Guess what I ingested last night


Lost in Music: Tom Cox


Music journalism, alleges the old axiom, is the last resort of the failed musician. But painting a mental picture of the nearly-star who, having been cheated out of a glittering career, takes up the pen for revenge on those who haven't been so cheated is actually very generous. Most are far worse: failed failed rock stars. With the gulf between performer and writer getting ever wider, the concept of a music journalist actually influencing a musician seems alien, to say the least. But Lester Bangs the Creem and Rolling Stone writer who died in 1982 and who has just become the first rock journalist to be feted with his own biography, Let it Blurt did just that. He inspired countless insurrectionist punk-rockers and rebels even, grudgingly, his own arch nemesis/hero, Lou Reed. In 1974 the J Geils Band invited Bangs on stage to accompany their set on his typewriter; and Julian Cope, in his 1999 autobiography Repossessed, enthused: 'Bangs wrote in such hugely mythological terms that my psychic sinews rippled and flexed as I rediscovered my rock'n'roll self. I may have actually started purring during particularly pertinent segments and I sure as hell spent a great deal of time getting up, prowling around the house and looking in the mirror.' Someone asked me recently, 'Don't you feel guilty making judgments about musicians when you don't understand what it's like to play music yourself?' The answer is no, since the aim of music writing should never be to achieve objectivity but to entertain and to search for a bleary truth that lies a long way beneath bass lines, middle-eights and treble clefs. Bangs understood this. It wasn't because he was, as he claimed, 'the best writer in America' (he wasn't) that he reached out to rebel rockers; it was because he got nearer than any other writer before or since to re-creating the spirit of his favourite bands (The MC5, The Velvet Underground, The Stooges, The Guess Who) in print: distorted, tempestuous, fanatical, egotistical. Bangsmania has got slightly out of hand in the build-up to the publication of Let it Blurt, proving that the 'dead guys get all the chicks' maxim can be just as accurately applied to rock journalists as rock stars. Most music journalists now probably spend more time fantasising about what it would have been like to be Bangs (wild man, alcoholic, cough-mixture addict, misanthrope, fiend to the stars) than reading him. While probably the most imaginative, Bangs wasn't the 'best music writer ever'; sometimes it seems that the only thing he has to match Charles Shaar Murray's bullshit detector or Nick Kent's nightmare-inducing bedtime storytelling is exclamation marks, slang and you'll-never-guess-what-I -ingested-last- night anecdotes. At other times, no one taps into rock'n'roll more ruthlessly. Bangs, always griping, always ransacking for a revolution, could only be fully operational during such a cataclysmic time as the 70s, and he died just before pop lost its capacity to alarm. You know he would have been no good today, now that much of the music he raved about for its transient shock value has achieved distinguished-relic status, revolution has become a commodity and journalists are too spineless to have a food fight with Slade or to tell Lou Reed to make love and travel. But that doesn't stop you wishing he was here. Let It Blurt: The Life and Times of Lester Bangs by Jim DeRogatis, is published by Bloomsbury on Tuesday.

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