He helped popularize musical terms like “Punk Rock” and “Heavy Metal.” He’s been called “America’s greatest rock critic” and was fired from Rolling Stone Magazine for being “too mean” to the bands. Contrarian and cantankerous: Do you know Lester Bangs?
For some, the most well-known cultural touchstone for Bangs is the largely adored Cameron Crowe film “Almost Famous” where Bangs was as portrayed by Philip Seymour Hoffman. For others, it’s Bangs’ revered and widely shared essay about Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks.” For Lester’s biggest fans, it’s everything he ever wrote.
Born December 14, 1948, Bangs was raised Jehovah’s Witness in a household that prohibited doctors, booze, dancing and drugs. Slowly breaking himself free from these restrictions, Bangs turned to rock n roll and Romilar cough syrup poured over LSD. In 1969, his first dream came true: he was hired as a writer by Rolling Stone Magazine. Bangs knocked around his typewriter night after night, churning out insightful, funny, and brutal reviews of the music he loved so much but refused to blindly worship.
In 1973, Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner fired Bangs from the magazine for “disrespecting musicians” after a he turned in a particularly mean-spirited Canned Heat review. Bangs next became editor of Creem in 1971, moving to Detroit. His series of interviews with his musical hero, The Velvet Underground’s Lou Reed, function like a series of hilarious and vicious rounds of a verbal-boxing-match. They are, like much of Bangs’ writing, like nothing else in the world of music journalism.
Bangs died in New York City on April 30, 1982, at the age of 33, of an accidental overdose of dextropropoxyphene, diazepam, and NyQuil. His life story, greatest hits, and most outrageous stories can all be heard in How To Be A Rock Critic.
Jackie Liebergott Black Box Theatre