Leslie Conway Bangs (December 13, 1948 – April 30, 1982) was an American music journalist, author and musician. Most famous for his work at Creem and Rolling Stone magazines, Bangs was and still is regarded as an extremely influential voice in rock criticism.
Bangs claimed his influences were not so much predecessors in journalism as they were beat authors, in particular William S. Burroughs. His ranting style, similar to Hunter S. Thompson's gonzo journalism, and his tendency to insult and confront his interviewees earned him distinction.
Well basically I just started out to lead [an interview] with the most insulting question I could think of. Because it seemed to me that the whole thing of interviewing as far as rock stars and that was just such a suck-up. It was groveling obeisance to people who weren't that special, really. It's just a guy, just another person, so what?
Bangs idolized the noise music of Lou Reed, but he had a complex journalistic relationship with Lou the performing artist, writing several legendary articles for Creem which depicted hilarious confrontational interviews, often reflecting aspects of Bangs own personality against his difficult interview subject. The essay/interview Let Us Now Praise Famous Death Dwarves from 1975 is a distinctive example.
Bangs was not only involved as a critic of music but as a musician in his own right. He teamed up with Joey Ramone's brother, Mickey Leigh to put together a New York group named Birdland. In 1980 he traveled to Austin, Texas and met a punk rock group named the Delinquents. During his stay in Austin he recorded an album as Lester Bangs and the Delinquents entitled Jook Savages on the Brazos. It was quoted that, "Lester's album with the Delinquents was the predecessor of so-called alternative-country bands such as Wilco and Son Volt".
"...I'm really schizophrenic about that, because on the one hand I would say, yes there is, there’s something inherently, even violent about it, it's wild and raw and all this. On the other hand, the fact is that ‘Sugar Sugar’ is great Rock 'n' Roll, and there’s nothing rebellious about that at all. I mean that’s right from the belly and heart of capitalism..." (Lester Bangs in 1980 on the rebellious nature of rock 'n' roll.
"What this book demands from a reader is a willingness to accept that the best writer in America could write almost nothing but record reviews." (Greil Marcus, editor of the first Bangs anthology Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung, on the second anthology, Mainlines, Blood Feats and Bad Taste. Taken from the cover of the paperback original.)
"Look at it this way: there are many here among us for whom the life force is best represented by the livid twitching of one tortured nerve, or even a full-scale anxiety attack. I do not subscribe to this point of view 100%, but I understand it, have lived it. Thus the shriek, the caterwaul, the chainsaw gnarlgnashing, the yowl and the whizz that decapitates may be reheard by the adventurous or emotionally damaged as mellifluous bursts of unarguable affirmation." (Lester Bangs, "A Reasonable Guide to Horrible Noise", 1980)
"I'll probably never produce a masterpiece, but so what? I feel I have a Sound aborning, which is my own, and that Sound if erratic is still my greatest pride, because I would rather write like a dancer shaking my ass to boogaloo inside my head, and perhaps reach only readers who like to use books to shake their asses, than to be or write for the man cloistered in a closet somewhere reading Aeschylus while this stupefying world careens crazily past his waxy windows toward its last raving sooty feedback pirouette." (Lester Bangs, "A Quick Trip Through My Adolescence", 1968)
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