INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
Rolling Stone AUGUST 21, 2003 - by Gavin Edwards
MAINLINES, BLOOD FEASTS AND BAD TASTE: A LESTER BANGS READER
Let the late, great Lester Bangs introduce himself: "OK, I'm a rock critic. I also write and record music. I write poetry, fiction, straight journalism, unstraight journalism, beatnik drivel, mortifying love letters, death threats to white jazz critics signed 'The Mau Maus of East Harlem' and once a year my own obituary (latest entry: 'He was promising...'). The point is that I have no idea what kind of writer I am except that I do know that I'm good and lots of people read whatever it is that I do, and I like it that way."
When he wrote about music (in magazines including Rolling Stone and Creem), Bangs was passionate and authoritative. He loved raw, emotional rock, but his heroes weren't just primitivist icons such as Iggy Pop: This book contains heartfelt appreciations of Nico, Miles Davis and Brian Eno. More often, Bangs would use music as an excuse to write; e.g., "If you think I am going to review the new It's Only Rock'n'Roll album right now, you are crazy. But I am going to swim in it."
Psychotic Reactions And Carburetor Dung, published in 1987, compiled the cream of Bangs' work, making a strong case for him as one of the better American writers of the twentieth century. This second serving is more uneven - a few too many Bukowski-style rants that don't deliver - but it still dazzles. And it includes a brilliant section of travel essays, where Bangs visits California, Jamaica and - for an exclusive interview with the deceased Jimi Hendrix - heaven.
People always disappointed Lester Bangs. Maybe that was why he cared so deeply about music instead. Of course, music would disappoint him, too (this collection includes his account of a 1965 crying fit when he thought The Rolling Stones betrayed him). That's probably why so many of his record reviews turned into impassioned autobiography and why Mainlines is so compelling.