April 30, 2009

Lester Bangs: Nothing dies, it just comes back in different forms...

Regarded by many as the greatest rock journalist who ever lived, Lester Bangs died on April 30, 1982 due to a lethal drug interaction (non-recreational), which is also what killed Nick Drake 8 years earlier. 
Bangs, who was based in Detroit Rock City, wrote in the Gonzo style, similar to Hunter S. Thompson and beat authors of his generation.  He brought rock n' roll back to a human level by not kissing the asses of the rock stars he was interviewing.  He would usually start his interviews off with an insult and take it from there.  Since most famous musicians were getting treated like idols or heroes, he decided they needed a kick in the ass, and that rock n' roll wasn't about fame or money or celebrity, but about expressing real, visceral emotions and nothing more; this applied not only to music, but to a way of life, how anything could be seen as "rock n' roll".    Attaching the music to any other ideology (capitalism and the music "industry") was basically a load of shit, which he liked to expose in his writings.  

Famous for writing about MC5, the Stooges, Gang of Four, Blondie, Roxy Music, Brian Eno, Bowie, Lou Reed, and many others, Bangs made a name for himself pretty quickly.  He wrote for Rolling stone in the late 60's and early 70's as a freelance writer, but was fired due his "disrespect" for the musicians he was interviewing, i.e., he didn't want to play ball with the money-making machine.  One of his first articles in Rolling Stone was about how MC5's Kick out the Jams was a bunch of crap, which set a precedent for his later work.  He then went to work for Creem magazine, a supposedly more progressive and grass-roots run publication. However, Creem was criticized as being run by yet another douchebag, said Bangs in his last known interview, comparing the owner of Creem magazine (at least in my opinion) to a personality akin to Bruce Dickenson in the SNL skit featuring Blue Oyster Cult and the famous cowbell.  Creem magazine first coined the terms "punk rock" and "heavy metal", and despite Bangs criticism was responsible for giving punk rock, post-punk, and new wave music it's first real exposure in terms of reviews Bangs also went on to write for the Village Voice in New York.

Lester Bang highlights: His article on Brian Eno, entitled, Brian Eno: A Sandbox in Alphaville (1979), quotes Eno as saying, "I'm terribly attracted to women with ocular damage".   His famous interview with Lou Reed, entitled, Let Us Now Praise Famous Death Dwarves (or how I slugged it out with Lou Reed and stayed awake), involved getting Lou Reed drunk and watching him drift into a stupor.  Lines from that interview include: "...Lou's sallow skin almost as whitish yellow as his hair, whole face and frame so transcendently emaciated he had indeed become insectival. His eyes were rusty, two copper coins lying in desert sands under the sun all day with telephone wires humming overhead, but he looked straight at me. Maybe through me...".  

In addition, Bangs notoriously disliked Bryan Ferry and David Bowie, who he believed used rock n' roll to satisfy their egos (Bowie? Ego?), not caring about the significance of the music apart from themselves and perhaps all the sex they could have by being famous rock stars.  I personally like their music, but I can see the possibility of this being the case for Ferry and Bowie, as well as lot of other musicians nowadays.  Fame and fortune are powerful motivators, and spectacle and image are powerful tools of persuasion.  

For more info on Bangs, check here and here, but not here.

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