Lester Bangs

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Lester Bangs
Lester Bangs.jpg
Bangs photographed by Roberta Bayley in 1976
Born
Leslie Conway Bangs

(1948-12-14)December 14, 1948
DiedApril 30, 1982(1982-04-30) (aged 33)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Cause of deathAccidental overdose of dextropropoxyphene, diazepam, and NyQuil
OccupationMusic critic, musician, author
Writing career
Period1969–1982
Subject Rock music, jazz

Leslie Conway "Lester" Bangs (December 14, 1948 – April 30, 1982) [1] was an American music journalist, critic, author, and musician. He wrote for Creem and Rolling Stone magazines, and was known for his leading influence in rock music criticism. [2] [3] The music critic Jim DeRogatis called him "America's greatest rock critic". [4]

Music journalism journalism genre

Music journalism is media criticism and reporting about music topics, including popular music, classical music and traditional music. Journalists began writing about music in the eighteenth century, providing commentary on what is now regarded as classical music. In the 1960s, music journalism began more prominently covering popular music like rock and pop after the breakthrough of The Beatles. With the rise of the internet in the 2000s, music criticism developed an increasingly large online presence with music bloggers, aspiring music critics, and established critics supplementing print media online. Music journalism today includes reviews of songs, albums and live concerts, profiles of recording artists, and reporting of artist news and music events.

<i>Creem</i> magazine

Creem, "America's Only Rock 'n' Roll Magazine", was a monthly rock 'n' roll publication first published in March 1969 by Barry Kramer and founding editor Tony Reay. It suspended production in 1989 but attained a short-lived renaissance in the early 1990s as a glossy tabloid. Lester Bangs, often cited as "America's Greatest Rock Critic", became editor in 1971. The term "punk rock" was coined in May 1971, in Dave Marsh's Looney Tunes CREEM column about Question Mark & the Mysterians.

<i>Rolling Stone</i> American magazine focusing on popular culture, based in New York City

Rolling Stone is an American monthly magazine that focuses on popular culture. It was founded in San Francisco, California in 1967 by Jann Wenner, who is still the magazine's publisher, and the music critic Ralph J. Gleason. It was first known for its musical coverage and for political reporting by Hunter S. Thompson. In the 1990s, the magazine shifted focus to a younger readership interested in youth-oriented television shows, film actors, and popular music. In recent years, it has resumed its traditional mix of content.

Contents

Biography

Early life

Bangs was born in Escondido, California. He was the son of Norma Belle (née Clifton) and Conway Leslie Bangs, a truck driver. [5] Both of his parents were from Texas: his father from Enloe and his mother from Pecos County. [6] Norma Belle was a devout Jehovah's Witness. Conway died in a fire when his son was young. When Bangs was 11, he moved with his mother to El Cajon, also in San Diego County. [7] His early interests and influences ranged from the Beats (particularly William S. Burroughs) and jazz musician John Coltrane and Miles Davis, to comic books and science fiction. [8] He had a connection with The San Diego Door , an underground newspaper of the late 1960s.

Escondido, California City in California

Escondido is a city located in San Diego County's North County region, 30 miles (48 km) northeast of downtown San Diego. The city occupies a shallow valley ringed by rocky hills. Incorporated in 1888, it is one of the oldest cities in San Diego County. The city had a population of 143,911 in the 2010 census.

Enloe, Texas human settlement in Texas, United States of America

Enloe is an unincorporated community in Delta County, Texas, United States. Although it is unincorporated, Enloe has a post office, with the ZIP code of 75441.

Pecos County, Texas County in the United States

Pecos County is a county located in the U.S. state of Texas. As of the 2010 census, its population was 15,507. The county seat is Fort Stockton. The county was created in 1871 and organized in 1875. It is named for the Pecos River. It is one of the nine counties that comprise the Trans-Pecos region of West Texas.

Rolling Stone magazine

Bangs became a freelance writer in 1969, after reading an ad in Rolling Stone soliciting readers' reviews. His first piece was a negative review of the MC5 album Kick Out the Jams , which he sent to Rolling Stone with a note requesting, if the magazine were to decline to publish the review, that he be given a reason for the decision; no reply was forthcoming, as the magazine did indeed publish the review.

