not be insult by asserting that it does not exist.

In this one essay he tackles:

1. Nico’s album The Marble Index
2. His terror of Nico – her face, her music, everything
3. His fear of everything
4. Ghosts
5. The genius of one of his ex-girlfriends, whom he reached out to specifically for help in understanding Nico
6. Drugs, which he ingests in order to understand Nico
6. The rapture of death

And with him … his writing always feels like a first draft. Written at white-hot speed. I don’t know if he edited his stuff. Either way, it READS as though it poured out of him whole.

On Black Sabbath:

In his book The Making of a Counter Culture, Theodore Roszak suggested that given the current paucity of social leaders worth investing even a passing hope in, the coalition made up of the young and the free-form wing of the Left should turn to the ancient notion of the shaman, the holy madman whose prescriptions derived not from logic or think tanks or even words sometimes, but from an extraordinarily acute perception of the flux of the universe. Well, we’ve reaped Roszak’s script in spades by now, there’s a shaman slouching on every corner and tinhorn messiahs are a dime a dozen. Some are “political” and some are “mystical” and some are building their kingdoms on a “cosmic” stew of both, and each seems to have his little cadre of glaze-orbed acid casualties proselytizing for him.

Then there are also the cultural shamans, Dylan being the supreme artifact: Biblical, rooted in the soil and tradition and his own Old Testament brand of conscience. Burroughs too, of course, and his “Hassam i Sabbah” is nothing more than a particularly malevolent form of shaman, while the “Nova Police” are the benevolent regulation agency out to save the universe from addiction and control. Burroughs has been one of the foremost moralists in American literature; his work amounts to a demonology for our times, portraying the forces currently threatening our planet’s survival as evil gods operating from without.

Where Black Sabbath fits into this seeming digression is that they unite a demonology not far from Burroughs’ (if far more obvious) with a Biblical moralism that makes Dylan look positively bland, although they can be every bit as vindictive as Dylan with the Jehovan judgments.

They are probably the first truly Catholic rock group, or the first group to completely immerse themselves in the Fall and Redemption: the traditional Christian dualism which asserts that if you don’t walk in the light of the Lord then Satan is certainly pulling your strings, and a bad end can be expected, is even imminent.

They may deny all this: Ozzy Osborne responded to a question about how the band’s concept came about with a vague “I don’t know, I met the guys, we got together and rehearsed for about two years, starved, bummed around hoping for a break and it just happened. You relate to me that it’s about doom or something, but I can’t relate it to you because I’m in the middle of it.”

It really doesn’t make any difference how conscious they may be of what they’re saying, though. The message is there for anyone with ears, and it’s unmistakable. The themes are perdition, destruction, and redemption, and their basic search for justice and harmony in a night-world becomes more explicitly social all the time. On their first album that quality only appears in one song, “Wicked World.” But the prevailing mood is a medieval sense of supernatural powers moving in to snatch the unwary soul and cast it into eternal bondage.


Debbie Harry and Lester Bangs, Coney Island, 1976

On Miles Davis:

Much of Miles’ finest music, from Blue Moods to “Prayer” on Porgy and Bess to Sketches to My Funny Valentine, has been about inner pain translated into a deep mourning poetry so intense and distilled that there have been times when I (and others have reported similar reactions) have been almost literally unable to take it. I have always been offended when people ask me to take off any jazz record because they find it “depressing,” but secretly I always knew what they meant. Because there were times when I found Miles’ anguish not purgative but depressing, when I had to yank Jack Johnson out of the 8-track deck because I could not drive to the laundromat with such a weight on my heart; but I also knew the reason why I (and, if I may be presumptuous, the nebulous anti-jazz people I just mentioned) was depressed: because at that moment there was something wrong with me, of a severity that could reach by degrees from my consciousness to my heart to my soul; because I was sweeping some deep latent anguish under the emotional carpet, or not confronting myself on some primal level – and Miles cut through to that level. His music was that powerful: it exposed me to myself, to my own falsity, to my own cowardice in the face of dread of staved-off pain. Because make no mistake, Miles understands pain – and he will pry it out of your soul’s very core when he hits his supreme note and you happen, coincidentally, to be a bit of an open emotional wound at that moment yourself. It is this gift for open-heart surgery that makes him the supreme artist that he is. So, obviously, I am damned if I am going to shrug him off at this point. I am going to tear these fucking records apart and find out what the source of the cancer running through them is, praying for cure.

