Let It Blurt

The Life and Times of Lester Bangs, Americas Greatest Rock Critic


From the Preface


I have always believed that rock ’n’ roll comes down to myth. There are no "facts." Lester Bangs, Rod Stewart


Sometimes Lester was full of shit. Of course there are facts in rock ’n’ roll, and they are valuable tools for deflating the myths, thereby making heroic deeds seem possible for us lowly humans. This was a pursuit that Lester loved almost as much as constructing the myths in the first place.

Lester was the great gonzo journalist, gutter poet, and romantic visionary of rock writing—its Hunter S. Thompson, Charles Bukowski, and Jack Kerouac all rolled into one. Out of tune with the peace ’n’ love ethos of the’60s and the Me Generation navel-gazing of the ’70s he agitated for sounds that were harsher, louder, more electric, and more alive, charting if not defining the aesthetics of heavy metal and punk. Where others idealized the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle or presented a distant academic version of it, he lived it, reveling in its excesses, drawing energy from its din, and matching its passion in prose that erupted from the pages of Rolling Stone, Creem, and the Village Voice. In the process he became a peer of the artists he celebrated, brash visionaries and dedicated individualists such as Captain Beefheart, Iggy Pop, Patti Smith, Richard Hell, and most of all Lou Reed, with whom he had a relationship that was equal parts Johnson / Boswell, Vidal / Mailer, and Mozart / Salieri (and it was often difficult to tell who was who).

I set out to meet the Lester of legend on the afternoon of April 14, 1982...

Over the next few hours I caught a glimpse of another Lester: the magnetic, loyal, righteous, outrageously funny, and occasionally frustrating man behind the persona. ... 

He paused for a long time when I asked him to define good rock ’n’ roll, and even as an inexperienced interviewer I was surprised that his answer wasn’t boilerplate. "Good rock ’n’ roll is something that makes you feel alive," he said at length. "It’s something that’s human, and I think that most music today isn’t. Anything that I would want to listen to is made by human beings instead of computers and machines. To me good rock ’n’ roll also encompasses other things, like Hank Williams and Charlie Mingus and a lot of things that aren’t strictly defined as rock ’n’ roll. Rock ’n’ roll is an attitude, it’s not a musical form of a strict sort. 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."

I was sitting in my bedroom transcribing our interview two weeks later when I heard the news of Lester’s death on WNEW-FM. This biography began that day. 


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