MC5 band

MC5 was an American rock band from Lincoln Park, Michigan, formed in 1964. The original band line-up consisted of vocalist Rob Tyner, guitarists Wayne Kramer and Fred "Sonic" Smith, bassist Michael Davis, and drummer Dennis Thompson. "Crystallizing the counterculture movement at its most volatile and threatening", according to AllMusic critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine, the MC5's leftist political ties and anti-establishment lyrics and music positioned them as emerging innovators of the punk movement in the United States. Their loud, energetic style of back-to-basics rock and roll included elements of garage rock, hard rock, blues rock, and psychedelic rock.

<i>Kick Out the Jams</i> 1969 live album by MC5

Kick Out the Jams is the debut album by American protopunk band MC5. It was released in February 1969, through Elektra Records. It was recorded live at Detroit's Grande Ballroom over two nights, Devil's Night and Halloween, 1968.

His 1970 review of Black Sabbath's first album in Rolling Stone was scathing, rating them as imitators of the band Cream:

Black Sabbath British heavy metal band

Black Sabbath were an English rock band, formed in Birmingham in 1968, by guitarist and main songwriter Tony Iommi, drummer Bill Ward, bassist and main lyricist Geezer Butler and singer Ozzy Osbourne. Black Sabbath are often cited as pioneers of heavy metal music. The band helped define the genre with releases such as Black Sabbath (1970), Paranoid (1970), and Master of Reality (1971). The band had multiple line-up changes, with Iommi being the only constant member throughout its history.

<i>Black Sabbath</i> (album) 1970 studio album by Black Sabbath

Black Sabbath is the debut studio album by the English rock band Black Sabbath. Released on 13 February 1970 in the United Kingdom and on 1 June 1970 in the United States, the album reached number eight on the UK Albums Charts and number 23 on the Billboard charts. Black Sabbath is widely considered the first heavy metal album. Additionally, the opening track of the album—Black Sabbath—is widely considered to be the first doom metal song.

Cream (band) 1960s British rock supergroup

Cream were a British rock band formed in London in 1966. The group consisted of lead vocalist/bassist Jack Bruce, guitarist/vocalist Eric Clapton and drummer Ginger Baker. The group's third album, Wheels of Fire (1968), is the world's first platinum-selling double album. The band is widely regarded as the world's first successful supergroup. In their career, they sold more than 15 million records worldwide. Their music included songs based on traditional blues such as "Crossroads" and "Spoonful", and modern blues such as "Born Under a Bad Sign", as well as more current material such as "Strange Brew", "Tales of Brave Ulysses" and "Toad".

Cream clichés that sound like the musicians learned them out of a book, grinding on and on with dogged persistence. Vocals are sparse, most of the album being filled with plodding bass lines over which the lead guitar dribbles wooden Claptonisms from the master's tiredest Cream days. They even have discordant jams with bass and guitar reeling like velocitized speedfreaks all over each other's musical perimeters yet never quite finding synch—just like Cream! But worse. [9]

Bangs wrote about the death of Janis Joplin in 1970 from a drug overdose: "It's not just that this kind of early death has become a fact of life that has become disturbing, but that it's been accepted as a given so quickly." [10]

Janis Joplin American singer and songwriter

Janis Lyn Joplin was an American rock, soul, and blues singer-songwriter, and one of the most successful and widely known female rock stars of her era. After releasing three albums, she died of a heroin overdose at the age of 27. A fourth album, Pearl, was released in January 1971, just over three months after her death. It reached number one on the Billboard charts.

In 1973, Jann Wenner fired Bangs from Rolling Stone for "disrespecting musicians" after a particularly harsh review of the group Canned Heat. [11]

Creem magazine

Bangs began freelancing for Detroit-based Creem in 1970. [8] In 1971, he wrote a feature for Creem on Alice Cooper, and soon afterward he moved to Detroit. Named Creem's editor in 1971, [12] Bangs fell in love with Detroit, calling it "rock's only hope", and remained there for five years. [13]

During the early 1970s, Bangs and some other writers at Creem began using the term punk rock to designate the genre of 1960s garage bands and more contemporary acts, such as MC5 and Iggy and the Stooges. [14] [15] Their writings would provide some of the conceptual framework for the later punk and new wave movements that emerged in New York, London, and elsewhere later in the decade. [16] [17] They would be quick to pick up on these new movements at their inception and provide extensive coverage of the phenomenon. Bangs was enamored of the noise music of Lou Reed, [18] and Creem gave significant exposure to artists such as Reed, David Bowie, Roxy Music, Captain Beefheart, Blondie, Brian Eno, and the New York Dolls years earlier than the mainstream press. Bangs wrote the essay/interview "Let Us Now Praise Famous Death Dwarves" about Reed in 1975. [19] Creem was also among the earliest publications to give sizable coverage to hard rock and metal artists such as Motörhead, Kiss, Judas Priest, and Van Halen.