On the Rolling Stones, which – in the 70s – gave Bangs a nervous breakdown, which he lived out in print in a series of unhinged hilarious SMART essays:

The greatest rock and roll band in the world, for sure, and my heroes ever since I got my first look at Mick’s leer way back in ’64: the decadent badass princes we’ll never put down or lose!

I saw them in 1964 on their second American tour, and in ’65 twice. The second time, in December, I cried because I thought they’d turned away from the True Faith of Pure R&B and sold out to the crass commercialism of rock.

I’ll never forget that day. My girlfriend and I took the bus all the way from our suburb into downtown San Diego, went right to the concert hall ticket window, and suddenly I said, “Fuck it! Fuck them! Who needs ’em?” And went staggering erratically in the general direction of Skid Row, dropping tears as big as cantaloupes.

Since we’d had our own troubles, my girlfriend thought I was crying over her and me. When she found out I was crying for the Stones you better believe she was pleased as puke!

“You’re so immature!” she said. “Here I thought it was all because you loved me, when it’s really because you’re mad at the goddamn Rolling Stones.”

Damn straight I was!

In praise of sexual repression:

Maybe this gets down to it: the Ronettes, the Shangri-Las, the Crystals, the guy singers too, all of those old classic rock ‘n’ roll songs were fueled by one thing: sexual repression, and consequent frustration. They may have been sexist, they may have been neurotic or even masochistic – sometimes I think the whole reason pop music was invented in the first place was to vent sick emotions in a deceptively lulling form. THEY WERE LITERALLY EXPLOSIVE WITH ALL THAT PENT-UP LUST AND FEAR AND GUILT AND DREAD AND HATE AND RESENTMENT AND CONFUSION. And it gave them a kind of anarchic power, which can still move us.

Listening to certain old Shangri-La sides, you might find yourself laughing and crying at the same time. And the Spector stuff . . . not just the storied Wall of Sound but the urgency in those girls’ voices spelled pure sex, distillate of every scene between a boy and girl at the drive-in, vacant lots, house when the folks were out, wherever we found to sneak off to back then to see how far we could take it this time.

All that frustration got channeled into rock, all those powerful emotions were way out front and there was plenty of meticulous detail in the productions behind them. They were like magnificent tapestries depicting the most embarrassing and ridiculous yet painful situations, and they stand to this day.

On Helen Reddy:

I don’t blame Helen and the rest of womankind for being mad. All men but me are puds. What I’d like to see is an all-girl band that would sing lyrics like “I’ll cut your nuts off, you cretins,” and then jump into the audience and beat the shit out of the men there. Meanwhile, Helen’s chops are up: she’s no artist, she’s a constant pulsation, 50,000 watts of Helen Reddy arcing into diffusion with a glow that touches every stucco nautilus in every housing project from here to Bobby Goldsboro’s composite dream suburb. Helen is not merely heavy, Helen is not just a downy-necked sex object like Anne Murray – Helen is a beacon, the perfect Seventies incarnation of Miss Liberty herself in pantsuit and bowler crooning for America in a voice like the tenderest walls brushing together – the real velvet underground.

On the “withering” of The Beatles. Bangs was not only not afraid to piss people off, he courted it:

But the main thing that emerges from the career of the Beatles is the rise and fall of the concept of the group, which began to give way in rock to the ascendance of the solo artist at about the time they released their White Album, which has often been criticized for being a collection of songs by four separate individuals instead of a unified statement. Not to get too pretentious, but the Beatles’ decline also parallels the decline of the youth culture’s faith in itself as a homogenous group, for the proof of which we need look no further than the very corniness of a phrase like “youth culture” when you encounter it upon the page. That ain’t no fuckin’ culture no mo’, the blacks even started imitating whites imitating blacks, and the adjourned Beatles, like most of their peers and contemporaries, have by now finally settled for imitating themselves.

