Thursday, October 8, 2009

Lester Bangs

Lester At CBGB, June '77
First 45, with Quine on guitar.

Notice the autograph-- Lester hated the Cramps.
I first met Lester Bangs via the telephone. I was a bored teenager. Growing up in South Florida in the early 70's, there weren't many people who liked the Stooges and the Velvet Underground. I read Creem and Rock Scene and zines like Who Put The Bomp, Back Door Man, Denim Delinquent, The Rock Marketplace, Gulcher, Punk (the original Punk from Buffalo which predated the New York mag by two years). I used to call the Creem offices in Michigan around midnight every couple of weeks. Lester was always there, usually speeding away, editing and writing. Sometimes he was drunk, or high on cough syrup. I remember him playing me a test pressing of Patti Smith's Horses over the phone in its entirety.
On my first trip to New York City, the spring of '77, I'd just turned eighteen and I was staying at a loft down on Warren Street (The Home For Teenage Dirt said the sign in the window) which was inhabited by Miriam Linna (a pen pal from Ohio who had moved to New York City earlier and extended an invitation to crash with her if I ever managed to make it north, today she runs the Norton Records empire with her husband Billy Miller, both play in the A-Bones, currently touring Europe), Lydia Lunch and the late Bradly Field (who would become the drummer for Teenage Jesus and the Jerks and the Cramps' road manager). The block was empty, there was no such thing as Tribeca back then. The only other inhabitant of the block was Jody Harris of the Contortions who had a loft in the next building and it was used as a rehearsal space for many bands including the Contortions, Richard Hell and the Voidoids, and Lester Bangs' first band. It was also the only place to take a shower.
After arriving, I met Lydia and Todd Abramson (now owner of Maxwells and Tel*Star Records, he was fifteen at the time and also on his first trip to NYC), the others were still at work when I arrived. After about an hour I went outside to look around, took a seat on the stoop and lit a cigarette. Who came walking down the street but Richard Hell, Robert Quine and Lester Bangs. I introduced myself and presented them all with copies of my fanzine-- New Order (Hell shared the cover with Patti Smith, I'd done a phone interview with him). Later that night, after catching two sets each by the Cramps and the Ramones at CBGB, Bradly dragged me to 24 hour bar on 9th St. between First Ave and Ave. A called the Kiwi Club. Lester was there, we were all already plastered but we got considerably drunker, staying long after sunrise. So began my short friendship with Lester Bangs.
That Sunday night Lester's band played at CBGB on a bill with Alex Chilton (The Ramones/Cramps double bill was Friday and Saturday). Lester's band that night were the guys who played on his first single-- Let It Blurt b/w Live (Spy), Bob Quine and Jody Harris on guitars, David Hofstra on bass and J.D. Daughtery on drums. I only remember that they covered the Doors' Five To One, The Stooges' TV Eye, and that when Lester introduced an original called I Sold My Body and Bradly Field yelled "By the pound"! There were at least fifteen people in the audience.
A few days later, me and Phast Phreddie Patterson (in from L.A. and also staying on Warren St.) went to Lester's apartment on Sixth Ave just above 14th St. to interview him for our respective fanzines (Phreddie edited a great mag called Back Door Man , my mag was a pale imitation of his). Lester was very funny and within a few days he presented us each with long contributions to our respective zines-- Back Door Man ran theirs which was called Back Door Men and Women In Bondage and was mostly a long fantasy about biting Cherrie Currie's nipples off, mine was called Nude Oders and has never been published since New Order folded after issue #2 and I lent the manuscript to John Mortland when he was compiling articles for Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung, he promised to give it back after he xeroxed it, that was in 1984 and I'm still waiting for him to return it.
Shortly after that '77 visit, I moved to New York, and after a season spent couch surfing settled into a tiny $175 a month studio apartment on E. 1oth Street between 1st and 2nd. It was ground level and in the front of the building, so anyone who cared could tell if I was home or not by simply looking in the window. Since Lester often got drunk and lost his keys, he was a frequent overnight visitor, I couldn't pretend I wasn't home like most of his friends had learned to do in those situations. Even sober, Lester could wreck your house in minutes, but drunk, forget it, by morning every book and record in the place would be out of their jacket and on the floor. The entire tube of toothpaste would be coating the bathroom, toilet paper all over the place. It would take days to get the place back into a reasonable order. The first time he came over he gave me "the Sister Ray test". That is, when ever Lester went to somebody's house, he'd take out their copy of White Light/White Heat (I don't think Lester knew anyone except his girlfriend who didn't own a copy of WL/WH) and check the grooves to see how worn out Sister Ray was. Mine had been played to death. He explained that everyone owned a copy of WL/WH because it was cool to own it, but very few people actually listened to it. He told me that I was okay, I'd actually played Sister Ray enough times to call myself a real Velvet Underground fan.
Too bad he didn't live long enough to hear the Sweet Sister Ray bootleg.
