Saturday, December 21, 2013

Happy Holidays From The Beast

We're going dark for about a month.
We're not taking a vacation BTW, we're going to be working on IT.
Peace + Love To Y'all.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

THE SNERD'S STOCKING Pt. 2: The 52 Best Music Books of 2013

Sorry, Nick Carter, your book was not included. Oh, and by the way, Horace Silver is NOT dead. And neither is Ricky Lawson. Jeez-Louise...

Tony Allen: An Autobiography of the Master Drummer of Afrobeat (Duke UP) by Tony Allen & Michael E. Veal

Facing the Other Way: The Story of 4AD (The Friday Project) by Martin Aston

Birth School Metallica Death: The Biography, Volume 1 (Da Capo) by Paul Brannigan & Ian Winwood

Late Life in Jazz: The Life and Career of Rosemary Clooney (Oxford UP) by Ken Crossland & Malcolm MacFarlane

D. Epperson

ECM: A Cultural Archaeology (Prestel) by Okwui Enwezor & Markus Mueller

Eminent Hipsters (Viking Adult) by Donald Fagen

Willin': The Story of Little Feat (Da Capo) by Ben Fong-Torres

Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven (Knopf) by John Eliot Gardiner

Mingus Speaks (University of California Press) by John F. Goodman & Sy Johnson

Miles Davis: The Collected Artwork (Insight Editions) by Scott Gutterman

Verve: The Sound of America (Thames & Hudson) by Richard Havers
I Dreamed I Was A Very Clean Tramp (Ecco) by Richard Hell

Johnny Cash: The Life (Little, Brown & Co.) by Robert Hilburn

Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division (It Books) by Peter Hook


Songs in the Key of Los Angeles (Angel City Press) by Josh Kun

Beatbox: A Drum Machine Obsession (GetOnDown) by Joe Mansfield

Beatles vs. Stones (Simon & Schuster) by John McMillian

Experiencing Nirvana: Grunge In Europe, 1989 (Bazillion Points) by Bruce Pavitt

Dreadnaught: King of Afropunk (Rare Bird) by D.H. Peligro

Being Here: Conversations on Creating Music ( by Radhika Philip

Benjamin Britten: A Life For Music (Henry Holt) by Neil Powell

Writing the Record: The Village Voice and the Birth of Rock Criticism (University of Massachusetts Press) by Devon Powers
The Amazing Bud Powell: Black Genius, Jazz History, and the Challenge of Bebop (University of California Press) by Guthrie P. Ramsey Jr.

Torment Saint: The Life of Elliott Smith (Bloomsbury) by William Todd Schultz
Brian Eno: Visual Music (Chronicle) by Christopher Scoates

Nilsson: The Life of A Singer-Songwriter (Oxford UP) by Alyn Shipton

The Leonard Bernstein Letters (Yale UP) ed. by Nigel Simeone

Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Story of Modern Pop (Faber & Faber) by Bob Stanley

Outlaw: Waylon, Willie, Kris and the Renegades of Nashville (It/HarperCollins) by Michael Streissguth

Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington (Gotham Books) by Terry Teachout
Mo' Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove (Grand Central) by Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson
Soul Train: The Music, Dance, and Style of a Generation (Harper Design) by Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson

Louder Than Hell: The Definitive Oral History of Metal (It Books) by Jon Weiderhorn & Katherine Truman

Yes Is The Answer: (And Other Prog-Rock Tales) (Rare Bird), ed. by Marc Weingarten & Tyson Cornell

Sunday, December 15, 2013

THE SNERD'S STOCKING Pt. 1: Passive-Aggressive Music Books

Sometimes we give people the gifts they want; sometimes we give them the gifts we think they need. Maybe you have a friend who doesn't know much about music, isn't inspired to push their boundaries, and probably wouldn't buy a music book on their own. But you want to get them a music book anyway. You're in luck. Beyond the stately biographies, trashy tell-alls, and "remember when" critical panoramas, 2013 was a banner year for "gateway" music books. Here's a shortlist of tomes to tickle your Gnostic friends' fancies.

