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The Amphetamine Logic of Lester Bangs (Colossal Detour Edition)

February 1, 2011

Lester Bangs, suffering a rare moment of clarity.

Now, I realize that this piece I’m about to share with you is old. 30+ years old, in fact. But I figure if I just came across it recently, many of you haven’t read it either.

Not only that but I’m actually encouraging you to head elsewhere and read someone else’s writing. Lester Bangs to be specific. It’s a great piece detailing  a completely different angle on Lou Reed’s unlistenable “masterpiece,” 1975’s Metal Machine Music.

Plenty of theories have been offered to explain Reed’s decision to offer up a double-album(!) of brutal white noise and head-splitting feedback. Most of these revolve around Reed’s antagonistic relationship with his label (also Reed’s “default” mode with most of the world’s population). Many view MMM as some sort of “Fuck you” to his label, either out of contractual obligation or Reed just aggressively resting on his laurels.

Lou Reed stands proudly in front of his masterpiece in what is undoubtedly an airbrushed-in stock photo.

Lester Bangs looks at this completely differently, using for guidance, of all things, Reed’s own liner notes. His theory is that Reed made this as a love letter to the speed freak crowd with the atonal corrosiveness acting as a reasonable facsimile of being completely wired.

In his excellent liner notes, Lou asserts that he and the other speedfreaks did not start World Wars I, II, “or the Bay of Pigs, for that matter.” And he’s right. If everybody took amphetamines, all the time, everybody would understand each other. Either that or never listen or bother with the other son of a bitch, because they’d all be too busy spending three days drawing psychedelic lines around a piece of steno paper until it’s totally black, writing eighty-page letters about meaningless occurrences to their mothers, or creating MMM.

Bangs ties this in with his own life, going into gratuitous detail and generally making a very entertaining mess of the whole thing.

Love is silt. Anybody who has ever taken Quaaludes and wound up loving the rest of the human race so much they ended up in bed with a human turnip knows that.

Now, I’m not here to worship at the altar of Lester Bangs (mainly because there’s always a line at the altar, filled with skinny-jeaned journo students armed with composition pads or whatever the hell it is kids use these days, iPads probably, and ironic shirts busily penning pieces about Vampire Weekend, mainly bits of character assassination detailing Ezra Koenig’s combination of well-heeled mannerisms and boy-next-door looks, which when set in front of a bunch of stolen African influences that still have Paul Simon’s name written in felt tip on the waistband, prove to be altogether Too Much and must be deconstructed until nothing stands out but his predilection for carelessly worn Oxford button-ups and $500 deck shoes which tends to cast a pall of uneasy juxtaposition over the whole fucking mess, especially, ESPECIALLY because he wears this Kennedy-offspring ensemble out LIVE.

Yes, this look screams "Rock Star," but more as a frightened warning than a self-evident statement.

Unfortunately, any direct attack on Koenig is deflected by his subdued intelligence, which presents itself not so much as a strand of $20 words but rather the nagging feeling that he could mentally eviscerate you without flexing a brain cell, which all would be annoying/disconcerting if he didn’t just seem so gracious in person, always checking on whether the recorder is picking up everything ok or shooting you some unreleased demos on a USB drive shaped like an emperor penguin. And now, NOW goddammit, he’s completely undone your hatred, which, to be fair, was entirely preconceived based on his upper-class looks and media omnipresence, which really isn’t his fault at all if we’re honest and slightly drunk.

So now you’ve got a distended piece with no clear focus and a deadline and an editor looking for something crippling and you’re wondering whether it might be possible to pull a McInerney, jettison half the narrative and switch the whole fucking thing into second-person about seven paragraphs in, thereby adding the reader as an accomplice and soulmate in co-damnation, a comrade-in-arms who will truly empathize with your angsty (and that’s really what it is, isn’t it) distaste for this over-exposed band and be fully complicit in your shift to grudging respect for VW (’cause you’re now on nickname terms with the band), riding literary shotgun as even the grudging itself is shed like last year’s virginity by the end of the piece.

But it’s Bangs’ willingness to dive headfirst into the cesspool with his subjects that makes him so visceral, which no one is really doing these days because not only have the mags themselves gone clean as their numbers have dwindled but, with rare exceptions, rock stars are no longer living like rock stars but are instead writing op-eds for the New York Times and appearing on Sesame Street.

You scrawl quicky in your margin something about “how fucking something [check thesaurus for word other than “cool” or “tight”] would it be to tour with Lemmy” because love him or hate him, you weren’t going to ignore him or stay anywhere near sober for however long he let you (you!) ride shotgun on his tour of sold-out dives and half-filled civic centers. “Shit yes should go fucking do that.” Wait. Another quick note: “Wiki Lemmy. If still alive, contact management. Forward VampWkend piece for ref.”)

… but he did write some amazing stuff and left a slime-like trail in his wake, most likely due to personal hygiene issues. But hey, that’s rock and f’in roll for you. Those who can’t, write. (And help themselves to leftover drugs and groupies. Or did. Those days are probably behind us now, much to the eternal dismay of the second-person journo above.)

Go and check it out. Let me know what you think. (Especially you, O/O.)

-CLT

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7 comments

  1. I always thought the rule was “one guitar, slung way down low.”


  2. […] Plans… and Pants to Match Now proudly feeling ways about stuff! « The Amphetamine Logic of Lester Bangs (Colossal Detour Edition) Old Man Kicks February 2, 2011 My new winter shoe away from the […]


  3. I had to do a lot of googling to keep up with this post. Somehow I missed Almost Famous so I’m planning to check it out this weekend.

    I also need to check out Bangs’ autobiography. He sounds like a Hunter S. Thompson for rock. I would have loved to been around for those days. It’s not nearly as fun being the only one tripping your balls off or trying to smoke coke out of a lightbulb when you’re the only one at the party so ‘balls in the dirt.’


    • There’s nothing like a semi-coherent autobiography packed full of drug abuse and bad decisions to inspire you on to bigger and badder life decisions. Bush II’s book aside, Bangs can be a fun read. Of course, indulging your urges also tends to slop over to the literary side, bring a bit of self-indulgence with it, so watch out for that.

      Thanks for googling yourself up to speed, Scott. I’ve really got to do a better job setting up these posts.


    • No, you do an amazing job with the setup and layout. I just wanted more info because I’m always surprised when I don’t know somebody that I obviously should. I had my own lost years after all.


  4. I vaguely remember listening when a local college radio DJ played the entire Metal Music Machine album. He was really big on the Noise Music scene. Honestly, I recall enjoying it at the time and may give it another listen.

    I certainly would much rather be chained to a chair and have the album played 24/7 for a week (drug free even!) than listen to even one more motherfucking ad with these Vampire Weekend twinks trying to convince me to by some fucking shit.

    If I ever come across that Koenig guy, he’s getting the Berlusconi treatment. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QpRf1HCiF2Y This 80’s fratboy movie villain doesn’t deserve to hold a guitar, he deserves to be hit over the head with one.


    • If you’re going to hit Koenig with his own guitar, try to wield it more competently than he does. If not, I’m sure he’ll be able to amble away and into the nearest private hospital to be nursed back to health with gastropub cuisine and Grey Goose + Red Bull cocktails.



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