Lester was not a good drunk, so I often saw him at his absolute worst. He could also be a great guy, he could be very generous and thoughtful. After Country: America's Biggest Music came out, Lester knew I loved the book and made it a point to take me to Nick Tosches' place and introduce me to him, a rather fateful introduction since I would later meet my wife through Nick. When I became the music editor of a rag called the East Village Eye, Lester volunteered to write a column (for free yet!)-- the Scorn Pages. Unfortunately the idiot editor-- Leonard Abrams decided he didn't want a column by Lester Bangs and cut Lester's first contribution down to one paragraph and ran it on the letters page ("I invented punk...."). I was very embarrassed by Abrams rejection of Lester's offer, but Lester was quite understanding and didn't blame me. Needless to say, I quit as music editor, although I wrote a column in the Eye for many years (often sharing a page with Cookie Mueller who wrote the health column!).
Lester could also be an asshole and Lester's final years were tough ones for him. He had burned himself out as a rock writer but couldn't seem sell (or even write) anything else. He was always broke and his phone was shut off a few times. A soft touch, I paid his phone bill off at least three times in his final year.
When it came to finding things to write about, it didn't help that after the initial break through, punk became new wave which was just as lame as the shit it was supposed to replace. Even Iggy and Lou Reed were churning out awful records. I think by the end he was coming around to my (and Quine's) way of thinking-- that is, who cares about this new crap, there's tons of old records to be found that we never heard, who could give a fuck about the Gang Of Four after hearing Hasil Adkins' She Said or Esquerita's Rockin' The Joint?
Lester couldn't get a decent book deal although he churned out proposals weekly. When he did get a deal, to write a bio of Blondie, the publishers fucked it up, removing all the quotation marks among other bad editing decisions, when they were through with it, it was barely readable, but desperate for cash he helped Paul Nelson write a book on Rod Stewart for the same idiots**.
Lester always had girl problems, and for a guy so unforgiving in others (he hated anyone who he suspected "wanted to be a rock star", which of course is what everyone including himself really wanted to be), he was surprisingly thin skinned. When an escort service that a friend of his worked for informed him that none of the girls were willing to service him anymore he was quite hurt. When I suggested he pay more attention to his personal hygiene (bathing was not one of his pleasures), he got quite upset. His apartment was the filthiest place I'd seen since leaving the Florida trailer camps of my youth, although oddly enough when he finally cleaned the place up a bit, he died soon after. Perhaps the germs were keeping him alive. Deep down, I think he had a misogynist streak in him that surfaced after the fourth drink. I've seen him be brutal to women he'd had one night stands with. In print he called himself a "feminist"and made a big deal such things, but in real life he was about as sensitive as Led Zeppelin's road crew.
Post-Creem Lester was really floundering about for things to write about. His main outlet at the time was the Village Voice. His best piece for the Voice was about Otis Rush's Cobra sides which had just been re-issued by Flyright. The worst was a big story about racism in punk rock, of which there was very little. One of those he accused of being a racist was Miriam Linna (because of a photo I ran in New Order of Miriam and a pal in front of some weird Nazi headquarters. It was obvious the photo was a goof, like trying to get close enough to a bear without getting bit by it). In reality, Lester was pissed at Miriam because Kicks mag (which she and Billy edited, still the greatest fanzine of all time) had rejected an article he wrote about No Wave. No way in hell is Miriam any sort of racist and Lester knew it (if you don't believe me ask Andre Williams, Rudy Ray Moore, the Mighty Hannibal, or any of the other black artists she's helped over the years). Lester later confessed to me that he thought it was the worst article he ever wrote and regretted the whole thing, but since the piece not only ran on the cover of the Voice (which everyone read back then), it was reprinted in Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung and Miriam's had to live with this accusation for all these years. He also accused Punk's Legs McNeil and John Holmstron of racism because at a party at Lester's place they didn't like the Otis Redding record he was playing (one of them referred to it as "disco shit"). I know them both, again, I've never heard a racist murmur from either. Keep in mind, Lester was known for throwing around what is today called "the N word". The most famous photo of Lester is Kate Simon's portrait of him wearing a shirt that read: "Last Of The White Niggers". I saw the way black people looked at him when he wore that shirt, and I'm amazed he wasn't murdered. If I was black, I'd have thrown him a beating. I was at the party in question and one thing Lester left out was when Lester tried to get James Wolcott to get up and dance. Wolcott sniffed his nose at the turntable and quipped, "I don't like black music". That doesn't make him a racist, but the way he said it left little doubt in my mind that he thought it was the sound of a lower breed of human. But Lester was a bit of a coward in that way, he'd have never attacked James Wolcott, who could have torn Lester a new asshole in the press, so he picked on Miriam, who had no way of fighting back, even though she was innocent of Lester's ridiculous charge. Enough on that subject, I've kept my mouth shut for over thirty years and I'll keep it shut now that I've said what I have to say. No offence to Wolcott who I don't even know (that party was the only time I ever remember meeting him). That's just how I remember it.
Getting back to Lester .....