Freelance career

After leaving Creem in 1976, he wrote for The Village Voice , Penthouse , Playboy , New Musical Express , and many other publications.

Writing in Stereo Review , Bangs described the album Funky Kingston by Toots and the Maytals as "perfection, the most exciting and diversified set of reggae tunes by a single artist yet released". [20]

Death

Bangs died in New York City on April 30, 1982, at the age of 33, of an accidental overdose of dextropropoxyphene (opioid analgesic), diazepam (benzodiazapine), and NyQuil. [21] [22]

Writing style

Bangs's criticism was filled with cultural references, not only to rock music but also to literature and philosophy. [8] He was known for his radical and critical style of working, apparent in this quotation:

Well basically I just started out to lead [an interview] with the most insulting question I could think of. Because it seemed to me that the whole thing of interviewing as far as rock stars and that was just such a suck-up. It was groveling obeisance to people who weren't that special, really. It's just a guy, just another person, so what? [23]

On one occasion, while the J. Geils Band were playing in concert, Bangs climbed onto the stage, typewriter in hand, and typed a supposed review of the event, in full view of the audience. [24]

In 1979, writing for the Village Voice, Bangs wrote a poignant piece about the White supremacy from a Punk music scene perspective, called "The white noise supremacists". [25]

Music

Bangs was also a musician in his own right. In 1976, he and Peter Laughner recorded an acoustic improvisation in the Creem office. The recording included covers/parodies of songs like "Sister Ray" and "Pale Blue Eyes", both by the Velvet Underground.

In 1977, Bangs recorded, as a solo artist, a 7" vinyl single named "Let It Blurt/Live", mixed by John Cale and released in 1979.

In 1977, at the famous New York City nightclub, CBGB's, while Bangs was talking to guitarist Mickey Leigh, Joey Ramone's brother, the idea for a band named "Birdland" came to fruition. Although they both had their roots in jazz, the two wanted to create an old school rock & roll group. Leigh brought in his post-punk band, The Rattlers (David Merrill on bass; Matty Quick on drums), and cut "Birdland with Lester Bangs". The recording took place at the under renovation Electric Lady Studios. Bassist David Merrill, who was working on the construction of the studio, had the keys to the building and they snuck the band in on April Fool's Day, 1979 for an impromptu and somewhat illegal late night recording session. The end result was a completely uncut and un-dubbed recording that displayed completely raw music. Birdland broke up within two months of this rare recording (in which the cassette tape from the session became the master, mixed by Ed Stasium and released by Leigh only in 1986).

In 1980 Lester Bangs traveled to Austin, Texas, and met a surf/punk rock group "The Delinquents". In early December of the same year, they recorded an album as "Lester Bangs and the Delinquents", entitled Jook Savages on the Brazos, released the following year.

In 1990 the Mekons released the EP F.U.N. 90 with Bangs' declamation in the song "One Horse Town".

