On December 14th, this December 14th, Lester Conway Bangs, while probably not the greatest writer of his generation, arguably its most vital so far to die, would have been 36. Haunted and driven by demons, so- called, a cheerless many of whom/what/ which — or their kindred ilk — he directly sought, found cum stumbled upon, or was inadvertently ensnared by on the demon picnic grounds of Rock and Roll, he never made it to 34.
Following the lead of a handful of babes in the rock-critical woods, one of which I'll admit (if sometimes reluctantly) to having been. Bangs at the dawn of the seventies played as prominent a role as anyone in both expanding the expressive boundaries of rockwriting as a form and giving it a voice that played the newer, more mannered and cautious, mass-market rockmags like Rolling Stone and Creem — the latter of which he even edited for awhile — as on the dime as it had played the catch-as-catch-can, limited-edition fanzines whence it came. Though he also served as the burgeoning genre’s most prolific scribbler, a mission he sustained with relative ease for the bulk of his days, it is to the man’s lasting credit that he rarely delivered copy on anyone’s dotted line. In fact, he probably “got away with more’’ in major- publication print than all his rockwrite brethren combined, conceivably (however) because it merely simplified matters to have a single Designated Outlaw, one entrusted with a blanche enough carte — and unmonitored options galore — to spike with “authenticity ’’ a rock-media stew of bogus Freedom and ersatz Candor.
Retrospectively cliched or not, there was an existential purity to the sheer commitment evinced by Lester’s prolonged wallow in (and about) the rock- and-roll Thing-in-itself. It was, in many ways, the critical headbang to end all critical headbangs; it would be hard to even imagine, for instance, a professional art-film bozo, a jock-sniffing sports jerk, or a food-review lunatic more uninsulatedy gung-ho vis-a-vis x — either as primary experience or typewrite wankery. His patented shameless multipage gush, coupled with an unswerving advocacy of certain conspicuously over- the-top rock genera (Velvet Underground offshoots; Heavy Metal; Punk Rock), made him a must-read favorite with both cognoscenti and dipshits alike, and he came as close to encountering idolatry per se as any non-musician in R&R. A good deal of which — natch —could not help hitting the self-consciousness fan, but while a man’s life was ultimately undone in the process (“I’m Lester — buy me a drink! ’’), the integrity of his art/craft was essentially unaffected. For, while he might have been a tad too glib-messianic those last couple years, he was by no stretch of things an opportunist, never really giving a hoot for what in squaresville would be known as a career. (Or, perhaps, unlike his role model Kerouac, he simply didn’t live long enough for that, too, to be strenuously tested.)
In any event: dead, cremated, literal ashes. California born (Escondido ’48), bred (El Cajon, ages 9-23), and traveled (I first hung with him in San Francisco, last in L.A.), Lester bought the big one on the opposite coast — his final home, the fabled Apple — April 30/82, ostensibly from a hefty pull of darvon employed, in lieu of aspirin, to placate the flu.
Since his death, variously interpreted as a mile-radius teardrop’s once-in-a- lifetime terminal burst, a joke and a half on both himself and his precious chosen whole damn Thing, and — by occasional uncouth louts — the final glorious triumph of his excess, the spectrum of Bangs-in-ongoing-print has dwindled from monochromatic /sparse to colorless/ nonexistent. Of the two books in his name which appeared during his lifetime, quasi-coffeetable numbers on Blondie and Rod Stewart, neither a particularly representative Lestorian effort (or even particularly good: the former admittedly hacked out “in two days on speed,’’ and looking it, i. e., ad hoc and forced; the latter disowned as a clumsy, if innocent, foray into “writing as whoring’’), both are either out of print — officially — or on the back burner of barely having ever been in same, at least as regards this coast, where I’ve yet to see either in bookstore one. Nor have two posthumous whatsems. Rock Gomorrah, cowritten (early ’82) with L.A.’s Michael Ochs, and a projected collection of unpublished fragments scrounged from Bangs’s apartment a day or two after his death, gotten more than inches off the publishing ground — the former for reasons which if herein revealed would get me sued but good, the latter because, in the words of editor Greil Marcus, “the stuff is less tractable than I thought at less than 5000 words or so.’’
Also stalled, and/or abandoned (and/ or nonspecific pipedreams to begin with) : all known plans to reissue out-of- print Live Wire LP Jook Savages on the Brazos, recorded, Austin, TX, Dec. ’80, by Lester Bangs & the Delinquents, lyrics and vocals by guess who. In fact, the only anything by L. C. Bangs readily available where availables are sold is his liner copy for The Fugs Greatest Hits Vol. I, released by PVC/Adelphi some months after he’d croaked, for which he (or rather his atoms) later copped a Grammy nomination, and for which, reliable word has it, he never was paid.
Well, I’ve been proven wrong; it hasn’t been easy recollecting Lester in even half a toto in so much tranquility. Didn’t seem like such a bad idea back when obits were appearing left & right and at least two- thirds of ’em smacked of revisionism at its well-intentioned worst; having ridden the range with the guy, having been as intimate with his daytime/nighttime revealed essence — I would bet my boots — as anyone in or out of various possible beds with him, I had fiery goddam galaxies to say in his behalf that were simply not being said, at least not in print by his designated peers; and, although my no longer living in New York couldn’t help but delay my shot, remote and after-the-fact seemed like the ticket, y’know anyway, for some major necessary rerevision.