Lester Bangs, arguably the first journalist of his kind to overstep the line between musicians and journalists. If your goal in journalism is to completely immerse yourself in that world whilst also being able to escape at any moment (more crucially and surprisingly without being murdered for being a cheeky shit), Bangs is the one to look up to. I admire his work because of how he managed to always peel away another side to any musician he was talking to. His brash words and ability to keep pushing and pushing without seeming to ever go too far is what made gonzo journalism what it is now, and in turn has formed magazines like Vice. Even though if he’d ever had the chance to read that fucking ridiculous weed lube article AKA the worst thing ever published – I don’t think he’d be too happy about having a part in Vice’s uprise.
But there was more to him than just being aggressive. In the 60’s, he coined the term ‘punk rock’ and was one of the first journalists to manage to describe bands of this genre with such an accuracy. When he worked for Creem magazine, he had a hand in making bands like Blondie, Bowie and Kiss well known before they even caught the mainstreams attention and being the bloody superstars they turned out to be. Even though, in perhaps his most famous interview with Lou Reed from The Velvet Undeground, he had less than kind words to say about Bowie. “What I and millions of fans all over wanna know about Bowie is: first you, then Jagger, then Iggy. What in the hell’s he got? you know he fucks everybody in the rock and roll circuit. He’s a bigger groupie than Jann Wenner!” So there you have it. To Bangs, Bowie was just a fuck monkey. A very unpopular but definitely ‘out there’ opinion of the late and great that he didn’t have his own style. What makes Bangs so influential was him being able to get away with having these unpopular opinions. He paved the way for opinion pieces becoming more frequent and more desirable to write – ergo the point of this very blog even existing.
Referring to his writing style, his words flow nicely from sentence to sentence, which is surprising for text that has so many “fucks” and “shits” in. The language he used was mature yet straight up vulgar. This is mainly seen throughout interviews of his, as you might expect when interviewing the likes of Kraftwerk. But through features, Bangs took a more philosophical approach, always making sure there were plenty of cultural, political and worldly reference – as well as his own ideas. The feature he wrote for Rolling Stone back in 1972 on Janis Joplin’s death was ground breaking as well as thought provoking. He provided a voice for fans because he was a fan, and excellently put down into words what everyone knew and wouldn’t say about the unfortunate relationship of drugs and rock’n’roll, and the media. Which was consequently but not surprisingly, the cause of his own demise. “Because as soon as another Name’s dead, the slick magazines and tabloids alike get out their plumes and their crying towels and indulge in all sorts of disgusting bathetic paeans to the deceased.” Beautiful.
What also helped Bangs to write what he did the way he did, was his signature dead-pan humour which is present throughout features, reviews and interviews alike. It read like a spectator, always having the last little jibe and being able to seem cool and in control, even if at times he wasn’t (a perfect example of this is in the aforementioned Lou Reed interview ‘Let Us Now Praise Famous Death Dwarves’ where Lou ripped him to shit). Even if Lester Bangs wasn’t the first to add snide comments to his work, he was certainly one of the best, and really laid the foundations for budding writers to add that extra element of being a dick to their writing, so thanks man.
Words by Laura Copley