'Let It Blurt' tells of critic's rock 'n' roll life 


Andrew Hamlin; Special to The Seattle Times



"Let It Blurt The Life amp; Times of Lester Bangs, America's Greatest Rock Critic" 
by Jim DeRogatis 
Broadway, $15.95 

Jim DeRogatis rode into Manhattan on April 14, 1982, on a high-school assignment to interview a "hero" of his own choice. He found his chosen hero, rock critic Lester Bangs, in Bangs' fifth-floor walk-up, slumped in a chair, "mirroring the skew of the Cookie Monster hand puppet that served as a shade on his desk lamp." Bangs barely moved, probably sick with influenza, but spoke "in a passionate torrent of words." 

Sixteen days later, the critic apparently swallowed several Darvon and Valium to fight his flu; friends found him, face up, eyes open, on the couch where DeRogatis had sat. "Dare" by the Human League, purchased just hours before, spun on the turntable, needle floating and clicking across the end groove. "This biography began that day," DeRogatis avows. 

Leslie Conway Bangs' Jehovah's Witness mother took him door-to-door proselytizing and left him "always trying to make converts." 

His ex-jailbird father, who self-immolated after falling asleep with a lit cigarette, lent him a lifelong horror of death by fire and a stinging reification of the Witnesses' apocalyptic philosophy. 
Changing "Leslie" to "Lester" in high school, he went on to popularize the terms "punk" and "heavy metal" in Creem, The Village Voice and other publications, unveiling outrageous, sensitive, comical, self-scourging, and highly influential criticism and commentary while matching Lou Reed at ripostes and Johnnie Walker shots and nearly killing another man in a Texas dove shoot after speeding all night on ephedrine. 

Etching such mercurial essence onto the page can be like grabbing for sunlight flashing in a fishbowl. DeRogatis, through sure-footed prose that wisely refrains from emulating his subject, sensibly documents Bangs' many revelations, reversals and conundrums. 

"Rock 'n' roll is anything that makes you feel alive," said Lester, only 16 days from the void, to his future biographer. "It's something that's human. . . . It's a way of doing things, of approaching things. Writing can be rock 'n' roll, or a movie can be rock 'n' roll. It's a way of living your life."

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