To listen to early Beatles albums, or any Beatles album up to the White Album, is to listen to collective enterprise, and course the banality of the early songs becomes doubly ironic when you consider that “love” in the “I Want to Hold Your Hand” sense became transposed into “LOVE” as in flowers and beads grubbily handed to you on street corners and all you need is a little crystalline surcease of sorrow, the whole confused mess driving you crazy as John Lennon yelps out “Gimme Some Truth” and Paul responds from suburbia with “Another Day,” perhaps his most topical solo venture ever. Impotent flailings vs. the celebration of the mundane.

A memoir-style piece about his teenage experience of the assassination of Robert Kennedy:

The shooting of Kennedy last nite was something in the way of a final straw for me. I can see the great storms coming, but at this point I’ve given up hope on finding any sort of even temporarily pacifying solution. McCarthy is almost certainly out of the Democratic running for the presidency. Humphrey will most probably run against Nixon, & the latter will almost certainly win. Whatever else happens, I’m thru combing magazines and papers and pamphlets and what not in that vain effort to figure out what is going on in all those regions of darkness around. Fuck ’em all, squares on both sides.

I had a LOT to say about his “unpublished” (now published) “notes” he took for a review of Peter Guralnick’s book Lost Highway, which starts out as a normal book review and then explodes into one of my favorite pieces of commentary about Elvis ever written, and that includes Bangs’ famous obit.

On Bob Seger:

The difference between “Lookin’ Back” and “Feel Like a Number” is seven years: from hippie alienation and paranoia to the feeling that we’re dwarfed by institutions we don’t really understand, except that somebody somewhere wants us to believe that human beings don’t matter much anymore. It would be condescending to say, Gee, isn’t it amazing that this long-haired midwestern journeyman rock sharecropper thinks about such high-flown concepts, because everybody’s freaked out by them these days. The average purchaser of current Seger albums is probably a male kid who works on some shit job and has never even considered dropping out, is in fact a stranger to the concept, so he’ll understand “Feel Like a Number” in a second. But it’s no accident that the album is called Stranger in Town. Bob Seger feels like a stranger in this society, especially the rock superstar version of interlocking corporations. And that doesn’t mean he’s some old-fashioned “relic,” even though he’s embarrassed enough to use the word himself; it means he’s a man of sanity and insight. I respect Bob Seger as much as almost anybody I can think of in the music business today.

From his great essay about hanging out with The Clash:

It’s no news by now that the reasons most of rock’s establishment have dried up creatively is that they’ve cut themselves off from the real world of everyday experience as exemplified by their fans. The ultimate question is how long a group like the Clash can continue to practice total egalitarianism in the face of mushrooming popularity. Must the walls go up inevitably, eventually, and if so when? Groups like the Grateful Dead have practiced the free-access principle at least in the past, but the Dead never had the glamour which, whether they like it or not (and I’d bet money they do) the Clash are saddled with – I mean, not for nothing does Mick Jones resemble a young and already slightly dissipated Keith Richards – beside which the Dead aren’t really a rock ‘n’ roll band and the Clash are nothing else but. And just like Mick said to me the first night, don’t ask me why I obsessively look to rock ‘n’ roll bands for some kind of model for a better society . . . I guess it’s just that I glimpsed something beautiful in a flashbulb moment once, and perhaps mistaking it for a prophecy have been seeking its fulfillment ever since. And perhaps that nothing in the world ever seemed to hold even this much promise.

It may look like I make too much of all this. We could leave all significance at the picture of Mick Jones just a hot guitarist in a white jumpsuit and a rock ‘n’ roll kid on the road obviously having the time of his life and all political pretensions be damned, but still there is a mood around the Clash, call it whatever you want, that is positive in a way I’ve never sensed around almost any other band, and I’ve been around most of them. Something unpretentiously moral, and something both self-affirming and life-affirming – as opposed, say, to the simple ruthless hedonism and avarice of so many superstars, or the grim tautlipped monomaniacal ambition of most of the pretenders to their thrones.

On one of the essays he wrote about Lou Reed – like the essays about the Rolling Stones – they become increasingly unhinged. He was OBSESSED. Here, he interviews Lou Reed but basically … goes after Reed. If you haven’t read these essays in full, you really must. You only get this angry if you LOVE and love HARD.

Anyway, I was ready to ask my Big Question, the one I’d pondered over for months.

“Do you ever resent people for the way that you have lived out what they might think of as the dark side of their lives for them, vicariously, in your music and your life?”

He didn’t seem to have the slightest idea what I was talking about, shook his head.