With all the blogs and websites dedicated to cataloguing terrible album covers released by outsiders who never got close to the flame of fame, there's no reason for this book to exist, much less in a sumptuous coffee-table incarnation that costs $65. Which automatically makes Enjoy The Experience: Homemade Records 1958-1992 the greatest music book of 2013. Why would someone want to flip through this? Schadenfreude. Enjoy 512 pages of failed human endeavor that features nearly 1,200 "vanity press" albums released by creative souls way, WAY outside the music business bubble: supper-club organists, high-school marching bands, husband and wife gospel duos, regional heartthrobs, Partridge Family knockoffs (cult faves The Shaggs receive a lavish bio treatment here), would-be psychedelic gurus, angry reactionaries, and living-room crooners. The volume comes with a card that allows readers to download songs from these records. More interesting is the 7-inch single with instructions on how to put out your own album, which your friend could utilize to record their own soon-to-be-ignored-classic.

Alan Rusbridger's Play It Again: An Amateur Against The Impossible offers a different take on musical amateurism along the lines of "Can a middle-aged editor for The Guardian learn a famously difficult Chopin piano concerto from scratch by practicing for twenty minutes every day for one year?" Before you respond, "Who cares?" remember that Rusbridger tried this stunt during a year when he worked a 24-hour news cycle while covering the Wikileaks scandal, the Japanese tsunami, Rupert Murdoch's phone-hacking scandal, the Arab Spring, riots in Great Britain, and the killing of Osama Bin Laden. (Rusbridger just testified in the case of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.)

For those who are drawn to musical subcultures, Pitchfork scribe Nathan Rabin mashes up two doozies, jam band Phish and shock-rappers Insane Clown Posse, in You Don't Know Me But You Don't Like Me, his anthropological study/memoir on obsessive fandom. Rabin picked these bands for because both are so reviled: Phish for its excessive, Grateful Deadly noodlings and ICP for its nihilist poseur-dom and awful music. By infiltrating their legions of rabid and loyal fans and trying to understand them on their own terms, Rabin paves the way for a more universal appreciation of the need for community.

In Stacy Horn's Imperfect Harmony: Finding Happiness Singing With Others, a woman sings for 30 years in a church choir without actually being religious. Her reason sets the stage for a wider meditation on the history of people singing in groups for camderaderie as well as for healing. (The book begins in 1919 with the forming of a town choir in response to a horrific mining disaster in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.) Horn also plumbs the four-century history of choral pieces and their composers like Mozart, Brahms and Handel. In their own way, both You Don't Know Me and Imperfect Harmony might soften the hater's heart.

Music is the backdrop and not the central focus of these two often harrowing memoirs. In Low Down: Junk, Jazz And Other Fairy Tales From Childhood, originally published in 2003 but reissued this year by Tin House Books, Amy Jo Albany details in haiku-spare prose her chaotic life growing up as the daughter of bebop pianist Joe Albany, who played with (and was admired by) Charlie Parker but for the most of his life carried a scorching heroin habit. Any romanticized notions of the hepcat life are blown away by Albany's graphic depictions of junkie decrepitude and jazzbo irresponsibility the rot that it inflicts on the nuclear family—not to mention playing into the popular imagination of jazz musicians as irresponsible and selfish louts as when Albany recounts a possibly stoned Dizzy Gillespie dropping her on her head when she was a baby. In The Train In The Night: A Story Of Music And Loss, music journalist Nick Coleman chronicles his middle-aged hearing loss thanks to the effects of the vaunted "club disease" known as tinnitus, which has also claimed the eardrums of Pete Townshend, Moby, and Lars Urlich. Thanks to his condition, in which listening to music sometimes literally causes him to vomit, Coleman's massive record collection is transformed from a world of treats and wonders to a useless monolith of ear-torture. "I began to treasure the thought as well as the actuality of silence," Coleman writes. Word.

