Lester Bangs was a Frustrating Mess

Lester Bangs was a writer’s writer for Rock criticism. He was brash and unabashed; as colorful as his subject matter, his passion for culture was infectious. As a bonus, he could string together complete sentences, (not necessarily a pre-requisite for the cutting-edge Rock Writers of his day). Lester Bangs could write and he had enough charisma and cache to keep getting gigs – albeit garbage gigs - after repeated bridge burning. He left a notable legacy as an unflinching misanthrope.

After a read of selected writings recently, the bold bombast of Lester Bangs still seems potent and important. He was notorious for scorching the cultural landscape of the Golden Gods, and challenging to the mindfulness of the consumer. He brilliantly took down the titans: Beatles, Stones, Dylan, Bowie, Sex Pistols, etc. He wrote like someone born to die, relentlessly punching away at an unfeeling, unthinking marketplace, and a culture that couldn’t and wouldn’t care less. We could use more of this today, though his style is as unemployable as ever.

Bangs didn’t accept that pop music had to be meaningless. He fought cynicism and keenly mocked creative self-seriousness, but over time, battling the superficial currents of the music business left him with unhealthy measures of both. He was not unlike John Henry up against the machine; eventually he was just worn out by trying too hard. Lester Bangs was an obsessive, and bless him for it. But, his occupational pan handling and tendency to self-medicate – heavily - underscores an inescapable contradiction within the main premise of his work: his job depended on an industry that obviously valued money over good art.

Lester Bangs was almost perversely expectant on the transformative powers of music. He set impossible standards; ultimately, he fell far short of them himself, (he died young – age thirty-three - in a rather cliché way: OD, looking like a bit of a scum bag). He would manically buy into and simultaneously reject the conceit of the musician as hero. He was a complicated person writing about complicated people, but his chosen medium demanded an oversimplification of the strange business of it all. He fought a good fight, but over time, a predictable downer obfuscated the vitality of his viewpoint. He was somewhat of a fool for elevating his subjects in the first place.

The downfall of Lester Bangs was fast and furious; sad associations, thinning taste, broke. His last writings have a feel of self-parody, and must have bummed him out greatly. He went out of his way to record some shitty music himself. The talent started to calcify, and he let go/ lost faith, became another first world burnout; a man too smart for his own skill set. It was too early for a man of his vision. He reached rare heights as a critic, especially in the Rock and Roll game, as one able to spit into the eye of conformity and make it seem viable.

Leave a comment

Add comment