Lester Bangs was born 73 years ago.
Bangs was a music journalist, critic, author and musician. Often cited during his lifetime as “America’s Greatest Rock Critic,” he wrote for Creem and Rolling Stone magazines and was known for his leading influence in rock music criticism.
Born in Escondido, California, Bang’s interests and influences growing up were as wide-ranging as the Beats (particularly William S. Burroughs), jazz musicians like John Coltrane and Miles Davis, comic books and science fiction.
In 1969, Bangs became a freelance writer after reading an ad in Rolling Stone soliciting readers’ reviews. His first piece was a negative review of the MC5 album, Kick Out The Jams, which he sent to Rolling Stone with a note requesting that if the magazine were to pass on publishing the review, that he receive a reason for their decision.
However, no reply was forthcoming as the magazine did indeed publish the review.
His 1970 review of Black Sabbath’s first album in Rolling Stone was scathing, rating them as Cream wannabes.
Bangs wrote about Janis Joplin’s 1970 death by drug overdose. “It’s not just that this kind of early death has become a fact of life that has become disturbing, but that it’s been accepted as a given so quickly.”
In 1973, Jann Wenner fired Bangs from Rolling Stone for “disrespecting musicians” after a particularly harsh review of the group, Canned Heat.
Bangs began freelancing for Detroit-based Creem in 1970. In 1971, he had written a feature for Creem on Alice Cooper, and soon afterward he moved to the Motor City. Named Creem’s editor in 1971, Bangs fell in love with Detroit, calling it “rock’s only hope,” and remained there for five years.
During the early 1970s, Bangs and certain other writers at Creem, began using the word “punk rock” to designate the genre of 60s garage bands, as well as more contemporary acts, such as MC5 and Iggy and the Stooges. Their writings would provide some of the conceptual framework for the later punk and new wave movements which would emerge in New York, London and elsewhere later in the decade.
After leaving Creem in 1976, Bangs wrote for The Village Voice, Penthouse, Playboy, New Musical Express and many other publications. His criticism was filled with cultural references, not only to rock music but literature and philosophy as well. He was known for his radical and critical style of working, apparent in this quote:
“I just started out to lead [an interview] with the most insulting question I could think of. Because it seemed to me that the whole thing of interviewing as far as rock stars and that was just such a suck-up. It was groveling obeisance to people who weren’t that special, really. It’s just a guy, just another person, so what?”
Bangs died at age 33 in New York City on April 30, 1982, of an accidental overdose of dextropropoxyphene, diazepam and NyQuil.