Lester Bangs

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Lester Bangs
Lester Bangs.jpg
Bangs photographed by Roberta Bayley in 1976
Born Leslie Conway Bangs
(1948-12-14)December 14, 1948[1]
Escondido, California
United States
Died April 30, 1982(1982-04-30) (aged 33)
New York City
United States
Occupation Music critic, musician, author
Nationality American
Period 1969–1982
Subject Rock music, jazz

Leslie Conway "Lester" Bangs (December 14, 1948 – April 30, 1982) was an American music journalist, 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.[2][3]


Early life[edit]

Bangs was born in Escondido, California, the son of Norma Belle (née Clifton) and Conway Leslie Bangs, a truck driver.[4] Both of his parents were from Texas; his father from Enloe, and his mother from Pecos County.[5] Norma Belle was a devout Jehovah's Witness. Conway died in a fire when his son was young. When Bangs was 11, he moved with his mother to El Cajon, California.[6]

His 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.[7]

Rolling Stone magazine[edit]

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:

Cream clichés that sound like the musicians learned them out of a book, grinding on and on with dogged persistence. Vocals are sparse, most of the album being filled with plodding bass lines over which the lead guitar dribbles wooden Claptonisms from the master's tiredest Cream days. They even have discordant jams with bass and guitar reeling like velocitized speedfreaks all over each other's musical perimeters yet never quite finding synch—just like Cream! But worse.[8]

(Rolling Stone later rated the same album to be on their 500 Greatest Albums of all time, at number 243.)[9]

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."[10]

In 1973, Jann Wenner fired Bangs from Rolling Stone for "disrespecting musicians" after a particularly harsh review of the group Canned Heat.[11]

Creem magazine[edit]

Bangs began freelancing for Detroit-based Creem in 1970.[7] 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,[12] Bangs fell in love with Detroit, calling it "rock's only hope," and remained there for five years.[13]

Under Bangs' editorship, Creem picked up on the punk rock (which many claim the magazine, and especially Bangs, helped to conceptualize, if not invent) and new wave movements early on. Bangs was enamored of the noise music of Lou Reed,[14] and Creem gave massive exposure to artists like Reed, David Bowie, Roxy Music, Blondie, and The New York Dolls years before the mainstream press. (Bangs wrote the essay/interview "Let Us Now Praise Famous Death Dwarves" about Reed in 1975.[15]) Creem was also among the first to sing the praises of hard rock and metal acts like Motörhead, Kiss, Judas Priest, and Van Halen.

Freelance career[edit]

After leaving Creem in 1976, he wrote for The Village Voice, Penthouse, Playboy, New Musical Express, and many other publications.


Bangs died in New York City on April 30, 1982, of an accidental overdose of Darvon, Valium, and NyQuil.[16][17] He was 33 years old at the time of his death.

Writing style[edit]

Bangs's criticism was filled with cultural references, not only to rock music but literature and philosophy as well.[7] He was known for his radical and critical style of working, apparent in this quote:

Well basically 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?[18]

At one point, typewriter in hand, he climbed onto the stage while the J. Geils Band were playing in concert, and typed a supposed review of the event, in full view of the audience.[19]


Bangs was also a musician in his own right. In 1976, he and Peter Laughner recorded an acoustic improvisation in the Creem office. In 1979, he released, as a solo artist, a 7" vinyl single named "Let It Blurt/Live", mixed by John Cale. The following year, he traveled to Austin, Texas, and met a punk rock group named the Delinquents. During his stay in Austin, he recorded an album as Lester Bangs and the Delinquents, entitled Jook Savages on the Brazos.

In 1981, he teamed up with Joey Ramone's brother Mickey Leigh to put together a New York City group named Birdland. Their only album, mixed by Ed Stasium, was released in 1986.

In 1990 The Mekons released the EP F.U.N. 90 with Bangs on vocals in the song "One Horse Town".