After Let It Blurt, he kept making music, forming the group Birdland with Mickey Leigh (Joey Ramone's brother), and they played around for a year or two. Lester wasn't much of a rock'n'roll front man but he wrote good songs. He was extremely hurt when they threw him out of the group and changed their name to the Rattlers. He went to Austin, Texas for a bit (he even considered moving there) and came back with a country tinged record he recorded down there with a group called the Delinquents-- Jook Savages On The Brazos. I think it's a pretty good record, the ominous Kill Him Again and the Birdland leftover I'm In Love With My Walls
are at least as good as, say, the Germs or the Sniveling Shits, and the two hillbilly tunes-- I Just Want To Be A Movie Star and Life Is Not Worth Living (But Suicide's A Waste Of Time) are hilarious, I'd say these four tracks were the best music Lester ever made.
He claimed that Porter Wagner loved them. There's one cover on the LP-- a version of Dale Hawkins' Grandma's House to which he added some new lyrics: "Old Black Joe lived all alone/never saw him at the store/burned him 'til he was just bones/and burned him just a little more", giving the song an entirely different feeling from the original, to say the least.
These days Lester Bangs is something of a star. Jim Derogtis' biography Let It Blurt will tell you all the facts, but it's missing something, it doesn't really capture Lester's sense of humor, reading it, I learned a lot of things I didn't know about Lester, but it just doesn't seem all that much like the Lester I knew. The one who broke my copy of the second Band album when I put it on one morning when we both woke up with bad hangovers. The two volumes of his writing-- Psychotic Reactions & Carburetor Dung and Mainlines, Blood Feasts and Bad Taste (awful title, no?) are certainly worth reading, between them there's probably 85% of his best writing, but why didn't they just release Lester's own version of P.R. & C.D. that he had edited for a German publisher? The former contains the two things he told me he wished he'd never written (the Racism in Punk piece and his description of Lou Reed's transsexual friend from his third Creem Lou Reed interview). Philip Seymour Hoffman's portrayal of Lester in Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous was so ridiculous I'm at a loss for words. It's much like the concert scenes in said flick, can you imagine a 70's rock concert without a cloud of pot smoke hovering over the audience? Hoffman's Lester was like the concert hall without the pot smoke. Sanitized and smoke free, for the good little 21st century consumer fascists. Lester as the conscience of the record industry? If it wasn't so stupid, I'd bitch slap Cameron Crowe (who only got work because he liked the worst shit like the Eagles and never wrote a bad word about anyone).
The last time I saw Lester I was selling promo LP's out on Astor Place, he bought two copies of Metal Machine Music from me and we made plans to get together and play records later that week. He had borrowed a pile of records and books and I wanted to get them back.* Two days later he was dead, the autopsy said he overdosed on Darvon, which I didn't think was possible.
I've eaten bottles of that shit and barely gotten a buzz. Lester had awful taste in drugs.
He had a strange knot on his head and he thought the cough syrup was making it go away. In reality it was making it bigger.
I have pretty much refused to talk about Lester since he died (although I was interviewed by Derogtis, I don't think he used anything I said), his legacy now in the hands of a strange combination of those he loved the most and those he despised the most. Now I've said my piece and I'll keep my trap shut. It's been almost thirty years now, and I still miss the big goofball.
On the other hand, I can't imagine Lester in the modern world. I remember the night Reagan was elected, we watched Andy Griffith in Kazan's A Face In The Crowd, and I predicted it was the beginning of the end for America. I think I was right. The national 21 year old drinking age did more to kill rock'n'roll than anything else. Bangs died before MTV, Giuliani, Bush-Cheney, yuppies, cellphones, blackberries, and the Internet. Lester didn't even like electric typewriters, I just don't think Twitter would have done much for him. Lester died because rock'n'roll was the only thing that kept him alive, and when it died so did Lester Bangs. When Quine was alive we often would often ask each other-- "What do you think Lester would have thought of that"?
Now Lester and Quine can look down on me and ask each other, why is that idiot still alive?
Addendum: Some interesting downloads of Lester jamming with the late Peter Laughner (Rocket From The Tombs/Pere Ubu) can be found here.
* I never got my books and records back, although I've replaced 'em all except the dust jacket for Persecuted Prophets (a book about snake handling Pentecostal cults in Kentucky). However, Quine gave me Lester's bound edition of all the Creem mags he edited (in an Easy Rider binder) and a big bag of cassettes, Lester doing interviews, recording phone conversations, jamming with ZZ Top, etc. Unfortunately the bag smelled like Lester's apartment so I sealed it up in a plastic bag and ten years later when I opened it, it still stunk like hell. So this little dweeb named Rob O'Conner who did a one shot Lester zine called Throat Culture offered to transfer them to a master reel and give them back. Or give me a smell free copy, or something like that.
Needless to say I never heard from him again. Some day Rob O'Conner will turn a corner and find me there waiting for him....hope you have dental insurance Rob.
** Addendum #2: I think I'm the only person who read Rock Gommarah, the book he co-authored with Michael Ochs that never came out, that liked it. I remember the highlights being an interview with Sherrif Tex Davis who managed Gene Vincent and some funny interviews with Hank Ballard. Where is that manuscript today? If no publisher wants it can't it just be put online as a pdf. file?


