Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Lestorian Lit

When Lester Bangs died in in 1982, he left behind three or four or five million words, most of them unpublished. A few saw print in 1987, when Greil Marcus's herculean Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung was finally finished, but for all Knopf's prestige the literary spark struck by that anthology wouldn't light a joint in the back of City Lights Books. Bangs remains the spiritual preserve of the rock subculture, as in the second issue of the New Jersey fanzine Throat Culture ($3.50 from Box 6105, Union NJ 07083), which devotes (almost) all its 80 pages to writing by and about the "ofttimes . . . great writer/critic, so-called." That rave and its attendant hedges come from Richard Meltzer's "Lester Bangs Recollected in Tranquility," a circa-1984 debunk rejected at this newspaper before the L.A. Reader paid for it, and it's the best Throat Culture has to offer: like a lot of great Bangs (and much great Meltzer), it's ofttimes wrong and more solipsistic than it knows, but full of crackly writing and uncomfortable ideas, including the blasphemous suggestion that Lester had a lot to learn as a writer before he was up to "such transcendently pivotal mere humanistic trifles as the dearth of love." Half of Bangs's previously unpublished Sid Vicious obit "Bye Bye Sidney"--the half where he excoriates J. Rotten for not being (no hedges) "his brother's keeper"--demonstrates Meltzer's point. But the half where Bangs imagines Sid's reality and details some punk burnouts articulates a dismayed compassion that's compelling and totally idiosyncratic, and that dates back at least to the early Creem piece Throat Culture also reprints: "Anyone Tampering With This Machine: The Senior Prom of the '70s," which does indeed describe an actual prom. Rob Tyner, Ivan Julian, Nick Tosches, Jaan Uhelszki, Richard C. Walls, high school buddy Roger Anderson, and others (including many photographers) also contribute their observations.

Village Voice, 1991