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Tag: lester bangs

The King is Dead

From Kottke, here is a link to Lester Bang’s obit for Elvis:

It was the autumn of 1971, and two tickets to an Elvis show turned up at the offices of Creem magazine, where I was then employed. It was decided that those staff members who had never had the privilege of witnessing Elvis should get the tickets, which was how me and art director Charlie Auringer ended up in nearly the front row of the biggest arena in Detroit. Earlier Charlie had said, “Do you realize how much we could get if we sold these fucking things?” I didn’t, but how precious they were became totally clear the instant Elvis sauntered onto the stage. He was the only male performer I have ever seen to whom I responded sexually; it wasn’t real arousal, rather an erection of the heart, when I looked at him I went mad with desire and envy and worship and self-projection. I mean, Mick Jagger, whom I saw as far back as 1964 and twice in ’65, never even came close.

There was Elvis, dressed up in this ridiculous white suit which looked like some studded Arthurian castle, and he was too fat, and the buckle on his belt was as big as your head except that your head is not made of solid gold, and any lesser man would have been the spittin’ image of a Neil Diamond damfool in such a getup, but on Elvis it fit. What didn’t? No matter how lousy his records ever got, no matter how intently he pursued mediocrity, there was still some hint, some flash left over from the days when…well, I wasn’t there, so I won’t presume to comment. But I will say this: Elvis Presley was the man who brought overt blatant vulgar sexual frenzy to the popular arts in America (and thereby to the nation itself, since putting “popular arts” and “America” in the same sentence seems almost redundant). It has been said that he was the first white to sing like a black person, which is untrue in terms of hard facts but totally true in terms of cultural impact. But what’s more crucial is that when Elvis started wiggling his hips and Ed Sullivan refused to show it, the entire country went into a paroxysm of sexual frustration leading to abiding discontent which culminated in the explosion of psychedelic-militant folklore which was the sixties.

I mean, don’t tell me about Lenny Bruce, man – Lenny Bruce said dirty words in public and obtained a kind of consensual martyrdom. Plus which Lenny Bruce was hip, too goddam hip if you ask me, which was his undoing, whereas Elvis was not hip at all, Elvis was a goddam truck driver who worshipped his mother and would never say shit or fuck around her, and Elvis alerted America to the fact that it had a groin with imperatives that had been stifled. Lenny Bruce demonstrated how far you could push a society as repressed as ours and how much you could get away with, but Elvis kicked “How Much Is That Doggie in the Window” out the window and replaced it with “Let’s fuck.” The rest of us are still reeling from the impact. Sexual chaos reigns currently, but out of chaos may flow true understanding and harmony, and either way Elvis almost singlehandedly opened the floodgates. That night in Detroit, a night I will never forget, he had but to ever so slightly move one shoulder muscle, not even a shrug, and the girls in the gallery hit by its ray screamed, fainted, howled in heat. Literally, every time this man moved any part of his body the slightest centimeter, tens or tens of thousands of people went berserk. Not Sinatra, not Jagger, not the Beatles, nobody you can come up with ever elicited such hysteria among so many. And this after a decade and a half of crappy records, of making a point of not trying.

I Just Don’t Have that Much Jam

Today, let’s take a moment to appreciate the rock n roll critic Lester Bangs. For a sense of who Bangs was and what his work meant, read this by Maria Bustillos.

Then, check out this 1980 Bangs Q&A by Sue Mathews:

Sue Mathews: How much relevance do you think Rock’n’Roll can have to an ageing population?

Lester: Well, It’s like a friend of mine said when I asked him “ Do you think The Rolling Stones should break up now that they’ve put out ‘Some Girls’ and quit while they’re ahead or should they keep going? ”. And he said “Oh no, absolutely, they should keep going until they’re totally senile, and a little bit more creepy and pathetic and creaky each time playing the same old Chuck Berry riffs until they’re 60 years old”. And I agree that’s exactly what they should do, and I think Rock’n’Roll as it goes along gets more creaky. The whole culture will get more creaky and why not. I mean I’d rather listen to the Stones than Tony Bennett or something like that. I guess what you’re asking is if the youth is a minority, and then Rock’n’Roll as being. . . . . well. . . Lets look at it this way, lets compare it to say Jazz or to Blues, music where some of the greatest work was done. When the artist Charlie Parker or Mingus or who ever, who were in their 30’s and 40’s. I mean I thinks it’s a total myth that only someone who is an adolescence can create good Rock’n’Roll. Patti Smith didn’t start till she was in her 30’s and she’s created some excellent Rock’n’Roll, some of it even great. Lenny Hayes is in his 30’s, in fact to tell the truth this whole punk rock thing, half of the people in it are in their 30’s. When you get right down to it, nobody admits their age, very few of them are 21 years old I guarantee you. I mean the people that make it are like Bob Seger, Ted Nugent what ever you may think of them, they’ve been slogging around for 10 years. Most of the people that make it have been slogging around for ten years. Debbie Harry, that whole group, it’s just simple arithmetic that these people could not be teenagers if they’ve been trying for that long. It usually takes about that long in fact or it quite often does. So it stands to reason that you know it’s not this myth that this person drops out of high school and grabs a guitar and the next week is the biggest thing in the country, I mean yes this happens, but in general it’s not that way at all.

Here’s an on-line archive of Bangs’s work.

[Photo Credit: Los Angeles Times]

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