Joe Bonomo said...

Absolutely great, Jim. Thanks for this.

count reeshard said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
count reeshard said...

This is far and away the most even-handed and comprehensive appraisal of Lester Bang's life and writing that I have read or ever will read. I didn't know him, though I lived in Detroit during his Creem tenure and, later, in lower Manhattan during his final years. (You are 100% on the money about his portrayal in film, by the way.)

It always felt as though there were two sides to his character as a writer. The spell of R. Meltzer's gratuitous stabs at outrageousness obviously possessed Bangs - this giving rise to some of Bang's regrettable essays, yet the same writing also earned him notoriety. I enjoyed the flip side of his prose so much more, the opinions that were born of unvarnished enthusiasm, bordering on evangelism. This latter stuff doesn't get anthologized or talked about much, but for me it constituted his true worth on paper. A lot of people benefited from that writing, too, not that they'll ever deign to credit Lester Bangs for their good fortune. I'm thinking of Roxy Music in particular; after they were dropped from Warners, that band went a long time without a U.S. deal. Their third lp, Stranded, went platinum in Canada some months before it came out in the States, and that only happened because of the lengthy appreciation written by Bangs (that one might have been in Creem). I could go on about other career-altering expressions of his pure love for certain artists- a piece he wrote about Suicide comes immediately to mind - but the attention he craved arrived in the wake of his ill-considered pieces and, like Zappa, he couldn't give up the adolescent, eye-poking postures that put him on the map in the first place.

I've been told that Bangs's mom lived near my mom in Windsor, across the river from Detroit. I recall The Windsor Star publishing a piece by him about beer drinking 'around the world.' Did Lester go around the world? Wish I'd saved that one.

Again, much as I dig your each and ever entry, this one was special. Thank you, Mr. Marshall.

garage 66 & mojo repair shop said...

Thanks.Inspirational. I just wanna suck all of these stories out of you,in an interview.
I think it's book or magazine ready. The last cool people.

