'Mainlines, Blood Feasts and Bad Taste: A Lester Bangs Reader' is an excellent companion to the prior collection of Bangs' writings 'Psychotic Reactions & Carburettor Dung' and the Bangs-biography 'Let It Blurt'- both of which are great reads. I first heard of Bangs in Julian Cope's autobiography 'Head On/Repossessed', though prior to that he turned up as an R.E.M.-lyric in 'It's the End of the World as We Know It (& I Feel Fine)'- though is probably more well known as the guru-music journo portrayed by Philip Seymour Hoffman in Cameron Crowe's 'Almost Famous' (2000).
This collection has much shorter pieces than 'Psychotic Reactions..' - but no less readable, and plenty of the subjects here will be familiar from that book too: The MC5, Peter Laughner, Miles Davis, Teenage Jesus & the Jerks, The Clash, PIL, Nico and of course his great interview jouster Lou Reed. The highlights here are the reviews of 'Horses' (Patti Smith), 'Metal Machine Music' (Lou Reed) & 'Doc at the Radar Station' (Captain Beefheart & the Magic Band)- the latter takes in and reassesses the Beefheart-back-catalogue and reasonably picks out the best works - 'Trout Mask Replica', 'Lick My Decals...', 'Clear Spot' & 'Doc at the Radar Station.'
The piece on Lydon/'Metal Box' is great, though like the gonzoid-spiel 'California' we can see him moving against Lydon here as he rejects Kraftwerk in 'California' - a move away from 'Kraftwerkfeature.' At times, Bangs comes off as a bit contradictory, contrary or hypocritical...which is fine where I come from!
The pieces on Miles are excellent, as are the pieces on Bangs-fave 'The Marble Index'/Nico & the review of Eno's 'Before & After Science.' Some of the pieces seem a little of their time, and somewhat childish- perhaps not as suited to posterity - the Jello Biafra piece is good, but that movement was an odd one, and should Bangs have lived, I'm sure he'd have changed his mind and probably championed Husker Du doing sixties-cover versions or Black Flag rockin' the gange, growing their hair long, and playing jazz-inflected instrumentals to their hardcore audience (similar to that the DKs had). Similarly, Bangs dismisses Wire and in one-section most modern music of the time- despite big-upping 'No Wave' in the prior volume! Then again, the greatness overwhelms the problematic - the Jim Morrison piece is as great as that on Lennon in 'Psychotic Reactions...' & the writing on The Stones here is great. Then there's the frequent reference points of Nico and Lou...not forgetting the many pieces that loiter somewhere between fiction and review (Bangs probably had a 'Confederacy of Dunces' or a 'Women' in him - Bukowski is mentioned too, so a great piece for people enamoured with Bukowski too!).
So...obligatory reading and along with recent documentaries like 'Kill Your Idols' or 'End of a Century: The Ramones', or Simon Reynolds' book 'Rip It Up and Start Again', a reminder that there is a great history out there.
The rock writer Joh Morthland has compiled a companion volume to Psychotic Reactions And Carburettor Dung, the first collection of the writings of Lester Bangs, rock ‘n roll’s most influential critic and the one who defined the genre.
The book is divided into the following sections: DRUG PUNK, including previously unpublished writings on Andy Warhol and autobiographical ruminations on Bangs’ adolescence; HYPES & HEROICS includes pieces on the MC5, Beatles, Bob Dylan, Grace Jones, Patti Smith’s album Horses, Wire and Jello Biafra.
PANTHEON contains pieces on The Rolling Stones, Miles Davis, Captain Beefheart, Nico’s Marble Index album, Brian Eno, Jim Morrison and Lester’s famous review of Lou Reed’s notorious Metal Machine Music album. TRAVELOGUES includes impressions of his trips to Paris, Jamaica, Austin and California.
The last chapter is titled RAVING, RAGING AND REBOPS and contains writings on the roots of punk, The Mekons (Bad Taste Is Timeless) and an excerpt from the previously unpublished All My Friends Are Hermits from 1980.
Lester’s adrenalin charged writing has lost none of its appeal. He wrote with an enthusiasm that transcends the decades. I highly recommend this book to all rock fans that are passionate about the music.
on 30 January 2011
I enjoyed this second collection of Bangs' articles almost as much as its more infamous prequel "Psychotic Reactions...". Leaving aside the miscellaneous benzedrine driven meanderings about music, sex, drugs and life in general that were discovered after his death and published here for the first time, the most significant pieces are his reviews and observations about inter alia, the Beatles, The Stones, Black Sabbath, Patti Smith, Miles Davis and Hendrix. Bangs was pretty forceful and honest about who he liked and disliked in the rock business, or rather he directed his inconoclastic pen more favourably at those whom he perceived as artists with integrity and worth (e.g Captain Beefheart and P Smith) and reserved healthy doses of bile for those whom he felt were artistically fraudulent in some way (he pans Keith Emerson and ELP with some well pointed invective and rapier wit about the band's obsession with their stage mechanics). In a series of articles about the Rolling Stones circa "Exile on Main St" tour it is clear he had a lot more affection for Keith than Mick. He writes about Keith thus "he looked like everything dark and tragic that the Stones trip had ever threatened:soul flattened, skin sallow, bone scraped, and behind the reflector shaded eyes the suggestion of a diseased intelligence too cancerous to spit imprecations anymore. Fxxked up. It was beautiful". In a subtle pastiche piece written about Hendrix in 1976 he imagines an interview with the ghost Jimi who admits to Bangs "the songs I wrote that had actual melodies, that you could hum or have a real zinger cover, can be counted on the fingers of one hand....the rest is mostly metal riffs, with mostly jive lyrics that I talked instead of sang... once the distortion and technology became a required part of the whole style and ,like, institutionalised, then it was all over". It was precisely this sort of provocative stuff that put Lester Bangs light years ahead of his peers in American rock journalism.