“Like,” I pressed on, “I listen to your records shootin’ smack, shootin’ speed, committing suicide–”

“That’s three percent out of a hundred songs.”

“Like with all this decadence and glitter shit – none of it would have happened if not for you, and yet I wonder if you –”

“I didn’t have anything to do with it.”

“Bullshit, you started it, singing about smack, drag queens, etc.”

“What’s decadent about that?”

“Okay, let’s define decadence. You tell me what you think is decadence.”

“You. Because you used to be able to write and now you’re just fulla shit. You don’t keep track of music, you’re not on top of what’s happening, you don’t know the players or who’s doin’ what. It’s all jive, you’re getting very egocentric.”

On David Bowie:

This is the first Bowie album without a lyric sheet, and I’m glad, because aside from reservations voiced above I’ve always agreed with Fats Domino that it’s more fun to figure them out for yourself. The first line on the album is the worst: “The return of the thin white duke / Throwing darts in lovers’ eyes.” Somehow, back in Rock Critics’ Training School, when they told me about “pop poetry,” I didn’t and still don’t think that they were talking about this, which is not only pretentious and mildly unpleasant, but I am currently wrestling with a terrible paranoia that this is Bowie talking about himself. I have a nightmare vision in my mind of him opening the set in his new tour by striding out onstage slowly, with a pained look in his eyes and one spotlight following him, mouthing these words. And, quite frankly, that idea terrifies me. Because if it’s true, it means he’s still as big an idiot as he used to be and needs a little more cocaine to straighten him out.

One of my favorite Lester Bangs essay is on The Troggs but it has the eye-catching title “James Taylor Marked for Death.” James Taylor is only mentioned once!

Now that we’ve been brassy enough to use a word like “anthemic,” we might as well stick our necks out and get even a little more pretentious and note that many of the Troggs’ most prurient songs, with their lumberjack-balling-honky-tonk-woman-in-iron-bed-with-screws-loose bum-crash rhythms and drooling “lyrics” as Time magazine referred to the hits of the Stones in an early smear, are actually just a smidgen beyond the average “Hey, baby! Here I come with a shag haircut and my big Wazoo!” type of composition which jaded fops like Led Zeppelin and virility complexes like John Kay have helped bring to prominence. Many of the Troggs’ songs, aside from the fact that they were immediate come-ons and male self-aggrandizement, also seemed to have an extra-excited, almost celebratory quality about them, sexual anthems and sexual whoops that get banned from the radio and get played by their proud owners never at parties for the titillation of giggling cases of arrested development but rather at home alone sitting in front of the speakers so you can pick up that full charge of bravado and self-affirmation even if the basic image is as corny at least as John Wayne; when you’re a kid you need stuff like that. And those guitars blast you through the wall, out cross the rooftops ‘tween antennas of your neighborhood, straight out of your cell into perfect release in a troposphering limbo of blizzard noise at last, home free.

On the Stooges and Iggy Pop:

So now you see what I’m driving at, why the Stooges are vital, aside from being good musicians, which I’ll prove just as tangentially later. It takes courage to make a fool of yourself, to say, “See, this is all a sham, this whole show and all its floodlit drug-jacked realer-than-life trappings, and the fact that you are out there and I am up here means not the slightest thing.” Because it doesn’t. The Stooges have that kind of courage, but few other performers do. Jim Morrison, of late – how inspiring to see the onetime atropine-eyed Byronic S&M Lizard King come clean stumbling around the stage with a Colt 45 in hand and finally wave his dong at the teeny minions who came there to see him hold both it and his gut in and give them some more vivid production which communicated nothing real but suggested everything a fertile pube brain could dredge up! Morrison, def, does not get a pie in the face! He ‘fessed up! And even old John Lennon, who for a whole qualified for the first and biggest pie (to drown him and Yoko both in slush as ersatz as that which they originally excreted on the entire Western world), has set such a consistent record for absurd self-parody above and beyond the needs of the revolution (like saying, “I gave back the MBE also because ‘Cold Turkey’ was slipping down the charts” – a fine gesture. We won’t forget it later, either) that he too qualifies for at least a year’s moratorium from the creem guerrillas. But then there’s all those other people – George Harrison (a giant pie stuffed with the works of Manly P. Hall) and that infernal snob McCartney and those radical dilettante capitalist pigs like Jefferson Airplane (it’s all right to be a honky, in fact all the Marxists are due for some pies in pronto priority, but to wit on all that bread singin’ bout bein’ an outlaw when yer most scurrilous illegal set is ripping off lyrics from poor old A.A. Milne and struggling sci-fi hacks, wa’al, the Creem Committee don’t cotton to that, neighbor).

