Lester Bangs died thirty years ago today
However he died, the way he lived inspired many young writers (including this one, who was still four months away from birth when Bangs expired). Five years after his death, Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung -- a collection of Bangs essays assembled by Greil Marcus and Robert Christgau -- was published to overwhelming praise. Any criticism it did receive was typically aimed toward the editors and not the author.
"I felt that Marcus' collection was an attempt to enshrine Lester but also to sabotage him," said Vanity Fair critic James Wolcott in a 1997 interview. "There's a jealousy with both Christgau and Marcus, because Lester really reached readers. Bob and Greil have their followers, but they don't have the kind of intense fandom that Lester had. You felt connected to him. You can't imagine, like: 'Jeez, I wanna hang out with Greil Marcus.' What Lester had was really rare."
Unfortunately, Bangs's singular focus and wild exploration of the bounds of language remain rare to this day. For whatever economic downturn Bangs's generation endured in the last half of the 1970s, it was nothing compared with the state of published journalism four decades on. The lack of security has made writers of today even more cautious than the ones Bangs tormented -- and inspired -- in his day.
Though were he alive today the state of the economy and the job market would most likely rouse little sympathy in Bangs. Because -- like his contemporaries Hunter Thompson and Charles Bukowski -- Lester Bangs understood that the key ingredients of good writing (passion, observation, confidence, unique perspective) rarely take root in the soil of security.
Like his parents, Lester Bangs was a religious man who burned to death.
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