In these sciencey books, music is a vital but tangential presence that arose out of the noises of nature and was in part an attempt by primitive societies to imitate the sounds of the earth. (Cave-groupies came later.) David Rothenburg's breezy Bug Music: How Insects Gave Us Rhythm And Noise posits the insects as the earth's first performing musicians; the author, a saxophonist, evens takes his instrument out to a field to jam with an orchestra of cicadas. Douglas Kahn's Earth Sound Earth Signal: Energies And Earth Magnitude In The Arts and David Hendy's Noise: A Human History Of Sound And Listening might be catalogued under a more recent development in the study of sound. "Archaeocoustics" (a.k.a. "sensory history") considers everything from the roar of the crowds in ancient Rome, and the Aeolian sounds made by wind blowing through telegraph wires (which inspired Ralph Waldo Emerson) to the continuous white noise of the 24-hour media cycle. "To trace the story of sound," notes Hendy, "is to tell the story of how we learned to overcome our fears about the natural world."

Monday, November 25, 2013

Blincoln Blogs

(L.A. Times)

(Pitchfork Media)
(Rolling Stone)
(Rolling Stone)
(David Fricke's Alternative Takes)
(West Coast Sound)
(Los Angeles Times)
(Huffington Post)
(Vitamin TV)
(The Telegraph)
(The New Yorker)
(Pitchfork Media)
(Culture Desk)
(Digital Music News)
(Mixed Meters)
(The Quietus)
(The Brothers Brick)
(Snow Addiction)
(L.A. Weekly)
(L.A. Magazine)
(Dangerous Minds)
(Guildhall School of Music)
(Greenleaf Music)
(The Revivalist)
(Yearbook Office)
(Rock's Backpages)
(Pitchfork Media)

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Shades of Mrafu [UPDATED]

 Nate Morgan
Aquarius, Fire Dragon. . .
Mentor, teacher, brother . . .
Horace Tapscott through Frank Zappa . . .
Gentle giant, humble and fierce - piercing, poignant, pointed, unabashed . . .
Cosmic chords that sing forever . . .
Nigritian Knight in space flight . . .
From his heart he speaks the truth, through his hands he plays our lives . . .
And to see him smile is truly beautiful!
We treasure you dear friend!
Carlos Niño

We just heard that the great pianist Nathaniel Morgan has just died this morning, five years after he suffered an incapacitating stroke. Morgan, the very definition of the oft-used phrase “musician’s musician,” was a cornerstone of Horace Tapscott’s Ark (it was he who told a teenage Jesse Sharps about this cat named “Horace” and this band he practiced out in front of the Watts Happening coffeehouse) and led the famous late-night jam sessions in the mid-nineties at the 5th St. Dick’s Coffeehouse. He spent a few years in the 1970s with Rufus and Chaka Khan and collaborated in the early 90s with rappers Bone Thugs N’ Harmony. He is also one of the best-kept secrets of Los Angeles jazz: besides his frequent residencies at Charlie O’s in Van Nuys, Morgan most often popped up in a private home salons in Encino given by writer/historian Mimi Melnick, spinning his intoxicatingly (heavily influenced by Stanley Cowell and McCoy Tyner) on a prime-condition 1922 Steinway with the likes of Arthur Blythe, John Heard, Charles Owens, Onaje Murray, Michael Session, Roberto Miranda, Nedra Wheeler and Sonship Theus. (See the end of this post for a listof Morgan's credits.) He provided some of the salon’s best moments, including a memorable “double piano” duet with Elias Negash and a 2-hour solo performance that many who attended consider the best live show they have ever seen, especially when Morgan played his ode to the late Horace Tapscott, “Tapscottian Waltz,” a song that has never been recorded. “I think it’s one of the most beautiful compositions I’ve ever heard–and the way he played it that day, everybody was crying,” writer Steven Isoardi recalls. “I had to get up and leave. I was pacing in the front room. It was just too overwhelming.”

