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.
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.
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.
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".