I was just speaking to someone about music,and they think the music I like is all "nostalgic". How quaint that word is,and how bad it makes me feel.
I don't think I'm the only one who loves older music,either. Duh.
I was also thinking about our lives,and how the beginning of the "Reagan Years" was when a lot of things changed for the worse.
And Rob O'Conner is a real fucker for doing that to you. How can you trust anyone anymore.
But at least you have these memories. I shoulda moved to New York in 1979,like I wanted to.

The Hound said...

"I've been told that Bangs's mom lived near my mom in Windsor, across the river from Detroit."

Lester's mom was a Jehovah's Witness from Southern California (Escondido, I believe), although he had a girlfriend in Windsor during his Creem years, she's the one he sings about in Let it Blurt-- "bitch bitch bitch, I wish your ass was dead".

" they think the music I like is all "nostalgic"."

The funny thing, how can we be nostalgic for music we didn't discover until long after it was I was born in '59, I didn't hear Elvis' Sun Records until '75. There's just no point in attempting to explain yourself to idiots I guess.....

Ted Barron said...

Bravo, That was great Jim.

Robert Cook said...

Like you, I was a Florida boy who read CREEM and ROCK SCENE, (as I've noted here before), and I was a big fan of Lester's rock writing. I visited NYC for the first time in June 1979, the highlight of which was our seeing Destroy All Monsters with Ron Asheton at CBGBs (with a terrible band called Startoon opening). My traveling companion and I were hot to visit record stores, and on that trip I did snag a copy of Lester's "Let It Blurt" 45 at Bleeker Bob's.

I moved to NYC in May 1981, (the day after PiL's riot provoking show at the Ritz). When Lester's JOOK SAVAGES ON THE BRAZOS came out, (posthumously, if I recall correctly), I couldn't find it in New York. Oddly, on a trip back to Jax to see the folks I found a single copy of it at a Coconuts record store at the mall. Years later I picked up the Birdland album at the Upper West Side Tower Records.

I enjoy all Lester's records, despite his singing, but I think JOOK SAVAGES ON THE BRAZOS is my fave of the bunch.

I'm glad I never met him, as I don't much like messy, ugly drunks, but I sure am glad I was able to enjoy him through his work.

Nick said...

I want to know more about this Buffalo Punk.

J.D. King said...

You've posted some great stuff, but I think this one's the best.

The Hound said...

"I want to know more about this Buffalo Punk."

It was a fanzine, printed on newsprint and folded over, like a newspaper, edited if I remember correctly by Billy Altman, later co-editor of Creem. I remember the first issue had the Seeds on the cover and an article on the Sonics. I probably still have it somewhere. I can't remember if they got a second issue out or not.....
I bet the guy at Black To Comm (link on right) would know, he collects 70's fanzines....

Jumpy said...

Fantastic remembrance.
I never realized how hard Lester was to put up with!
Years later, I'm still glad I got you write his obit for my college rag. Wish I used your original headline: "Lester Bangs No More."

Chris Oliver said...

See, I don't really read "The White Noise Supremicists" as calling anyone out for racism. To me, it reads more like Lester trying to come to grips with his own racism. I don't think he's saying "everyone who's obsessed with swastikas and nazi memorabilia is racist," but it was probably a good thing to ask what exactly was going on with all the nazi imagery in the punk scene.

Anyway, this was a good read, and thanks for posting "Let it Blurt." I've wanted to hear that for years. I hate it when people say stuff like this to me, but I have to ask...where's the B-side?

The Hound said...

"where's the B-side?"

I never liked it, so I didn't post it. It's called Live.
Try looking on Capt. Crawl or Chewbone....

Garloo said...

Great Post.

You have to hand it to Bangs that he was willing to be in his own band cross the edge of the stage from critic to performer. Off hand the only other critic that I can think of to became active in the media that they were critical of was Truffaut.

In the movie "Almost Famious" My memory had John Candy playing the Bang's role. Which indcates how faulty my memory is.

The Hound said...

"posthumously, if I recall correctly), "

Not true, it was out six months before he bought it. I remember reviewing it for the Eye and Lester loved my review so much he kept quoting it back to me.
Funny story: He'd asked Nick Tosches to do the liner notes. I'm not sure Nick even listened to the disc, he simply gave lester some liner notes that had been rejected by Delbert McClinton. Later,Lester called Nick to tell him how great his notes were (which they were), noting "you really understand my music...."

