Most of us want to find some meaning to our existence, something real beneath all the bullshit that clutters and obscures our lives every waking moment if we're not careful. Everyone has felt at least a fleeting moment of naked wonder at simply being a human being tossed for a precarious few years into the heaving tides of this beautiful world. Every so often, a breathless autumn evening comes along when the moon glows wild and the wind whispers softly in your ear, reminding you that life is more than what you buy and what you buy into. In the very scent of dawn, there is something real and true that we all must bear occasionally if we're to find any meaning at all to our strange lives. We are all immersed in brilliant music rarely heard.
The lords of popular culture tell us what to wear, what to hear, what to smell, what to taste, who to love and who to hate. They tell us what's in and what's out, what's lost and what's found, who to screw, how to do it, and how to leave gracefully when we're done. None of it is necessarily to our benefit. We just grow more lost and desperate in our own fractured worlds. So much for the Pepsi Generation in the land of the Gap.
I never knew Lester Bangs, of course. I never even read a word of his writing until one lovely evening a couple years ago. He's been gone for nearly two decades and I've just begun to miss him. He wrote some enduring and important words about rock music and pop culture. By necessity, not all of it was nice or approving. For instance: "Elvis was a force of nature. Other than that he was just a turd."
Well, maybe Elvis was just a supernatural turd, some singularly complex ethereal composite of voice, presence and elemental waste beyond the reckoning of mere mortals. Even so, for a few fleeting moments before fame swept him away forever, Elvis was the purest expression of faith and freedom and yearning that exemplified rock 'n' roll in its finest hour and Lester Bangs was right: We have never agreed on anything as we agree on that. But, hell, what's it all matter now? The king is gone, as is, for that matter, one of the great torchbearers of rock 'n' roll's original, uncompromising spirit.
Lester Bangs died on April 30, 1982. He was 33 years old.
David Pulizzi, a former CP staffer and music columnist, now is features editor at JAZZIZ Magazine in FloridaWhoooo, I read "parallel lines" romanticism in the above; I'm not that orange-juicy-Listerine-mouthwashed a writer--I wouldn't write anything like "I never read a word of his writing until one lovely evening a couple of years ago"--naw, I wouldn't write like that but I would write like "Elvis was a force of nature. Other than that he was just a turd." Yeah, I'd write like that and that's the parallel lines--parallel to Lester Bangs--and just coming together and banging into each other THIS briefly, like tonight...
The rain is blowing against my broken window; broken, hell, the pane is cracked in half and I foolishly broke one half on out of the frame leaving half the window without glass and it's a big window and I had to go to a hardware store and buy some of this opaque plastic stuff and I covered the window with that last year and it worked fine through last winter, but, crap, it's raggedy this year and I'm gonna have to truck to that same hardware store and get some clean plastic--and clean plastic reminds me of what they're turning New York City into--the destroying of the old "districts" (communities) of Manhattan and the closer areas of the other boroughs by overdeveloping in them with high-rise luxury apartment buildings and hotel after hotel, some already reaching 50 stories--a 72-story one planned for right over Greeley Plaza from my apartment--my neighborhood changing ever single hour of every single day day in and day out, always waking up in the morning and walking out and there is Con-Ed drilling up the street, putting in new heavy-voltage lines to feed power over to the new Epic Tower that the god-damn St. Frances Catholic Church allowed to be built over it--sold its air rights--its clear path to Heaven--to a foreign developer; probably a Jew-and-Christian-hating Muslim--the Catholics getting 33 million in tax-free dollars up front and millions a month coming in off their share of the rents and sales--oh what a glorious day for the Christian God, the Roman Christian God I might add, a St. Frances Church whose front walk and front steps were once mottled every morning with winos and bums and homeless and the half insane--but now, Praise the Lawdy Lawd, all those soiled human beings have disappeared, a blessed miracle, and Father Tom and Father Dick and Father Harry are now running a St. Francis Church for the troubled flush only--I mean, come on, the rich also need a sanctuary so they can run in as quickly as possible, confess their sordid and many sins, put a grand in the poor box, and get the fuck outta there and back to their office where they can start sinning again.
Ah glorious money. Money, money, money, money. And that's where I'm paralleled for the last time alongside Lester Bangs when in 1980 my landlord came to me and said I had to either pay my rent on the first of the month every month or I could pack up and hit the road; my landlord was a Pennsylvanian who was a knock-off square hippy but a jack-0ff of all trades who'd borrowed $27,000 from his poor old Pennsy parents to buy the butter and egg building whose first floor was my loft--with the huge plate glass windows, floor to ceiling, the lower eighth of them made out of chicken wire glass--yes, glass with chicken wire embedded in it. High ceilings. Exposed brick walls--the Beat way to do an old apartment in those days--exposed brick walls; the cleaning out of old sealed up fireplaces and exposing them, or some apartments had working fireplaces in them, tiny fireplaces, fireplaces made to burn coal, though you could buy small bundles of fireplace wood in the delis and grocery stores back then--and all of that has changed now--there are no more D'Agostino grocery stores in NYC; there are only one or two Gristedes left, if any, and even the Balducci family sold Balducci's on Sixth Avenue--and right on up Sixth Avenue from Balducci's and the Jefferson Market Library--up at 14th--above the Gum Joy Chinese take-out joint--was Lester Bangs's last residence, the apartment in which one of his neighbors found him dead.
