We’re back with another installment of the Writer’s Workshop. This month, we have the writer who is widely regarded as the greatest rock critic of all times, Lester Bangs. Lester Bangs draws comparison to that other famed Gonzo for living the life he wrote about. You might remember him as the character in Almost Famous played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Unlike the “I can fit you on the calendar” interview and research format of today, Bangs befriended his subjects, got to know them inside and out, and likely passed out on their couch.
Hard livin’, alongside such notable partakers as Lou Reed, Captain Beefheart and the Clash, cut Bangs’ life short at the tender age of 33 – a true rock star. Thus, in order to include the wisdom of Lester Bangs here for the Writers Workshop, I’m piecing together this phony interview from a hilarious essay Bangs wrote entitled How to Be a Rock Critic, which is published in the back of the definitive Lester Bangs biography, Let It Blurt, by Jim DeRogatis.
Ryan Dembinsky: What would you say was the best part of the life as a successful rock writer?
Lester Bangs: Well, it almost certainly won’t get you laid. On the other side of the slug, though, are the benefits. The first big one is if you stay in this stuff long enough you’ll start to get free records in the mail, and if you persevere even longer you might wind up on the promotional mailing lists of every company in the nation. On Christmas you don’t have to buy anybody presents if you don’t want to: Just give your mother the new Barbra Streisand album Columbia sent you because Barbra’s trying to relate, your sister one of the three copies of the new Carole Kind that you got in the mail, your sister the Osmond’s double live LP you never opened because you’re too hip… all down the line, leaving you enough money saved to stay fucked-up on good whiskey over the holidays this year.
The final benefit (and for some people, the biggest) is that during most of these stages and at an increasingly casual level as time goes on, you’ll get to hobnob with the Stars. Backstage at concerts, in the dressing room drinking their wine, rapping occasionally with the famous, the talented, the rich, and the beautiful. Most of ‘em are just jerks like everybody else, and you probably won’t really get to meet any real Biggies very often since the record companies don’t need publicity on them so why should they inflict you on them, but you will become friends with a lot of Stars of the Future or at least also-rans.
READ ON for more of Rupert’s sorta-interview with Lester Bangs…
RD: What makes somebody credible or gives them the right to tell other people what music is good quality?
LB: The first thing to understand and bear in mind at all times is that the whole thing is a big ruse from the word go, it don’t mean shit except exploitatively and in the zealotic terms of wanting to inflict your tastes on other people.
RD: So basically you are saying anybody who wants to be a music critic should just go be one?
LB: All you gotta do is just keep bashin’ away, and sooner or later people will start saying things to you like, “How do you fit the Kinks into your overall aesthetic perspective?” Well, they won’t really talk that jive-ass, but damn close if you travel in the right (or wrong, as the case may be) circles.
RD: What advice would you give to young writers in terms of choosing their content?
LB: You gotta find some band somewhere that’s maybe got two or three albums out and might even be halfway good, but the important thing is the more arcane the better, it’s gotta be something that absolutely nobody but you and maybe two other people (the group’s manager and one member’s mother) knows or cares about, and what you wanna do is TALK ABOUT THIS BUNCH OF OBSCURE NONENTITIES AND THEIR RECORD(S) LIKE THEY ARE THE HOTTEST THING IN THE HISTORY OF MUSIC.
RD: What would you say is the most annoying trait inherent in a good rock critic?
LB: Half of the rock critics in the country, no 90% of the rock critics in the world have some grand theory they are trying to lay on each other and everybody else, which they insist explains everything in musical history and ties up all the loose ends. Every last one of ‘em has a different theory and every last one of the theories is total bullshit, but you might as well have one as part of your baggage if you’re going to pass. Try this: All rock n’ roll cultures plagiarize each other. That is inherent in their nature. So maybe, since what rock n’ roll’s all about is plagiarism anyway, the most out-and-out plagiarists, the imitators of the prime moving geniuses, are greater and more valid than those geniuses! Just check this out: The Rolling Stones are better than Chuck Berry! The Shadows of Knight are better than the Yardbirds! P.F. Sloan’s first album was a masterpiece, way better than Blonde on Blonde.
RD: You’re a funny guy. Any last parting words of advice for the living?
LB: Anybody can do this shit, all it takes is a high level of unconsciousness and some ability to sling bullshit around. Also, the bullshit is ready-made, you don’t even have to think it up, all you gotta do is invest in a slingshot. All the word-type stuff you need has already been written anyway, it’s in old yellow issues of Shakin’ Street, Rolling Stone, Creem and all the rest; just sit around reading and re-rereading the damn things all day and pretty soon you’ll have whole paragraphs of old record reviews memorized, which is not only a good way to impress people at parties and girls you’re trying to pick up with your erudition, but allows you to plagiarize at will. And don’t worry about getting caught, because nobody in this business has any memory and besides they’re all plagiarists too and besides that all record reviews read the same.
Author’s Note: If this is a breach of any copyright laws, we apologize and will gladly remove the post. Hopefully, we’ll help sell some copies of the book for you though, because it’s really good.