Lester Bangs was one great writer

Lester Bangs

I just finished Lester Bang’s Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung, which I’ve heard touted for years, and – well – tout away folks, because it’s one fine piece of rock ‘n roll literature. Edited by Greil Marcus, the sub-title is probably Marcus’: “The work of a legendary critic: Rock ‘n roll as literature and literature as rock ‘n roll”– it couldn’t be said any better than that. Lester died young, age 33, in 1982. Fundamentalist upbringing. Then became a student of excess, or at least obsession with creativity and giving people a way forward through the fog. One thing he knew how to do in spades – keep it real, and at all cost don’t fall for fan claptrap or think that gifted performers were different from the average person. They just had a particular talent. How he knew what he knew at such a young age is also the sign of a particular talent.

He wrote for Cream, the Village Voice and other publications. This collection covers his favorite bands (he couldn’t write about anything else, but things he liked ferociously): Elvis, Sun Records, Lou Reed, the Clash, the Blues, bands and singers I’d never heard of, and much, much more. What’s best is that he’s never writing just about music, he’s always writing about creativity, the Muse, artistic integrity, the scummy nature of most big rock stars and bands, the miracle of creative integrity, and himself, surely the most vivid writer-self to come through in a long, long time. He surveyed the field and he told himself, seriously, I think, he was the best of the breed writing for magazines during his time. I think he was close, very close.

Surely, Hunter Thompson’s early writing trumped Lester’s output by far, both in seriousness of topics and literary style. Lester stopped writing too early to really compare the two, certainly, but Lester’s seminal talent was the search for where the Muse lives, the ability to root for seriousness of purpose (even among the deranged), a concern for moral values, the ability to thrash away for more abundance in life. He knew how  the lives of musicians were honey to the young. His music was his politics as politics was Hunter’s music.

Anyway, you can’t compare geniuses – they both were, so let’s just say we’re dealing with two of the finest social critic-reporters we had at the end of the last century.

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