Ed Ward said...

Great to read this, unvarnished and truthful as it is. A couple of data points.

Darvon is a weird drug: you can take it over and over and it'll work and no bad side effects, and then the next time -- BAM. It gets you. As I remember, Lester scored the Darvon that killed him on the street because he was feeling bad from a flu. I also had the flu at the same time and I remember getting a phone call from Greil Marcus: "I just heard from New York: Lester is dead." Oh, no, I said. What was it? "I don't know, but I heard he had the flu." Aggggghhhh!

As for Lester not being able to get any work other than rock writing, that was definitely not his fault. A bunch of us tried to break out from where we'd started and move into other types of writing, but more than one of us got rejection letters that said, as one I got did, "You're a rock critic. Why don't you stick to that?"

But when he was in Texas, during his lucid moments, he kept referring to a novel he wanted to write. He talked about it enough that his friend Gretchen, who was one of Billy Gibbons' girlfriends, put him and Billy together. As you might (or might not) imagine, they got along just swell, and Billy offered Lester his hunting lodge in Mexico for as long as he needed it so that he could write the novel. As far as I know, Lester already had his plane ticket when he got the flu, and was really looking forward to the trip. He figured he could stop being "Lester Bangs" for a couple of months and be a writer. James Grauerholz, William Burroughs' secretary/agent, was waiting for the manuscript to take to publishers to sell.

Would he have made it? I was hoping so. As someone who had to deal with the nightmare of his egotistical sojourn in Texas, where he pulled his star-trip on loads of adoring fans until he didn't have any more fans, I realized he'd reached the end of the road he'd been on. Or reached a crossroads: become a writer or be a cartoon character.

He made the right choice and then he ate those fucking Darvons.

The Hound said...

thanks for the letter, I remember Lester telling me his plan was to go to Detroit, buy a car and go to Mexico to finish All My Friends Are Hermits. In that bag of tapes I lost was a good one of Lester and Billy Gibbons (helluva nice man) jamming, I wish I had it to post.

Christopher Stigliano said...

Hiya, I'm "the guy at Black To Comm" who collects fanzines, and FYI the original PUNK mag was the brainchild of Billy Altman, a tabloid affair outta Buffalo which I believe lasted only two issues before folding circa. 1973/4, the height of rock fanzinedom in my humble opinion. I never got my hands on an actual copy (only thing I read from it was a page from Richard Meltzer's "Travels With My Pud" that was sent to me so I could use the pic with Meltzer, Altman and Metal Mike Saunders, and it was a particularly explicit piece where Lars Tusb himself graphically details a number of sexual conquests with every anal pedication detail firmly in place) but the reports of it I've read are generally positive. Surviving copies are going for big bucks now as anyone such as myself who has bid on 'em via extremely rare ebay auctions can tell you.

Anonymous said...

"I lent the manuscript to John Mortland when he was compiling articles for Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung, he promised to give it back after he xeroxed it, that was in 1984 and I'm still waiting for him to return it."

John Morthland edited Mainlines, blood feasts, and bad taste: a Lester Bangs reader which was released in 2003. As Psychotic Reactions... was released in '84, do you mean Greil Marcus?

The Hound said...

"I never got my hands on an actual copy (only thing I read from it was a page from Richard Meltzer's "Travels With My Pud" that was sent to me so I could use the pic with Meltzer, Altman and Metal Mike Saunders, and it was a particularly explicit piece where Lars Tusb himself graphically details a number of sexual conquests with every anal pedication detail firmly in place) but the reports of it I've read are generally positive. Surviving copies are going for big bucks now as anyone such as myself who has bid on 'em via extremely rare ebay auctions can tell you"

If I can find my copy of #1 I'll scan it for you.
thanks for writing in w/the info. I don't think I ever saw #2.
John Morthland edited Mainlines, blood feasts, and bad taste: a Lester Bangs reader which was released in 2003. As Psychotic Reactions... was released in '84, do you mean Greil Marcus?'
I never met Greil Marcus, Morthland was briefly editing the NY Rocker at the time, he was helping find all the unpublished crap Lester had left. I distinctly remember handing him the manuscript.

Guy Budziak said...

