Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung
Book written by Lester Bangs
Depending on your vintage, you might remember the second coming of Jim Morrison. Jerry Hopkins and Danny Sugarman foretold the rebirth with their biography of the deceased rocker. The Doors had never really left the airwaves, so the writing of the book was a little stroke of brilliant timing. Just enough time had passed that people had forgotten whatever details they knew about the man. A whole new audience had reached the perfect age when they were susceptible to the charms of a hedonistic artist who could be portrayed as a modern mix of Lord Byron and Arthur Rimbaud. My buddy, Ron, had the book and lent it to me after he finished it.
At that point, I viewed all books as created equal. The adults near at hand disabused me of that notion by wondering aloud why I would waste my time reading about someone like Jim Morrison. Naturally, I read through the book very quickly. I wasn’t an idiot and I knew what bothered the old folks, but they had not read the book which I recognized even at that age as a portrait of a young guy who was basically decent for his time, who tried to find his way, and who got lost in alcohol and drugs. Anyone who had been paying attention did not find the story surprising, new, or unusual. (The book also talked about the making of music and the music business in wonderful detail and that was wonderful stuff.)
As a side note that we will revisit shortly, I was also given grief for reading Slaughterhouse-Five at about the same time.
But, back to rock and roll writing-
It was not journalism and the subject was not fit for proper discourse. Rolling Stone and Creem were the two main founts of information at the time- both magazines had national distribution by the mid-70s. The former always had aspirations, but I don’t think you could say the same for Creem. For that matter, you never knew for sure how seriously to take the magazine with all their goofy pictures. If they had aspirations, they worshiped Mad Magazine.
Still, they were onto something. They knew that you could not take rock and roll artists seriously, while that didn’t mean you didn’t appreciate the art (most of the time). Realistically, they claimed a lot of likes and dislikes, which mostly seemed to fluctuate. Beneath all the goofy gloss, Lester Bangs became something of a phenom.
If you read his reviews and portraits, the first thing that leaps out is how much he puts himself into the frame. You can’t miss him. If you try to ignore his presence, then he just keeps reminding you. If you are paying attention, you will notice another little miracle of his writing- that amazing ease of speech. All writers search for a voice and quite a few talk about how that voice needs to be real. One of the efforts of the stream-of-consciousness writers was to capture their true voice. Kurt Vonnegut famously tried out the approach. (Go ahead. Take a moment to think about how adults worry about those first pure-voiced books their children read.) Bangs feels like he has sat down at your table and wants to engage you in a conversation.
What’s it all about?
You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 232 more to go.
New additions to You’ve Got to Check This Out release regularly. Also, free humor, short works, and poetry post irregularly. Notifications are posted on Facebook which you can receive by friending or following Craig.
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