“Lester Bangs attended Grossmont College from 1966 to 1968,” says English professor Raul Sandelin of the late rock critic for Rolling Stone, Creem, and the Village Voice. “The school is honoring its former alum with a posthumous Walk of Fame–style bronze star plaque, which we’re dedicating in a ceremony on Friday, May 21, at 10:30 a.m. in the Grossmont Quad.”
Sandelin heads up the Lester Bangs Grossmont Archive. “It’s an ongoing online collection that features articles by and about [Bangs]; related MP3s, photos, interviews, audio, video, and other materials are always coming in.”
Born at Escondido Community Hospital in December 1948, Leslie Bangs attended Lincoln School before moving with his mom through several apartments around El Cajon. By the time he was living on Lexington Avenue and attending El Cajon Valley High School, where he graduated in 1966, he had already changed his name from Leslie to Lester.
“I came from a spic suburb full of Mexicans that eat tacos all the time,” Bangs is quoted saying in the book Let It Blurt: The Life and Times of Lester Bangs. The albums that fired his interest in music, most notably by Miles Davis, were purchased in El Cajon from the record bin of a Thrifty drugstore.
In 1968, Bangs was still attending teen dances at the old Moose Hall and reading his poetry at a La Mesa coffeehouse, Land of Odin. After crashing for a while near Mount Helix with several musician friends, he moved back into his mom’s two-bedroom apartment on First Street. Friends say he spent his time getting high and grooving on the Velvet Underground, until taking a job at Streicher’s shoe store in Mission Valley.
He got fired from the shoe biz in 1969, but by then he’d already spotted an ad in Rolling Stone, inviting prospective writers to submit album reviews for possible publication.
Bangs (portrayed in Almost Famous by Philip Seymour Hoffman) died of a multidrug overdose in April 1982. According to The Official Punk Rock Book of Lists, he was listening to the Human League album Dare when he died.
Professor Sandelin says, “We’re still looking for writings about Lester and testimonials by people who knew him.”
Not everyone who knew Bangs would praise the caustic critic. Who singer Roger Daltrey was once quoted saying, “When I see Lester Bangs, I’m gonna set him on fire and piss on him.”
Lou Reed was even more succinct: “I wouldn’t shit in Lester’s nose.”