Glad you made it a point to emphasize Lester's gift for hilarity, how brilliantly funny he could be. I started reading CREEM in the early Seventies, either '72 or '73, and at some point down the line thereafter it stopped being funny, the text and the captions below photos became pathetically UNFUNNY, which I attribute to Lester's departure. Now it seems I recall an article entitled "America's Ten Worst Restaurants", where one diner in particular would serve "snot-ridden spinach to unsuspecting junkies". Today that sentence may sound more repellent than funny, but in context it was pretty audacious for the time, I don't think I'd encountered something that extreme in print before. And it did make me laugh.
I got to meet Lester once in the late Seventies. He was with Rob Tyner and they were entering Bookie's together, a club on McNichols (AKA 6 Mile) on the outskirts of Detroit that showcased a lot of local punk and alternative acts of the time (I saw John Cale and the Cramps there among others). My roommate at this time introduced me to Lester as a fellow writer, this on the basis of a few letters I'd had published in Rolling Stone, Crawdaddy, Trouser Press, New York Rocker and Detroit Metro Times, our free alternative weekly. This did not make me happy, to my mind having a few letters published didn't qualify me for writer status. But I spoke to Lester briefly, and asked him why he'd slammed the Doors in an essay he'd written for Rolling Stone. He told me that it wasn't a slam, to go back and reread it. And he was right, where I'd gotten that notion I'll never know. Bookie's was having a local punk band revue that night, and he and Tyner were having no part of it. They left inside of two minutes to go to Menjo's, a gay dance club a short distance from where we were. Not that I blame them, Detroit's punk scene was pretty lame compared to other parts of the country, not to mention the UK. I would've liked to have gotten the chance to talk with him more, he definitely had a hand in developing my musical sensibility, and in a larger context my sensibility toward other things as well. Looking back it goes without saying that he was an undeniably flawed human being, but a gifted one too, I treasure much of the legacy he'd left behind. And I think you're right, something in music did die in the early Eighties, I lost a lot of enthusiasm for it from then on.

John Holmstrom said...

Thanks for clarifying the "White Noise Supremacists" thing, James. Like Miriam, that has unfairly followed me around for my entire career. Like you, I was in the room. But one thing I don't think most people understand is that Robert Christgau was Lester's editor, so he also had a hand in the slander...

BTW, I still have yet to see a copy of Altman's Buffalo "Punk."

The Hound said...

"BTW, I still have yet to see a copy of Altman's Buffalo "Punk.""

I'm gonna go on a digging mission through the magazine piles in the basement soon, I know I have the first issue somewhere, the second I've never seen.
When it turns up I'll scan it to pdf files and post it.

The All-Seeing Eye, Jr. said...

Just about the best thing I've read about him. Puts much into perspective. (I never met him, although I used to see him almost as frequently as I'd see Sid Vicious during his period of NYC omnipresence.) On a practical basis, the thing I most appreciated were his Voice Top Ten lists, which always sent me running around trying to locate various obscurities, which almost always turned out to be worth it (well, maybe not the Godz). I especially remember the list in which number one was a Folkways record called Sounds of the Junkyard. Never did figure out whether he'd made it up.

The Hound said...

". I especially remember the list in which number one was a Folkways record called Sounds of the Junkyard. "
No, that's a real record, I think I still have a copy somewhere, although it's not as good as Folkways- The Sound Of The Playground: Five Bad Boys In Trouble which has a great version of Bo Diddley done a cappella.

"But one thing I don't think most people understand is that Robert Christgau was Lester's editor, so he also had a hand in the slander...
John, I've been pondering that thought all night.
I worked for Christgau a bit at the Voice and I must say, he was always very careful about never changing a writer's (or at least this writer's) opinion even when he disagreed. Me and him disagreed on almost everything musically, but he never tried to push his own view point on my writing, mostly he just concerned himself with the technical aspects of sentence construction, and making sure the copy was clearly written. I don't think you should blame him-- it was Lester's doing, he seemed to have a personal beef against you and Legs at the time that I could never drag out of him. BTW, I do remember him holding up Bleeker Bob as some sort of voice of liberalism, I worked for that prick for six weeks and every time a person of color came in the store his back went up like a cats. That guy is a racist (I think he's still alive although last I heard he was in a wheelchair and paralyzed....who sez there's no such thing as karma?)