Prayers + Peace to Nate's wife Philomine and his children. Check out our photos from a benefit for Mr. Morgan held last year, as well as our pal Greg Burk's account of the same concert on his blog MetalJazz. Below are some collected remembrances:

I first met Nate around 1996 when I first became obsessed with jazz. I would go see him play whenever possible and was amazed at how organic, cosmic, sincere, deep and unique his approach to modal and spiritual jazz was. He clearly was heavily influenced and inspired by transcendent visionaries like McCoy Tyner and Alice Coltrane, but at all times he sounded like himself. Nate is an example of a master musician who meant every note he played and was seriously striving to reveal the true and transform the undesired. Nate was the first person in my life that I actually sought out as my music teacher. I would go to his house in Watts and jam and get lessons. We would talk about Woody Shaw, Coltrane and McCoy a lot. He was the first person to turn me on to the Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns by Nicholas Slonimsky and I was proud to share with him my copy of Prokofiev's complete piano sonatas, Nate said out of the classical cats, he thought Prokofiev was particularly moving. Soon, Nate had me playing my first jazz gigs ever as a part of his band. He introduced me to KPFK and my new best friends Carlos Niño, by way of him having me perform live on Carlos' radio show in the late 90s. Nate lifted everyone up around him everywhere he went. He had a joyful, solemn, humble, noble, giant, graceful, very strong, rooted but flexible encouraging and luminous presence. His eyes always reminded me of the ocean.

The last time that I performed with his band was at the 2008 Jazz at Drew festival. The band featured the legendary drummer Alphonse Mouzon. I'll never forget the feeling of disbelief and awe when Nate told me after that gig that he had plans to record an album under his leadership featuring me, Alphonse on drums, and reuniting Alphonse with his Weather Report bandmate, the sublime bassist, Miroslav Vitouŝ, as well. Nate is a beacon of light and will forever be. Thank you, Nate. I love you eternally brother. (Miguel Atwood-Ferguson)

He was a big man and a big talent, big enough to take over the keys when piano great Horace Tapscott was conducting the Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra, big enough to write songs with Rufus, big enough to encompass most of jazz history in his fluid, soulful and technically unassailable keyboard expression. His gruff demeanor could not hide a generous heart, and a lot of people in his South Los Angeles community loved him, as evidenced by several benefits held during his long illness -- events where dozens of his musician friends donated their services and many more contributed to the fund. He will be long remembered. (Greg Burk)

Nate Morgan has slipped away. He’d been ill for some time, his playing days behind him. But those were some days. You’d have been hard pressed to find a more inspired and exciting jazz piano player in all of L.A. There were nights at Charlie O’s that were extraordinary, and nights at the World Stage that defied my powers of description. That was his scene, Leimert Park, going way back. I always thought that was where you saw the real Nate Morgan. It was at the World Stage that he truly connected. And I’m so happy I got to see him all there those times, and that I later even got to know him, gruff and silent and smartassed in that jazzman way.

The thing about jazz is that it’s so improvisational and when you hear something, no matter how brilliant, you’ll never hear it again. Certainly not live. Of course you can listen back over and over if it was recorded. But like most LA jazz players, especially our black jazz players, his recorded legacy is thin, so thin. There was an era when a Nate Morgan would have had a dozen albums, maybe two dozen. They’d be classics, too, all of them. Now instead you have to hear him playing up a storm on other people’s records. And it’s hard to find most of those, even.

L.A. jazz just disappears with the players anymore. Everything they were on their instruments, all that glorious music they pitched into, it just disappears. Fades with the time. People talk and remember and tell their stories. They relive in their heads the magic nights in Leimert Park or Charlie O’s. But even we rememberers will be gone too, eventually. And what happens to jazz when those that remember it are gone? I don’t know.

But for now I’ll remember big, hulking Nate Morgan spinning those incredibly beautiful solos of his. I’ll remember his perfectly understated comping, the hints of the melody dropped in just right. I’ll remember too the sheer intelligence of his playing, the grace in his fingers, his fearless improvisation. But mostly I’ll think back on those truly memorable nights when Nate Morgan seemed like one of the greatest piano players you had ever heard. (Phil "Brick" Wahl)

 (Partial List)

