By Mike Mehalick, Senior Editor
Thirty years ago today one of the most influential and enigmatic voices in modern music criticism was silenced forever after a toxic cocktail of Valium and Nyquil claimed the life of Lester Bangs.
Since the subject here had no issue breaking away from the norm, I hope you’ll indulge my shift into the first person for a moment.
My first experience with Lester Bangs came in mid 2007. I was a fresh faced 18 year old with no discernible taste outside of the type of classic rock-schlock that Mr. Bangs so regularly turned his vitriolic spray nozzle onto. Outside of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s “burrrr hurrrr” portrayal in Almost Famous I had no clue who this fly by the seat of your pants style gonzo eviscerater was (eviscerater isn’t a word). Inasmuch that I was born seven years after Bangs’ death I naturally had a lot of questions and difficulty attempting to take much away from his writings the first go around. Circling our dear critics’ discography of concerned works is an even more daunting task that will inevitably lead you to listen to a lot of shitty Lou Reed records, of which he so vaunted.
Evaluating Bangs’ legacy ultimately extends beyond what he liked and didn’t like, however, and into how his ideas relate to experiences in your own life. When we go to listen to music today we’re only a few clicks away from searching, finding, and streaming an entire album, or selections, on Spotify. Although Bangs regularly espoused his desire to have a basement full of every record ever created his romanticism and subsequent genius lunacy would never shine through if he had an iPod rather than a physical album sleeve.
What I take away every time I read a Bangs archived review or interview is his runaway passion and appreciation for the beautiful as well as the ugly. There was no definitive point of view in his universe beyond his own personal mad-cap feelings and ideas which were always open to different levels of interpretation. The controlled chaos of his ramblings was equal parts informed and throw shit on the wall and see if it sticks, which is really as much as you can hope when trying to evaluate another artist’s intentions. This was a man who loved music so desperately that it drove him to a varying mix of experimental extremes.
Beyond religion there are the inspirers of worldly, human awe such as the arts. Although the chasing of this awe-high may prove prematurely fatal one cannot underestimate or under-appreciate the theistic power of musical exaltation. I hope that Lester Bangs’ spirit runs kindred with my own in that our approach to life and music criticism will always, hopefully, march ceaselessly forward in hopes of attaining the key to some universal truth that doesn’t actually exist. To utilize an old cliché, sometimes it’s not the destination but the journey.