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on 19 January 2011
This is a compelling, though in places quite challenging, compilation of Bangs' articles for Creem magazine, The Village Voice and other publications throughout the 70s and early 80s. His style of writing was almost like the music he reviewed, at times in short and punchy riffs, in other articles going off on extemporised sequences where he expresses himself using incoherent hippy jive language straight from the streets. He confesses to writing one article for 12 straight hours and you can feel it in the language, like it was written on amphetamines so he could finish it to deadline. Although, like most rock journalists he was prone to hyperbole in his assessments of major artists and their records there is a lot of intelligent and astute observation about the rock business in this book. The chapters on his love hate relationship with, and searing criticism of, Lou Reed provide the most humorous sequences for me. For example, Bangs interviews Reed in his hotel room with a transexual and observes " ...it was almost unmistakably a guy. Except that behind its see thru blouse, it seemed to have tits. Or something. It was beyond light and shade. It was grotesque. Not only grotesque, it was abject, like something that might have grovelingly scampered in when Lou opened the door to get the milk and papers in the morning". Bangs is also capable of endearingly irreverent wit, for example describing Barry White as "nineteen pounds of pure lumbering animal who makes Leslie West look like Steven Tyler". Indeed his article on Barry White's schmoozy stage show is so close to the bone its stone cold brilliant. Now and again he also throws out a few life affirming profundities such as "we're all stuck on this often miserable earth where life is essentially tragic, but there are glints of beauty and bedrock joy that come shining through from time to time to remind anybody that there is something higher than ourselves. And I am not taking about putrefying gods but about a sense of wonder about life itself...". Finally my other favourite passage is in an article on John Lennon where he writes "The Beatles did lead but they led with a wink. They may have been more popular than Jesus but I don't think they wanted to be the world's religion. That would have cheapened and rendered tawdry what was special..."
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on 6 August 1999
If you like your rock journalists to be more out-there than the so-called stars that they write about, then read Lester Bangs. By turns abusive, reverent, irreverent, witty, humane and incisive, this man was the greatest rock hack of them all. This collection is a must-read, and the arrangement of the articles gives the reader the sense that Bangs was growing up, but was not losing the plot by any means. It's a sad loss that he is not still with us. Read this book, feel your enthusiasm for music be rekindled and then go and tell all your friends about it. Brilliant.
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on 29 January 2016
Bangs used to write the odd (very odd) article for the NME in the 70s. That's how I first heard about him. He did this incredible article on Capt Beefheart (entitled 'The Kook Who Fell To Earth, On the 7th Day He Invented a Whole New Universe' or something like that, I've still got it somewhere). A great bit of writing that trained a beam of white light onto the Captain (real info on Beefheart was pretty sparse in the 70s) and shed quite a bit of light on Bangs himself come to think of it.
I've read this book several times. There are longeurs without a doubt but the best stuff is gripping. He knew real rock n roll when he heard it and disses bubblegum quite readily. His article on The Troggs is just sensational.
Yeah he overdid the drink and drugs (and the cough syrup) but so what, he left a great legacy.
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on 8 February 2010
This is some of the best writing about music, if not THE best, compiled in one essential volume. Bangs is funny, wise and incredibly perceptive about the music he loves. Even if you don't agree with him, his passion is infectious. The Lou Reed sections of this book are especially good, but the quality of writing throughout this anthology remains very, very high. There's a vital insight and something to make you laugh on every single page.
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VINE VOICEon 26 February 2014
Lester Bangs might have been 'the greatest music journalist ever', but his rambling, gonzo style is still an acquired taste. There was a clue to his limitations in the opening piece in 'Main Lines, Blood Feasts, and Bad Taste': when he's not writing about music, Bangs is self-indulgently tedious. In short, there's a passion to his music writing that evaporates as soon as he strays into other areas, and this book does too much of that.