Azar Lawrence - Prayer For My Ancestors (2011)
Build an Ark - Love, Pt. 2 (2010)
John Carter/Bobby Bradford - Mosaic Select: John Carter & Bobby Bradford (2010)
Phil Ranelin Group - Reminiscence: Live! (2009)
Azar Lawrence - Speak the Word (2009)
Dr. Richard Allen Williams - The Doctor Is In (2009)
 George Harper/Karen Evans - The Harper and Evans Project (2009)
Carlos Niño/Lil Sci - What's the Science (2008)
Build an Ark - Dawn (2007)
African Spirits: A Spiritual Jazz Journey Looking Back to Africa (2005)
Dwight Trible & The Life Force Trio - Love Is the Answer (2005)
Ammoncontact - New Birth (2005)
Nate Morgan - Journey into Nigritia (2004)
Ammoncontact - One in an Infinity of Ways (2004)
Build an Ark - Peace with Every Step (2004)
Najite Olokun Prophecy - Africa Before Invasion Prophecy (2003)
Nate Morgan/Jeff Littleton/Fritz Wise - Live in Santa Barbara (2003)
Sweet Baby J'ai - Evolution (2002)
L.A.'s Unsung: Nimbus West Compilation (2001)
Kamau Daa'ood - Leimert Park (1997)
Sweet Baby J'ai - The Art of Blue (1997)
Swamp Dogg - The Best of 25 Years of Swamp Dogg (1996)
Swamp Dogg - I'm Not Selling Out, I'm Buying In (1981)
Gary Bartz - Love Affair (1978)
Buddy Love & the Love Family - This Song Is for You (1978)
 John Carter/Bobby Bradford - Secrets (1972)

A "Release Party" for Nathaniel Morgan will be held this Saturday, December 7, at 10am. The location is the New Life Community Christian Center (11333 Atlantic Blvd., at Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Lynwood, CA 90262). Viewing will be at South Los Angeles Mortuary (1020 W. 94th St., at Vermont Ave., LA, CA 90044). Both are open to the public.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Lester Bangs Lou Reed (Pt. 2 of 2)


Blackout. The TV theme to "The Odd Couple" plays as young British rock journalist Nick Kent appears onstage, dressed in scarves like a glam rocker. He addresses the audience between sneezes, sniffles, and nose-dabs with a ball of Kleenex. Lou Reed circa 1973 -- white makeup and black lipstick -- slouches in a lounge chair behind him, trying to stop his hands from shaking.

Kent  Lou was like Keith Richards in that he had the mark of death about him. Meaning: Those who come in contact with him tend to die, but never vice versa. Gram Parsons. Meredith Hunter. Nico. Peter Laughner. Lester smelled the scent of death on Lou. Christ, for Lester, that was like ringing the dinner bell.

Holiday Inn Suite, Detroit, Michigan, Winter 1973

The "Odd Couple" theme is coming from a hotel-room TV that nobody seems to be watching. Lester is sitting opposite Reed, getting in his grill, but Reed ignores him, talking instead to Kent.

Reed  ...yeah, that was me in drag on the back of Transformer. Oh, and I really admire Burt Reynolds a lot. (noticing Kent's scarves) Hey, aren't you hot in those things?

Kent (intimidated) Uh, no. I've got a cold.

Lester  Stop trying to seduce my protege, Lou. Try to focus on the issues at hand.

Reed (continuing to ignore Lester) Try Vick's VapoRub. I came down with a nasty cold in Boston and it definitely helps. Somebody just has to have the nerve to reach into the bowl of that shit and rub it in. Like I remember, when everybody was taking acid up at the Factory -- Andy never indulged, of course -- someone came across a jar of Dippity-Do, and we said, 'It's just like a cunt!' So we all ran into the bathroom to finger the Dippity-Do jar. (laughs uproariously)

Lester  So we're getting "Mad Libs Lou" tonight? Hey, when do you intend to die anyway?

Reed (taking Marlboro from pack) I plan to live to a ripe old age and raise watermelons in Wyoming. Besides, I'm outdrinking you two to one. (tries to light cigarette but his hands are shaking too badly)

Lester  And you're proud of yourself for this? (points to Lou's hands) What does it do to your nervous system?

Reed  Oh that? It completely destroys it.

Lester  Then how do you intend to raise your watermelons?

Reed  My time will come, I guess.