Brendan said...

That was a great read Jim, all the best from zululand.

TM said...

Aside from getting to hear music that I've wanted to check out for years - thanks for the mp3s! - I think that the most surreal part of the comments section for me is seeing so many '70s/'80s affiliated writers casually dropping in to comment.

The internet sure blows my mind some times.

It was actually just a few weeks ago that I suddenly decided to try and check up on Bangs' accusations in The White Noise Supremacists, but I couldn't really find anything. Thanks for offering a different point of view on that - much as I love the man's writing, I was a little suspicious of the fact that to many people he has the last word, which is unfair.

display said...

Excellent post. Thanks.

joseregidor said...

Amazing piece. A big thank you from Spain.

Edna St. Vincent Lillet said...

Jim, thanks so much for the great read.

I did not know Lester personally but did have a brush with greatness moment.

I too was a teen obsessed with Creem, Rock Scene et al. I finally moved to NYC in ''79 and got a job waitressing at a club where record company showcases were the norm. The record companies had tons of money in those days and would always buy a least two drinks for the press. The drink tabs had the guest's name on them, so I could put the face with the name. To me the writers were just as big as the bands (well almost).

There was Lester sitting in my station! I knew who he was without the drink tab. I remember feeling anxious of whether or not I should let him know of my fondness for his greatness. I feared I many never get another chance, so I mustered up the courage and blurted "Mister Bangs, I'm a really big fan". He barked back "Yeah, that's really great, now get me a Heineken - make it two". I floated back to the bar to fetch his request.

The Hound said...

""Yeah, that's really great, now get me a Heineken - make it two". I floated back to the bar to fetch his request."
Out of curiosity, what kind of tip did he leave?
For the record Ray Davies is the worst tipper I've ever been out with, he always stiffs the wait staff and you have to go back and leave a tip and make sure he doesn't steal it.

Edna St. Vincent Lillet said...

Wish I could remember about the tip! My brain can only hold so much. I can picture exactly where he was sitting though(center back) and think he pretty much came for the free booze.

Ray Davies was in the club one time with Chrissie Hynde when they were dating. I seem to remember they were kissing face through the entire show while the whole audience watched them. Don't remember which show it was. said...

[...] In 1975, Lester Bangs proposed six theories concerning Metal Machine Music. The list appeared in the September issue of Creem Magazine under the title “Monolith or Monotone?” [...] pingback

Leonard Abrams said...

Jim -- I just came across this item [this is what happens when you self-Google] and I'd just like to say that the reason we ran Bangs's piece as a letter not a column was that it was kind of a putdown of Hell's not entirely incorrect claim of crystallizing an important cultural frame of mind, which we as a magazine were invested in. It wasn't just rock'n'roll, as you always seemed to believe. So you quit as music editor -- years later. But you continued to write -- for free. Because I gave you the space. So if I'm an idiot, what does that make you?

Kathy Miller said...

I stumbled across this blog and it made me smile. Lester was my best friend from the early '70's til the day he died and John Morthland called me.

My name is Kathy Miller. I was also interviewed for Jim DeRogatis bio. I was the woman who worked at the escort service. You got it a little wrong - the call girls never serviced him. He would call me late at night when he was smashed and ask to be a john. I would tell him to go to sleep. He'd only hate himself in the morning. The girls were his friends, and he went out with a few of them. He got thrown out from hanging out at the office because he got so drunk & disorderly he smashed a bottle of Sambuca across the wall, smashed his cassette recorder. Basically I had to thrown him out & ban him.

The girls were still his friends. As was I. I loved him. I, too, miss the big goofball every day of my life.

PS - only found your site because Anthony Bourdain wore a Lester Bangs & the Delinquents tee shirt this week on "No Reservations". I wanted one and went looking. Small word, eh? Kathy said...

I consider one and all should look at it.

Taylor Gray said...


There is a reasonably-sized group of enthusiastic New Orleanians who would kill to get their hands on "Rock Gammorah", as well as that ill-fated grab bag of goodies that this little shit Rob O'Connor stole.

Does anyone know if or where there is a copy of the Rock Gammorah manuscript anywhere on the planet? For that matter, does anyone have any Lester Bangs rare cuts or unpublished work? I'm sure everyone who has commented on this post would be ecstatic to read/hear them.

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