Lester Bangs Did Not Have Contempt for the Audience

Lester BangsYesterday, Andrea said to me, “Do you know how many times you use the word ‘great’ in your birthday posts?” This was in reference to our decades long argument over the fact that I find the universe constantly fascinating, whereas she doesn’t like Frank Sinatra. Or much of anything. She likes what she likes. But actually, that’s how I am. She’s really into needlecraft, and although I find it interesting enough, I am not fascinated. I am not the person who, through years of thrift shop addiction, has collected (and this is not an exaggeration), a quarter million buttons. But there is a reason I use the word “great” so much in the birthday posts. I only list people in my birthday posts who I find remarkable. If I say great, it is because I think they are great.

What’s more, the birthday posts are the most personal things I write here. Readers get a very good idea of what I care about. You can go lots of other places to find far more rigorous and “objective” listings of famous birthdays. And if that’s what you want, go there. But what is true about these posts and this site in general, is that the only thing that I have to offer that is special is me. Love it or hate it, I will tell you what I think in my own way. When I was a kid, I loved pure foods. As I grew up, I appreciated complexity of taste. This website is like a wine. It has a lot of different flavors swirling around. And you may hate or love it. But it’s the only wine on the list. And with that, I present to you today, the birthdays that suit by palate.

Why don’t we start with a nice German realist painter, known for his portraits. Franz von Lenbach was born on this day in 1836. I know, another realist. Yet Lenbach’s work is rich with contradictions. He plays around with neoclassical techniques and some of his work verges on photorealism. There’s also something dark and melancholy about his work, as if he knows Hitler is coming and what is the point anyway.

I was never a big Family Affair fan, except that I really like English people with the last name “French.” But something has to be said. Kathy Garver is 68 today. She played the teenage niece Cissy. Johnny Whitaker is 54 today. He played the little boy Jody. And Anissa Jones, who played Buffy, is just dead. Now I ask you, where else are you going to get this kind of reporting?

The great singer-songerwriter and founder of Television, Tom Verlaine is 64 today. Here he is all the way back in 1984 without the band doing the title song (which he wrote like all those songs) off the first Television album Marquee Moon:

Other birthdays: Mary Todd Lincoln (1882); silence film director Edward LeSaint (1870); Medal of Honor winner Alvin C York who killed lots of Germans in WWI (1887); Bewitched creator Sol Saks (1910); actor Christopher Plummer (84); shockingly, Dick Van Dyke is still alive (88); while producer Richard D Zanuck is dead (1934); actor Steve Buscemi (56); actor Jamie Foxx (46); and truly talentless “cute” girl Taylor Swift (12).

The day, however, belongs to the greatest rock journalist of all time, Lester Bangs who was born on this day in 1948. He’d still be with us today if he listened to me: don’t mix your drugs. Or if you are going to, check with me first. He mixed Darvon, Valium, and NyQuil. Look: I understand. That would be a hell of a high. But you’ve got to be really careful combining those opioids with GABA drugs. But that’s sad and that’s about death. So what.

Bangs was great because he didn’t buy all the rock star bullshit. Here’s what he said about interviewing, “Well basically I just started out to lead with the most insulting question I could think of. Because it seemed to me that the whole thing of interviewing as far as rock stars and that was just such a suck-up. It was groveling obeisance to people who weren’t that special, really. It’s just a guy, just another person, so what?” And here is his entire review of Black Sabbath’s first album that not only kicks them to the curb but also kicks Cream to the curb:

Over across the tracks in the industrial side of Cream country lie unskilled laborers like Black Sabbath, which was hyped as a rockin’ ritual celebration of the Satanic mass or some such claptrap, something like England’s answer to Coven. Well, they’re not that bad, but that’s about all the credit you can give them. The whole album is a shuck—despite the murky songtitles and some inane lyrics that sound like Vanilla Fudge paying doggerel tribute to Aleister Crowley, the album has nothing to do with spiritualism, the occult, or anything much except stiff recitations of Cream cliches that sound like the musicians learned them out of a book, grinding on and on with dogged persistence. Vocals are sparse, most of the album being filled with plodding bass lines over which the lead guitar dribbles wooden Claptonisms from the master’s tiredest Cream days. They even have discordant jams with bass and guitar reeling like velocitized speedfreaks all over each other’s musical perimeters yet never quite finding synch—just like Cream! But worse.

Here he is complaining about a number of things:

Happy birthday Lester Bangs!


I only used “great” twice and “greatest” once. So there!

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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