In popular culture[edit]



  • Along with artist Dori Seda, Bangs is the subject of Bruce Sterling's 1989 alternate history short story, "Dori Bangs," in which the two meet and have a relationship.
  • In his 2012 biography of David Foster Wallace, D. T. Max writes, "Wallace admired Bangs's exultant prose, which probably came closer to the way Wallace talked than any other writing."[20] Wallace and his co-author Mark Costello dedicated their book Signifying Rappers to Bangs.


Selected works[edit]

By Lester Bangs[edit]

About Lester Bangs[edit]

  • Let it Blurt: The Life and Times of Lester Bangs, America's Greatest Rock Critic, biography, Jim Derogatis. Broadway Books, 2000. (ISBN 0-7679-0509-1).

Works citing Lester Bangs[edit]

  • Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk, biography, Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain. Penguin Books, 1997. (ISBN 0-14-026690-9).

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Christgau, Robert (May 11, 1982). "Lester Bangs, 1948-1982". Village Voice. Retrieved January 31, 2014. 
  2. ^ Lester Bangs. Random House. Retrieved on November 4, 2007.
  3. ^ Rock criticism from the beginning: amusers, bruisers, and cool-headed cruisers Ulf Lindberg, Gestur Guomundsson, Morten Michelsen, Hans Weisethaunet. Ed. Ulf Lindberg. Publisher Peter Lang, 2005. ISBN 0-8204-7490-8, ISBN 978-0-8204-7490-8 p. 176.
  4. ^ Derogatis, Jim. Let it Blurt: The Life and Times of Lester Bangs, America's Greatest Rock Critic. New York: Broadway Books. pp. 3–4. ISBN 0767905091. 
  5. ^ "My Highschool Days With Lester Bangs". San Diego Reader. July 13, 2000. Retrieved November 7, 2012. 
  6. ^ Mendoza, Bart. "Lester Bangs: The El Cajon Years". San Diego Troubador. Retrieved April 22, 2014. 
  7. ^ a b c Bustillos, Maria. "Lester Bangs: Truth-teller," The New Yorker (Aug. 21, 2012).
  8. ^ "Album Review Black Sabbath - 'Black Sabbath'". Rolling Stone. September 17, 1970. 
  9. ^ "'500 Greatest Albums of all Time'". Rolling Stone. 
  10. ^ Jackson, Buzzy (2005). A Bad Woman Feeling Good: Blues and the women who sing them. New York: W.W. Norton. p. 234. ISBN 0393059367. Retrieved November 2, 2013. 
  11. ^ DeRogatis, Jim. Let it blurt, p. 95 at Google Books
  12. ^ Harrington, Joe (2002). Sonic Cool: the Life & Death of Rock 'n' Roll (1st ed. ed.). Milwaukee, WI: Hal Leonard Corp. p. 226. ISBN 0-634-02861-8.
  13. ^ Holdship, Bill (January 16, 2008). "Sour CREEM The life, death and strange resurrection of America's only rock 'n' roll magazine". Metro Times (Detroit, MI). Retrieved 3 January 2013.
  14. ^ Gere, Charlie. Art, Time and Technology: Histories of the Disappearing Body (2005) Berg, p. 110
  15. ^ DeRogatis, Jim. Milk it!: collected musings on the alternative music explosion of the 90s, p. 188 at Google Books
  16. ^ The Official Punk Rock Book of Lists By Amy Wallace, Handsome Dick Manitoba. Hal Leonard Corporation. p. 56.
  17. ^ Kent, Nick (April 12, 2002). "The life and work of Lester Bangs". The Guardian. Retrieved July 31, 2014. 
  18. ^ DeRogatis, Jim (November 1999). "A Final Chat with Lester Bangs". Perfect Sound Forever. Retrieved August 6, 2008. 
  19. ^ Maconie, Stuart (2004). Cider With Roadies (1st ed.). London: Random House. p. 227. ISBN 0-09-189115-9. 
  20. ^ Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story (Little, Brown, 2012), p. 122.


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