Lester Bangs is one of the most well-known critics of his generation because he epitomized the art form of writing about art. Obsessed with music, Bangs wrote: “Ultimately being a ‘critic’ just means wanting to inflict your tastes on other people. It’s a very honest impulse: I simply want you to like the same things I like. I need you to like them. Then I will not be alone.” Criticism is the art of persuasion, to get you to go see a show or listen to an album, or not a see a show and not listen. Even though you’ve likely never met the author of it, criticism tells you how you spend your precious time. But what is most important to me about Bangs’s mission statement is his last sentence: “Then I will not be alone.”
Sharing our own creativity and the creativity of others fuels conversation. What is more satisfying than a theatre outing where you and a friend can’t stop talking about the play? Where you agree that yes, this play turned my world upside down, or that song got me through my first break up. Art connects us to each other and to ourselves.
Even more satisfying might be vehement disagreement. My spouse and I are very much connected by our aesthetic sensibility. We love to love art together and in nineteen years we so often agree. But then there was that movie we watched together more than eight years ago that bored me but moved her to tears. Was this the end of the marriage? Had our tastes parted ways? We argued for hours over dinner about why I thought the film was utterly predictable, whimsical to the point of insulting, and she tried to convince me that this reflected the true coming of age of a teenage girl in all of its nuance and subtlety. It was a close call but we are still together, still loving and occasionally fighting over art.
When I say Lester Bangs fell in love with punk rock, I mean he fell deeply in love. He explained that love in this way: “This is the beauty of rushing many-streamed complexity which when it finally grabs you can literally take your head away so that you’ll find yourself.” The beauty of the best that art has to offer does just that: it takes your head away so you can connect to the deepest parts of yourself and ultimately to the deepest parts of others.
Jackie Liebergott Black Box Theatre