Lester Bangs

Last updated

Lester Bangs
Lester Bangs.jpg
Bangs photographed by Roberta Bayley in 1976
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
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.



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]


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]


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".




Selected works

By Lester Bangs

About Lester Bangs

Works citing Lester Bangs

See also

Related Research Articles

<i>Horses</i> (album) 1975 studio album by Patti Smith

Horses is the debut studio album by American musician Patti Smith, released on November 10, 1975, on Arista Records. Smith, a fixture of the then-burgeoning New York punk rock music scene, began recording Horses with her band in 1975 after being signed to Arista Records, with John Cale being enlisted to produce the album. With its fusion of simplistic rock and roll structures and Smith's freeform, Beat poetry-infused lyrics, Horses was met with widespread critical acclaim upon its initial release. Despite a lack of airplay or a popular single to support the album, it nonetheless experienced modest commercial success, managing a top 50 placing on the US Billboard 200.

Television (band) American post-punk band

Television is an American rock band from New York City, most notably active in the 1970s. The group was founded by Tom Verlaine, Richard Lloyd, Billy Ficca, and Richard Hell. An early fixture of CBGB and the 1970s New York rock scene, the band is considered influential in the development of punk and alternative music.

<i>Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.</i> 1973 studio album by Bruce Springsteen

Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. is the debut studio album by Bruce Springsteen. It was produced by Mike Appel and Jim Cretecos from July through September 1972 at the budget-priced 914 Sound Studios. The album was released January 5, 1973, by Columbia Records to average sales but positive critical reviews.

<i>Metal Machine Music</i> 1975 studio album by Lou Reed

Metal Machine Music is the fifth studio album by American rock musician Lou Reed, released as a double album in July 1975 by RCA Records. A departure from the rest of his catalog, the album is variously considered to be a joke, a grudging fulfillment of a contractual obligation, or an early example of noise music. It features no songs or even recognizably structured compositions, eschewing melody and rhythm for modulated feedback and guitar effects, mixed at varying speeds by Reed. In the album's liner notes, Reed claimed to have invented heavy metal, and asserted that Metal Machine Music was the ultimate conclusion of the genre.

Garage rock is a raw and energetic style of rock and roll that flourished in the mid-1960s, most notably in the United States and Canada, and has experienced a series of subsequent revivals. The style is characterized by basic chord structures played on electric guitars and other instruments, sometimes distorted through a fuzzbox, as well as often unsophisticated and occasionally aggressive lyrics and delivery. Its name derives from the perception that groups were often made up of young amateurs who rehearsed in the family garage, although many were professional.

<i>Blank Generation</i> (album) 1977 studio album by Richard Hell & the Voidoids

Blank Generation is the debut studio album by American punk rock band Richard Hell and the Voidoids. It was produced by Richard Gottehrer and released in September 1977 on Sire Records.

Toots and the Maytals Jamaican musical group

Toots and the Maytals, originally called The Maytals, are a Jamaican musical group and one of the best known ska and rocksteady vocal groups. The Maytals were formed in the early 1960s and were key figures in popularizing reggae music. Frontman Toots Hibbert's soulful vocal style has been compared to Otis Redding, and led him to be named one of the 100 Greatest Singers by Rolling Stone. Their 1968 single "Do the Reggay", was the first song to use the word "reggae", naming the genre and introducing it to a global audience. As Island Records founder Chris Blackwell says, "The Maytals were unlike anything else ... sensational, raw and dynamic."

Proto-punk is the rock music played by garage bands from the 1960s to mid-1970s that presaged the punk rock movement. The phrase is a retrospective label; the musicians involved were generally not originally associated with each other, and came from a variety of backgrounds and styles, but together they anticipated many of punk's musical and thematic attributes.

Toots Hibbert Jamaican musician

Frederick Nathaniel "Toots" Hibbert, O.J. is a Jamaican singer and songwriter, known as the leader for the reggae and ska band Toots & the Maytals.

Jim DeRogatis is an American music critic and co-host of Sound Opinions. DeRogatis has written articles for magazines such as Spin, Guitar World and Modern Drummer, and for fifteen years was the pop music critic for the Chicago Sun-Times.

Dave Marsh is an American music critic, author, editor and radio talk show host. He was an early editor of Creem magazine, has written for various publications such as Newsday, The Village Voice, and Rolling Stone, and has published numerous books about music and musicians, mostly focused on rock music. He is also a committee member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Jeffrey Morgan (writer) writer

Jeffrey Morgan is a Canadian writer and photographer who is best known for being the authorized biographer of both Alice Cooper and Iggy Pop and The Stooges.

Andy Shernoff American musician and journalist

Andy Shernoff is a musician, songwriter and record producer.

<i>Funky Kingston</i> 1972 studio album by Toots and the Maytals

Funky Kingston is the name of two albums by reggae singing group Toots and the Maytals. The first was issued in Jamaica and the United Kingdom in 1972 on Dragon Records, DRLS 5002, a subsidiary label of Island Records, owned by Chris Blackwell. A different album, with the same cover and title, was issued in the United States in 1975 on Mango Records, MLPS 9330. That album peaked at #164 on the Billboard 200 and was voted the eleventh best album of 1975 in the annual Pazz & Jop poll. In 2003, the American version was placed at number 378 on Rolling Stone's list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.

Robert Duncan is an American music critic, author and entrepreneur.

Dave U. Hall American musician

Dave U. Hall is an American musician whose musical voice is articulated by the tones of his Electric Bass guitar. He was a member of the band Birdland with Lester Bangs and The Rattlers. He has also played with other bands including, but not limited too, Zymosis, The Makers, Luigi & the Wiseguys, Danny Russo Blues Band, Remod, Jeff Salen, Tiger Beats, Tina Peel, Alan Merrill author of the song "I Love Rock 'n' Roll", Joey Ramone, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. By the end of the punk era, Hall had a reputation for being a session and performance player for many bands.

Mickey Leigh American musician and author

Mitchel Lee Hyman, best known by his stage name Mickey Leigh, is an American musician and writer. He is the brother of Joey Ramone, lead vocalist of the punk rock band Ramones.

Paul Douglas (musician)

Earl “Paul” Douglas is a Jamaician Grammy Award-winning drummer and percussionist, best known for his work as the drummer, percussionist and bandleader of Toots and the Maytals. His career spans more than five decades as one of reggae's most recorded drummers. Music journalist and reggae historian David Katz wrote, “dependable drummer Paul Douglas played on countless reggae hits."



  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.