Similarly, Mick Jagger gets immediate pie-ority as a fake moneybags revolutionary, and in general for acting smarter and hipper and like more of a cultural and fashion arbiter than he really is. If Jesus had been at Altamont, they would have crucified him, but if Mick Jagger makes me wait forty-five minutes while he primps and stones up in his dressing room one more time and then blames it on some poor menial instrument mover, then me and the corps are goin’ stage ward with both tins blazing when he does show his fish-eyed mug. And he’s far from the worst offender – in fact, as a performing artist, he’s one of the least offensive around – his show, with its leers and minces has always been outrageous and foolish and absurd and transcendentally arrogant, yet pretentious only in the best possible way, a spastic flap-lipped tornado writhing from here to a million steaming snatches and beyond in one undifferentiated erogenous mass, a mess and a spectacle all at the same time. You won’t catch Mick Jagger lost in solemn grimaces of artistic angst, no sir! So he really is almost as good as the Stooges, in fact anticipated them, but I’d still hate to think of his tantrum if some grinning geek from down in the street tried to commandeer the sacred stage where he jerks out and rips off his rushes. In that sense, his whole show is another anachronism, though nowhere near as fossilized as most other rock acts, who will drown in creem and crust before we’re through. The plain fact is that 99% of popstars do not have the true charisma, style or stature to hold their bastion (Bastille) stage without the artificial support they’ve traditionally enjoyed. Most of them, were they splat in the kisser with a pie or confronted with an audience composed of sane people demanding calmly (crude militant bullshit is out), “What the fuck do you think you are doing? Just what is all this shit?” – most of your current “phenomenons,” “heroes” and “artists” would just fold up a stupefied loss, temperamentally incapable (by virtue of the debilitating spoiled-brat life they’ve been living, even if they ever had any real pizazz in the first place – the oppressor is fat and weak, brothers!) of dealing with their constituency of wised-up marks on a one-to-one basis. They simply don’t have enough personality, enough brains or enough guts, your average popstar being neither very bright nor very aware of much that goes on outside his own glittering substratum, half lodged in fantasy, where ego and preening vanity are overfed and corrode substance like a constant diet of cocaine.

But the Stooges are one band that does have the strength to meet the audience on its own terms, no matter what manner of devilish bullshit that audience might think up (although they are usually too cowed by Ig’s psychically pugnacious assertiveness to do anything but gape and cringe slightly, snickering later on the drive home).

From his review of Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks:

Where I live, in New York (not to make it more than it is, which is hard), everyone I know often steps over bodies which might well be dead or dying as a matter of course, without pain. And I wonder in what scheme it was originally conceived that such action is showing human refuse the ultimate respect it deserves.

There is of course a rationale – what else are you going to do – but it holds no more than our fear of our own helplessness in the face of the plain of life as it truly is: a plain which extends into an infinity beyond the horizons we have only invented. Come on, die it. As I write this, I can read in the Village Voice the blurbs of people opening heterosexual S&M clubs in Manhattan, saying things like, “S&M is just another equally valid form of love. Why people can’t accept that we’ll never know.” Makes you want to jump out a fifth floor window rather than even read about it, but it’s hardly the end of the world; it’s not nearly as bad as the hurts that go on everywhere everyday that are taken so casually by all of us as faces of life. Maybe it boils down to how much you actually want to subject yourself to. If you accept for even a moment the idea that each human life is as precious and delicate as a snowflake and then you look at a wino in a doorway, you’ve got to hurt until you feel like a sponge for all those other assholes’ problems., until you feel like an asshole yourself, so you draw all the appropriate lines. You stop feeling. But you know that then you begin to die. So you tussle with yourself. How much of this horror can I actually allow myself to think about? Perhaps the numbest mannikin is wiser than somebody who only allows their sensitivity to drive them to destroy everything they touch – but then again, to tilt Madame George’s hat a hair, just to recognize that that person exists, just to touch his cheek and then probably expire because the realization that you must share the world with him is ultimately unbearable is to go only the first mile. The realization of living is just about that low and that exalted and that unbearable and that sought-after. Please come back and leave me alone. But when we’re alone together we can talk all we want about the universality of this abyss: it doesn’t make any difference, the highest only meets the lowest for some lying succor, UNICEF to relatives, so you scratch and spit and curse in violent resignation at the strict fact that there is absolutely nothing you can do but finally reject anyone in greater pain than you. At such a moment, another breath is treason. That’s why you leave your liberal causes, leave suffering humanity to die in worse squalor than they knew before you happened along. You got their hopes up. Which makes you viler than the most scrofulous carrion. Viler than the ignorant boys who would take Madame George for a couple of cigarettes. Because you have committed the crime of knowledge, and thereby not only walked past or over someone you knew to be suffering, but also violated their privacy, the last possession of the dispossessed.

