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At last! The worst of Bangs all in one place!
on 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.