'Psychotic Reactions' contains plenty of his quirkily brilliant music journalism - hence the three stars - but it's weighed down by far too many rambling pieces with only the vaguest relevance to rock'n'roll. There's even a section entitled 'Unpublishable', and believe me that's an accurate description. One item details how he'd spent every New Year's Eve since 1967; then there's a book review followed by five pages of notes for the same review, which is an unutterably pointless waste of space.

Then there's a rambling, 12-page piece that I think is a movie review - though I had to check on the internet to be sure - which includes four pages of Bangs' own fantasy and a scene-by-scene synopsis of the film. It's tedious as hell.

'Main Lines, Blood Feasts, and Bad Taste' is a brilliant collection, so how can another collection by the same author fall so flat? Probably because the editors of Main Lines thought of Bangs as a music journalist, while this collection's editor, Greil Marcus, was a friend of Bangs and wanted to present "the story … of one man's attempt to confront his loathing of the world, his love for it, and to make sense of what he found in the world and within himself."

Marcus has taken a great writer and sought out his weakest and most dated writing - thankfully fleshed out with some of his good stuff - in an attempt to create a sort of posthumous autobiography. But Bangs was Marcus' friend, not mine, and I simply don't care.
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on 12 November 2008
After many nights of heated discussion about music and the place of critics, I was given this book to read. As was intended, this selection of Lester Bangs' writings, taken from both published and unpublished material, opened a new vista of Critique as Art for me.

Bangs' writing is straight from the stream-of-thought school of Beat. Although he specialises in tangentially searing past his original point of any piece, or indeed sometimes coming nowhere near it in the first place (to the degree that it takes a few pages to work out what he is actually reviewing), he does it in style with imagination and wit. Although I quite like the breathless un-punctuated page-long ranting-past-the-point sentences, on the infrequent occasion Bangs' writing does get too thought-disordered for me to stomach; and he himself displays some insight into this, in one of his comments that he was "trying to be Bukowski".

However in short, Lester Bangs is funny, and most of the time interesting.

Although some of Bangs' writing might open up new perspectives on previously dismissed music, a cautionary word is that one mustn't take his opinion as anything to base your selection of music on. This is entertainment and as someone once said, "the critics have their audience too".
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I love Lester Bangs' unrestrained style: the passionate torrents of words, the extravagant metaphors and the keen insight. Above all, his contagious enthusiasm serves to drive one back to the music - to listen, enjoy and appreciate again and again. Apparently this book does not contain all of his best work but I intensely enjoyed the tales of his various encounters with Lou Reed, the pieces on No Wave (Reasonable Guide To Horrible Noise), Peter Laughner, David Bowie, Kraftwerk, as well as his hilarious warnings against James Taylor and Barry White. Just sometimes, he loses me when the writing becomes impenetrable and he goes off on too many tangents, as in pieces like "Fragments 1976 - 1982" and "Ten Post-Lib Role Models for the 80s" from the chapter titled Unpublishable. Where I do not agree with him, as in his (perhaps tongue-in-cheek?) endorsement of Reed's "Metal Machine Music," he still makes me laugh. Bangs would also have made a great novelist as is evident from the excerpt from Maggie May (1981). To understand Lester and the background to this compilation, I recommend reading Jim DeRogatis' excellent biography "Let It Blurt" at the same time, as it also contains an impressive bibliography of his work and articles about him. I look forward to more Big Bangs - more of his remarkable writings being made available in compilations.
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on 29 December 2014
Work of genius!
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on 10 November 1998
As a reviewer I expect a weekly dose of Lester Bangs would have been entertaining. But a whole book of the stuff was a bit too much for this reader. I bought it mainly for his reviews around the punk era. His descrition of life on the road with the Clash was the best part of the book for me. Lester was obviously a very introspective writer. His reviews told you as much about him (and more) than they told you about the artist. Sometimes this gets in the way. Too much navel-gazing. But on the positive side you hear a man struggling to make sense of rock music and the huge part it played on his life. The stream of consciousness stuff, no doubt the product of too many PILLS, is also a setback to the success of the book.
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on 2 November 2015
good value.
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