Jesus.

What is supposed to be a review of Count Five’s Psychotic Reaction becomes an ode to being a teenager:

So perhaps the truest autobiography I could ever write, and I know this holds as well for many other people, would take place largely at record counters, jukeboxes, pushing forward in the driver’s seat while AM walloped you on, alone under headphones with vast scenic bridges and angelic choirs in the brain through insomniac postmidnights, or just to sit at leisure stoned or not in the vast benign lap of America, slapping on sides and feeling good.

And finally, of course, his most famous piece, the obituary he wrote for Elvis. Here’s how it was laid out in the Village Voice.

As a writer, Bangs challenges me to do better, write faster, trust my instincts, don’t pay attention to what other people are doing, DON’T try to fit in, do your own thing, make your own connections, who made up the rules? fuck those people, follow your obsessions, be PERSONAL in your writing, don’t hold back, let art lift you up, let art break your art, and let your readers see ALL of it.

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4 Responses to “Here I was, stuck in the middle of a dying nation with all these funny looking children who didn’t even realize the world was coming to an end, and now on top of everything else they expected me to turn my room into a hippie crash pad!” — Lester Bangs

  1. The Goodreads essay you link at top (and I’m saving THAT block o’text for another time, when I’m not stealing moments from my employer to pursue my own things) leads to a profile that in turn leads to this website, if that helps. Quite a few essays and such there, though the well seems to have gone dry almost five years ago.

    • sheila says:

      Kelly – yes I think in one of my searches for her I did find that page – but yes, nothing recent. She’s too good to just have vanished! Maybe I should put out a public call on Twitter and see if someone there claims it.

  2. Tom says:

    A fine tribute! All I would add at the tail end is something about feeling free to change your mind in print, which he did on a number of occasions, and which seems to be something of a lost art.

    I’d never seen the Elvis obit in its original layout. That’s pretty cool.

    I love all these essays so much. Just reading through these excerpts gives so much pleasure.

    My grandma bought me Psychotic Reactions Etc. for my 18th birthday a couple decades ago. She said the title amused her. :) One of the best gifts I’ve ever received. We’re past due for a third Bangs anthology. I could go on reading the other two forever, but I want MORE.

    • sheila says:

      Tom – // is something about feeling free to change your mind in print, which //

      YES. I should have mentioned this – you are so right – and it’s such a no-no in the critic’s world and it’s so frustrating. Nobody is right all the time. People change their minds constantly – “I’ll have the salad – no, wait, could I have French fries instead?” To pretend your opinions are rock-solid and unchangeable is just not how most of us live. And I loved how Lester incorporated that – those Rolling Stones pieces – and his Lou Reed pieces – and his Elvis obit – all feature wild swerves in opinion – negative to positive and back.

      I really dislike the dogmatic nature of a lot of the current discourse – or, I suppose, it’s not just a “current” thing – it’s in general a critic thing – you can’t say “I like THIS aspect of something, and dislike THAT aspect” – Or, you CAN say it, and I DO, but many people refuse to engage on that in-between level. It’s all hate or love. Worse than hate, is dismissal. If I never read the word “Meh” again, I’d be a happy woman.

      // My grandma bought me Psychotic Reactions Etc. for my 18th birthday a couple decades ago. She said the title amused her. //

      Oh my God, that is so fantastic. What a cool grandmother!

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