About Lester Bangs

Astral Weeks, insofar as it can be pinned down, is a record about people stunned by life, completely overwhelmed, stalled in their skins, their ages and selves, paralyzed by the enormity of what in one moment of vision they can comprehend. It is a precious and terrible gift, born of a terrible truth, because what they see is both infinitely beautiful and terminally horrifying: the unlimited human ability to create or destroy, according to whim. It’s no Eastern mystic or psychedelic vision of the emerald beyond, nor is it some Baudelairean perception of the beauty of sleaze and grotesquerie. Maybe what it boils down to is one moment’s knowledge of the miracle of life, with its inevitable concomitant, a vertiginous glimpse of the capacity to be hurt, and the capacity to inflict that hurt.

That Astral Weeks review is awfully pretty, gorgeous even. Too bad it’s complete horseshit. It has nothing to do with what the album sounds like and everything to do with Lester Bangs. Not that Lester Bangs wasn’t an interesting guy, but if you’re reviewing a record you should leave yourself at the door. I don’t care how many English classes you’ve had or if you’ve read Baudelaire or can do more acid that Philip K Dick, I just want to know what the album sounds like. The vast majority of music critics seemed to ignore that idea. Lots of pretty words that don’t give you a clue about what the music actually sounds like. If you want to write about yourself, write your memoirs. If you’re going to review an album, let the music do the talking. And if you can’t do that in prose, you’re in the wrong business. Because when you write about music, the only thing that matters is the music. You the critic don’t matter at all.

Here’s a rule of thumb…if you’ve completed a review and it’s one of the best things you’ve ever written in your life, dump it. You probably wrote about yourself.

(Comments posted to a New Yorker piece about Lester Bangs, 8-30-2012)

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Steaming Coils

Listening to Steaming Coils lost masterpiece Breaded–the record, I don’t think it ever came out on CD–and digging Brad Laner’s drums. Way loose, loopy, groovy, just the right pops and splashes, splattery press rolls and punchy bass drum kicked loud under crashing cymbals. It’s all so gloriously unmechanical and organic, and the only other drummer that comes to mind is Jim Capaldi. I have a memory, maybe even true, of telling Brad Laner the Jim Capaldi thing and him saying he was a fan too. Grok. Not many were in those Bonham days. Everyone wanted heavy back then. Not me. I liked loose. That memory would have been at Be Bop records, I think, maybe even at the Breaded release gig. There were few venues then and we’d drive out to the depths of the Valley to stand in the back of a record store and listen to the sounds of the eighties underground. Afterward we’d repair to the biker bar next door and watch hulking Hells Angels play pool as their women tried to start fights. Then we’d hang out on Sherman Way like juvenile delinquents getting stoned with our fellow denizens for the long drive back to Hollywood. Memories. But back to now and I’m listening to the opening cut again. “Carne del Sol” it’s called and I want to know what it says the singers sing. Play it backwards, play it backwards, snare splat, cymbal splash and fade.

A lotta freaks

Watched an old Dick Cavett show from August 1969 and the Jefferson Airplane, fresh from Woodstock, were fierce. The discombobulation of going from a festival bigger than Buffalo and back to Manhattan by helicopter as they came off the acid was noticeable only for a few minutes and by the time Grace sang motherfucker on national television all was well again. David Crosby and Stephen Stills showed up mudspattered and David talked and talked (coming up on the crowd by helicopter, he said, was like viewing the Macedonian army, the acid in his brain turning the vast throng of hippies into invincible hoplites and horsemen of Alexander the Great….) Stills was mostly mute, as if still overwhelmed but when handed a guitar played brilliantly and I remembered it was he and not Mike Bloomfield on Super Session’s Season of The Witch (another of those free form FM standard long since purged from Classic Rock radio). Joni Mitchell, clean and windblown from the canyon and kicking herself for not going (her manager said go on Cavett instead….amazing how many idiot managers kept their bands off the bill, booking them elsewhere) sounded great but sang too many songs, but then I’ve never been a fan. (It’s a minority opinion, I know….) The Airplane hit the studio stage again with a very tough Somebody To Love, Jorma’s lead stinging and psychedelically hostile, followed by a hard jamming Other Side Of This Life, and as the studio audience began breaking out in frantically groovy dancing Cavett waved the camera off and the credits rolled and the Airplane just got fiercer and fiercer and who knows how long they played past the commercials.

