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Music Education

Lester Bangs: Rock Critic

If you’ve seen “Almost Famous,” the name Lester Bangs might ring a bell. Philip Seymore Hoffman, who plays Bangs in the 2000 film, inspires William, the main character, to pursue his interest as a rock critic. I had no idea he was a real person until I found his book, “Mainlines, Blood Feasts, and Bad Taste,” at Reader’s Corner a couple of weeks ago!

I’ve loved reading his work. Lester Bangs was perhaps one of the most influential music journalists to walk this earth. Though he was best known for his work with Creem magazine, Bangs got his start at Rolling Stone. In 1969, The prolific magazine put an ad out for reader reviews and Bangs quickly responded. Entering a scalding review on MC5’s “Kick Out the Jams,” he was published immediately. He went on to write for Rolling Stone until 1973 when he was fired for “disrespecting musicians.” There’s no secret as to why. His reviews could be scalding, and this is often what he got the most press for.

However, when he started working for Creem magazine in 1971, his love for underground garage music grew. Before he became editor of Creem, he helped define the term “punk rock,” speaking highly of musicians like The Stooges, Lou Reed, and Blondie in pages upon pages of writing.

What makes Bangs especially interesting to me was his unapologetic lack of reverence for rock stars. Though he obviously had a deep love for music, he never hero-worshipped the musicians in interviews. His goal was to get right down to it, right to the music.

He could even be quite radical in this viewpoint at times, going as far as sitting on stage at a J. Geils Band concert with his typewriter on his lap, furiously tapping away a review right in front of the audience. His writing, as well as his humor, were irreverent and even ridiculous at times. Despite this, his words spoke such truth that you just can’t help trusting him.

– DJ Butter

By DJ Butter

A little Butter makes everything better. Part-time WKNC content manager and graphic designer, full-time sludgy surf rock funk master metalhead. Get in touch with ya suggestions n' such at content@wknc.org.