I was reading Lester Bangs last night, on the night that I celebrated my 34th birthday (yes, birthdays are that exciting in your 30s).
For years I’ve heard the statement uttered in a number of different ways that Bangs died at the right time — 1982, for those who are counting.
For those of you who don’t know Bangs, seek him out. Trust me on this one. He is arguably one of the most influential rock critics ever. Writing in hyper-intelligent benzedrine prose that calls to mind Jack Kerouac and Hunter S. Thompson, Bangs eschewed all conventional thinking as he discussed everything from Black Sabbath being the first truly Catholic band to Anne Murray’s smoldering sexuality. Some of you may know him from Philip Seymour Hoffman’s role in Almost Famous … if that helps.
While I have often agreed with the aforementioned statement that Bangs got out when the getting was good — before he had to endure too much of the piss-poor ‘music’ that came out in the ’80s — I think for the first time in a long time he’d be even happier with today’s music than the music of his era.
I’m thinking that he’d be screaming with enthusiasm for bands like Wolfmother, The Giraffes and even The Eels — staying up for days on end with a suitcase of pharmaceuticals just to write and let people know about these acts.
Which leads me to my point (I hope): Rock and roll is going off the deep end again, in a good way.
Always the rebellious child that does exactly the opposite of the norm, rock and roll in recent years has stuck its middle fingers up high at our ultra-commercial, devastatingly disposable society. For the first time in a long time the guys (and occasional girls) writing rock and roll aren’t sniveling about the state of the world in their music, and on the songs where they border on sniveling it’s being done intelligently, not a poor-woe-is-us attitude.
Bangs once wrote: “The day of writing bullshit songs is over, as far as I’m concerned (remember, he died in ’82 and luckily missed the horrors of the ‘99 Luft Balloons’ era). I like to think that if people listen to the words, they’ll get the truth of the song … In America the revolution that’s in people’s minds is ridiculous. You’re gonna hurt something on both sides whether you let it stay the way it is and just ride it out or do something different. You couldn’t get it into a worse state than it is now, and you could get something much better.”
Bangs is looking down on us, or maybe peering up from hell, but he’s one happy bastard again thanks to rock and roll and the wonderful people who write it.
See you at the shows.