Lester  Good, you finally got that butt lit. Speaking of which, let's talk about gay sex, Lou.

Reed  What would you like to know?

Lester  Well, things are a bit more out of the closet now right? The whole androgynous thing, Bowie, long hair, glitter and makeup, glam rock, you kissing your musicians on the mouth onstage... (indicates Kent, who has fallen asleep on his feet) People dressing like this poor kid.

Reed  I don't know. The makeup thing is just a style thing now, like platform shoes. If people have homosexuality in them, it won't necessarily involve makeup in the first place. You can't fake being gay, because being gay means you're going to have to suck cock, or get fucked. A lot of people will have one or two experiences, and that'll be it. Things may not change one iota.

Lester  That's sounds very Fifties for a guy who helped usher in the Seventies, Lou.

Reed  Yeah, well ask my parents about that. In the Fifties, they found out I was bisexual and sent me in to Rockland State Hospital for electroshock.

Lester  Yeah! You're the ultimate closet queen in that you came out of the closet and then had to go back in. So after taking one for both teams, doesn't it bother you that homosexual think you're some kind of tourist, exploiting their culture for your own ends?

Reed  No. But that reminds me: I may have to come out with a hardhat album. Come out with an antigay song: 'Get back in the closets you fuckin' queers!' That'll really do it!

Lester  Why not go deeper and attack their icons, Lou? I mean, doncha think Judy Garland was a piece of shit and better off dead?

Reed  No! She was a wonderfully wise and witty lady!

Lester  Doncha think David Bowie's a no-talent asshole?

Reed  No! He's a genius! He's brilliant!

Lester  C'mon! "Space Oddity"? That's just Jefferson Airplane's afterbirth!

Reed  It is NOT! It's a brilliant masterpiece! Oh, you are so full of SHIT.

Lester  Why don't you try being banal for a change, Lou? There's so much less pressure! Why doncha write a song like "Sugar, Sugar"! THAT'D be something worthwhile.

Reed  I WISH I'd written that song!

Lester  Start shooting speed again! Then you could come up with something good!

Reed  You're a deaf mute in a telephone booth!

Lester  You look like a gay Nixon!

Freeze and Blackout. A football referee enters and blows his whistle and does some sort of hand signal.

Referee The judges have ruled! Round One goes to: Leslie Conway Bangs!

Hilton Suite, Detroit, Michigan, Spring 1975

Herbie Hancock's "Quasar" plays over the following scene. Lou Reed reappears, lying on a bed, this time his head shaved with the stubble dyed blonde and wearing giant, bug-eyed sunglasses. He is being attended by Rachel, a tall half-Mexican Indian transsexual.

Reed (indicating the music to Rachel) I tell you, this is the stuff I really want to do, that I meant by heavy metal. I had to wait a couple of years before I could get the equipment, now I've got it and it's done. I could have sold it as electronic classical music, like Stockhausen or Xenakis, except the one I've got that I've finished heavy metal, no kidding around. Most people will be able to take five minutes of it. (pause) Even though I wouldn't even bother to shit in his nose, I believe Lester will listen to the whole thing all the way through. Twice.

Lester reappears, drink and notebook in hand. He is wearing wraparound Silva-Thin sunglasses, a parody of the pair that Reed wore on the first Velvet Underground album.

Lester  Hi Lou! I believe you remember me.

Reed  Unfortunately.

Lester pulls up a chair and rattles his empty glass.

Lester  Lou, who do I have to get you to blow so that I can get another Johnnie Walker Black?

Reed  That's my drink. Stop. Enough of your boozing. You can't handle it. I don't want you to get wasted.

Lester (singing) "Oh pardon me, suh, It's fuh-thest from mah mind" HAW HAW HAW!!

Reed  You know, Lester, I basically like you in spite of myself. Common sense leads me to believe you're an idiot, but sometimes the epistemological things that you come out with sometimes betray the fact that you're kind of onomatopoetic in a subterranean reptilian way.

Lester  Goddamn, Lou! You sound just like Allen Ginsberg!

Reed  You sound like his father. You should do like Peter Orlovsky and go have shock. You don't know any more than when you started. You just kind of chase your tail.