Edie Adams

Man, Edie Adam’s did a devastating Marilyn Monroe parody. If Marilyn hadn’t been so fucked up she might have sued. It surpassed even SCTV’s Catherine O’Hara and Andrea Martin at their cruelest. I saw it on the Edie Adam’s box set, I imagine some one has put it on YouTube as well. Also, among the many long buried treasures revealed in this collection is a solid dozen minutes of the Woody Herman Big Band c.1963, and what a blazing aggregation that was. You could hear that music in a club now and it would still sound state of the art. Were I Scott Yanow I could rattle off the soloists, but alas I ain’t. A smoking young bunch they were however. And in that very same program the daring Edie gave Jack Sheldon six or seven minutes to go a surreal monologue about falconry that was as hysterical as it was weird. Clean, though. She must have warned him.

I met Edie Adam’s several times. Had a few extended conversations. Wonderful stories, wonderful lady. 

My fave Christmas LP

Peace by the Rotary Connection is still my fave Christmas LP, a psychedelic hippie stoner funky soul celebration of my fave holiday, complete with groovy Hendrix inspired guitar and Santa so stoned he can’t find the door and comes down the chimney. Minnie Ripperton sounds great on it too. Recommended. I found my unopened copy for a dollar.

Buffy Sainte-Marie

Never have understood why this album stubbornly resists a revival. I suppose it’s not pretty enough, and too edgy, and her American Indian vibrato bothers people. I can’t think of a single other folk album that has anywhere near this kind of ferocity. Uncompromising. It won’t make you feel any better about yourself. It might even make you feel just plain lousy. Now That The Buffalo’s Gone is not aimed at the Man, it’s aimed at everyone who’s not a tribal member. Even you there with the feathers and the Cherokee great great grandmother. That song is aimed right at you. As such, it’s gospel among American Indians. They all came up on this record. We have Dylan or whoever. They have this. Somewhere I have a YouTube video of a seventy-something Buffy Sainte-Marie performing Cod’ine in a casino on a reservation deep in the American northwest. The room is packed with tribals and hippies, and her performance is bone chilling and as the last quavering note fades the air is rent by war cries and ululations.

Ihu – Todos Os Sons

A music utterly alien to our own, like it’s from a different planet. But the cultures of the Amazon were as different from our own as time and geography made possible. If our music and this music held any common roots, it may have been in Africa. The roots of western civilization went one way, the roots of the Amazonian cultures went another. We and they may have been bands of peoples that had not been closely related in tens of thousand of years before they even left Africa. We’ve been so far apart so long this is probably some of the strangest sounding folk music you have ever heard, and we assume ours sounded the same to them when they first heard it. Before the Spanish arrived there were six million people living in the Amazon, in large towns, with expansive farms, canals and road systems. This album, the tunes collected by musicologist Marlui Miranda (an Amazon Indian herself) and transcribed for Brazilian musicians playing on acoustic instruments, is a survey of the music she heard sung and played by members of tribes throughout the Amazonian jungle. It’s a selection what remains of the music of those pre-Columbian cultures. The CD is annotated, with descriptions of the tunes and peoples and meanings. We lose the text on YouTube. All we hear is the beautifully alien melodies. I began with track four here because it is among the most jarring to western ears. I have to say that as a connoisseur of music from about the world and especially field recordings, I was never struck by a selection of music so different as this album, even if it has been scored and played and sung by a lot of Brazilian musicians. What a wonderful world the Amazon must have been before 1492. Within decades Old World diseases swept it like thermonuclear war. The population was reduced by 90%. The tribes that exist are all that remain. It’s a post apocalyptic world. A dozen or so bands yet remain uncontacted. They sings songs like these, oblivious to us, and then when the barrier between them and us is breached they too die, 70%, 80% even 90%. Who knows how many melodies disappear with the dead.