Later on in 1979, I was still gigging, though gigs had dropped off and then Robin Rothman got hit by a bus that was it for her as a booker--over by CBGB's is where she got hit I think, if I remember correctly and I very seldom do remember correctly but at least let's say half-correctly--which statistically speaking was pretty damn good--good enough to be fact even though half of it was fiction. Who's to know? After Robin got hit by the bus and Rick left the Swills and Big John Mac got totally depressed and went back to Jersey City and started building replicas of old filling stations out of Popsicle sticks and Jesus Christ and I still hung but we didn't play much and we still hung at the Ear but we were troublemakers there by then, our crowd dying out, drifting off, winging on out to the other coast and being replaced by the likes of Laurie Anderson and Ned Sublette and Rhys Chatham and Werner Herzog and Bern Porter (the first publisher in the USA of Henry Miller) whose performance art was reading from an old New England seed catalog--Jesus Christ and I were kind to old Bern Porter, we respected his having first published one of our mentors. I once owned a copy of one of Henry's little books that was published and signed by Bern and Henry--probably worth a little fortune today though I sold it in 1981, winter, when I was homeless and taking my rare first editions around to a little old lady's bookstore on Hudson Street--long gone--where she'd give me chicken feed for first edition Hemingways, Henry Millers, D.H. Lawrences...but why reminisce over spilt milks?--let the cats of hell lick those spills up--those hot rough tongues'll clean those milk spills up and leave your floors shining as though they were just waxed--ah, the advertising jerk in me comes out and spouts, "Yes, folks, I'd like to introduce you to a revolutionary new, I said 'NEW,' wax for the shiniest floors you'll ever see for the rest of your lives--WATCH OUT! DON'T FALL! THOSE FLOORS WERE JUST WAXED WITH Wolfbrand Catspit Wax. Yes, from the amazing scientific labs of the Wolfbrand Industries comes Catspit Wax, made from the spit of the thousands of cats at Wolfbrand's huge cat-breeding facilities on the outskirts of Wolfbane, Nevada, and Area 51...." God I love advertising; it's so full of shit; all lies; yet, again, some half truths; therefore you can't really say they are out and out all-lie lies--honest lying--of course, their lies can get you killed...oh but so can you get hit by a bus maybe tomorrow morning on your way to the old plantation.
And in '79 I was still having breakfast at the Pink Teacup with Matty, and the Rattlers, the new name of the band after Lester shuffled off to Texas and a bunch of loving but ending up pissed off musicians who called themselves the Delinquents in Austin, their love of Lester and his love of just absolute open-ended true Rock 'n' Roll finally getting them to put the money up for Jook Savages on the Brazos under the band name of "Lester Bangs and the Delinquents"--Lester's last album--again full of his songs and his singing and I listen now all the time to Lester singing "I Fought the Law" with Birdland, Matty Quick, Mitch Leigh, and David Merrill--and I'm beginning to like it--Lester's mellow, Lester's sweetly cool, bashfully raunchy and loud, neurotically noisy but always really still mellow. Even off-pitch mellow. Stooge mellow. And now I'm reading Lester's and Paul Nelson's big rock-coffee table book on Rod Stewart--and God how I hated Rod Stewart, one of the ugliest Brit freaks ever--wow is that dude ugly--but for Lester's sake, I'll read it. And I have the little picture book on Elvis that Lester wrote the introduction to; AND one day, and I know this is true, I'll put all my Lester stuff up on one of my bookshelves and he'll go forgotten until one day in the future when I think of him again and think of that time again, that spring morning that Lester forced his way into my sleep and woke me out of an erotic beermare--just off Spring Street on Greenwich Street.
And, damn, that's all changed down there now. No remnants left. The Ear Inn is a socialite gathering place, the artsy-fartsy socialites--they still have poetry readings there--I gag; I'm sorry, I'm bitter, bitter like Lester was bitter and I want to write something beautiful but I write so ferociously, so many parallel lines I'm following--and damned if I didn't see the video of Debbie Harry doing "Rapture" the other night and I lay flush back against my pile of Martha "Felon" Stewart's "Prison-Striped" Chicken-feather pillows and went into so many rhapsodic raptures as Debbie pranced and sexually innuendo-ed her way through her vision of Harlem and her rhapsodic diggin' into rap and I'm breakin' suddenly in my mind, and there's breaking news piling up on my mind's gallery's floor--just like Mike Roddy's huge collection of New York Times spread out in piles on some cold gallery floor--"Cats on the rooftops, cats on the tiles, cats with the clap and the crap and the piles/Cats with their butts all wreathed in smiles/As they revel in the throes of fornication." And all those fornicatin' cats...what happened to them?
To be continued.....................(Yonder)
for The Daily Growler