Music

Writing

Film

Selected works

By Lester Bangs

About Lester Bangs

Works citing Lester Bangs

See also

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References

Notes

  1. Christgau, Robert (1982-05-11). "Lester Bangs, 1948-1982". The Village Voice . Retrieved 2014-01-31.
  2. Lester Bangs. Random House. Retrieved on November 4, 2007.
  3. Lindberg, Ulf; Gudmundsson, Gestur; Michelsen, Morten; Weisethaunet, Hans (2005). Rock Criticism from the Beginning: Amusers, Bruisers, and Cool-Headed Cruisers. Ed. Ulf Lindberg. Peter Lang, International Academic Publishers. p. 176. ISBN   0-8204-7490-8, ISBN   978-0-8204-7490-8.
  4. Garner, Dwight (2000-04-23). "High Fidelity". The New York Times . Retrieved 2016-06-28.
  5. Derogatis, Jim. Let It Blurt: The Life and Times of Lester Bangs, America's Greatest Rock Critic. New York: Broadway Books. pp. 3–4. ISBN   0767905091.
  6. "My Highschool Days With Lester Bangs". San Diego Reader . 2000-07-13. Retrieved 2012-11-07.
  7. Mendoza, Bart. "Lester Bangs: The El Cajon Years". San Diego Troubador. Retrieved 2014-04-22.
  8. 1 2 3 Bustillos, Maria. "Lester Bangs: Truth-teller," The New Yorker (Aug. 21, 2012).
  9. "Album Review Black Sabbath - 'Black Sabbath'". Rolling Stone. 1970-09-17.
  10. Jackson, Buzzy (2005). A Bad Woman Feeling Good: Blues and the Women Who Sing Them. New York: W. W. Norton. p. 234. ISBN   0393059367 . Retrieved 2013-11-02..
  11. DeRogatis, Jim. Let It Blurt. p. 95.
  12. Harrington, Joe (2002). Sonic Cool: The Life & Death of Rock 'n' Roll (1st ed.). Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Hal Leonard. p. 226. ISBN   0-634-02861-8.
  13. Holdship, Bill (January 16, 2008). "Sour Creem: The Life, Death and Strange Resurrection of America's Only Rock 'n' Roll Magazine". Metro Times (Detroit, Michigan). Retrieved 3 January 2013.
  14. Bangs, Lester (2003). Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung. Anchor Books. pp. 8, 56, 57, 61, 64, 101 (reprints of articles originally published in 1971 and 1972 and referring to garage bands such as the Count Five and the Troggs as "punk"); p. 101 (associating Iggy and Jonathan Richman of the Modern Lovers with the Troggs and their ilk as "punk"); pp. 112–113 (describing the Guess Who as "punk"—the Guess Who had made recordings as a garage rock outfit in the mid-60s, such as their hit version of "Shakin' All Over" in 1965); p. 8 (general statement about "punk rock" (garage) as a genre: "then punk bands started cropping up who were writing their own songs but taking the Yardbirds' sound and reducing it to this kind of goony fuzztone clatter  ... oh, it was beautiful, it was pure folklore, Old America, and sometimes I think those were the best days ever)"; p. 225 (reprint from an article originally published in the late 70s refers to garage bands as "punk"
  15. Marsh, D. Creem. May 1971 (review of live show by ? & the Mysterians Marsh describing their style as "a landmark exposition of punk rock.").
  16. Punk: The Whole Story. ed. M. Blake. 2006 Mojo Magazine , 2006. In the opening article, "Punk Rock Year Zero," the writer and former member of early Sex Pistols lineup Nick Kent discusses the influence of Lester Bangs on punk concept and aesthetic.
  17. Gray, M. (2004). The Clash: Return of the Last Gang in Town. Hal Leonard. p. 27 - Grey discusses how in the early 70s, while his mother was living overseas (in Detroit), she would send Mick Jones (later of the Clash) copies of Creem magazine, and how writings by Bangs and others using the term punk rock influenced him.
  18. Gere, Charlie. (2005). Art, Time and Technology: Histories of the Disappearing Body. Berg. p. 110.
  19. DeRogatis, Jim (2003-10-02). "Milk It: Collected Musings on the Alternative Music Explosion of the '90s". Da Capo Press. Retrieved 2017-08-01 via Google Books.
  20. "Toots and the Maytals - Dictionary definition of Toots and the Maytals - Encyclopedia.com: FREE online dictionary". Encyclopedia.com. Retrieved 2017-08-01.
  21. Wallace, Amy; Manitoba, Handsome Dick. The Official Punk Rock Book of Lists. Hal Leonard. p. 56.
  22. Kent, Nick (2002-04-12). "The Life and Work of Lester Bangs". The Guardian. Retrieved 2014-07-31.
  23. DeRogatis, Jim (November 1999). "A Final Chat with Lester Bangs". Perfect Sound Forever. Retrieved 2008-08-06.
  24. Maconie, Stuart (2004). Cider with Roadies. London: Random House. p. 227. ISBN   0-09-189115-9.
  25. http://www.mariabuszek.com/mariabuszek/kcai/PoMoSeminar/Readings/BangsWhite.pdf
  26. Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story (Little, Brown, 2012), p. 122.

Sources