Lester  That's what I was going to say to you. Do you ever feel like a self-parody?

Reed  No. If I listened to you assholes I would. You're comic strips.

Lester  I don't mind. Transformer was a comic strip that transcended itself.

Reed  Oh for fuck's sake SHUT UP.

They sit there, staring each other down, for a few tense moments.

Lester  OK Lou, we're gonna have to do this straight. I'll take off my sunglasses if you take off yours.

Reed  Fine.

Not wanting to be the first one, they both SLOWLY take off their sunglasses.

Lester  You actually have very beautiful eyes, Lou. You should show them off more often.

Reed  You look exactly the same. Maybe more bloated than last time we met. Feel free to use the shower. In your suite.

Lester  Never mind that. Here's the Big Question, Louland. (clears throat) Do you resent people for the way that you have lived out what they might think as the dark side of their lives for them, vicariously, in your music or your life?

Reed  No. Yes. I have no idea what you're talking about.

Lester  You know: "shootin' smack, shootin' speed, committing're all fucked...I can do anything I want...putdown, putdown...drag queens, the gutter, New York New York blahblahblah."

Reed  That's three percent out of a hundred songs.

Lester  Bullshit! NONE of this hard-boiled glam shit would have happened without you.

Reed  I didn't have anything to do with it.

Lester  Bowie ripped off all shit that's decent from you, you and Iggy!

Reed  What does Iggy have to do with it?

Lester  You were the originals.

Reed  The original WHAT? Look, Iggy is stupid. Very sweet, but very stupid. If he’d listen to Bowie or me, if he’d ask questions every once in awhile…He’s just making a fool of himself, and it’s just going to get worse and worse. He’s not even a good imitation of a bad Jim Morrison and he was never any good anyway.

Lester  When you recorded Berlin, did you think so many people would laugh at it?

Reed  I couldn't care less.

Lester  That's a double-negative, Lou. So you DO care. The one thing I kinda resent about Berlin is that you never give Caroline's point of view. it was a very selfish album. 'I'm beating you up, bitch.' 'You're dead, bitch.'

Reed  Well, she was making it with her dealer.

Lester  One thing I like about you, Lou, is that you're not afraid to lower yourself. For instance, "New York Stars." I thought you were lowering yourself by splattering all these people like the Dolls with your freelance spleen, but then I realized that you've been lowering yourself for years.

Reed  You really are an asshole. You went past assholism into some kind of urinary tract. The next time you come up with a phrase as good as 'curtains laced with diamonds dear for you' instead of all this Dee-troit bullshit, let me know.

Lester  Obviously, what you're selling under your name now is pasteurized decadence. In the old days you were really a badass, Lou, but now you're playing to an audience that wants to buy a reprocessed form of decadence.

Reed  Wow, you're not even good at being professionally jaded.

Lester  Yeah? You've made a career out of being a degenerate, and I think you should fess up to that. You have not primarily distinguished yourself as a musician; although you have come up with some great riffs, and I don't know why you keep trying to play me all this high-tech music jazz muzak crap, because basically you're a lit. In your worst moments you could be considered a bad imitation of Tennessee Williams.

Reed  That's like saying in your worst moments you could be considered a bad imitation of you.

Blackout. The referee reappears, blowing the whistle and doing his wild hand signals.

Referee  The judges have ruled. Round Two goes to: Lewis Allan Reed!

The referee exits. Rachel the Transsexual steps up and addresses the audience.

Rachel  I watched them go back and forth all night, just screaming at each other and accusing each other of being sellouts. Lester was in his element, but Lou was just humoring him. I believe he cared for him and was trying to warn him: If you want to walk in these circles, fine. But be forewarned: you down a few more pills than necessary, and you fall on the floor and go all blue, the people who know you and that you know will not call the police, they will not call the ambulance, they will not perform CPR, they will step over your body. They’ll leave you on the floor and let you die and escape back into the night. Those are the kind of people who inhabit the world you so want to be a part of. Lester wasn’t like that, but when he arrived in New York, he was surrounded by everyone who was. In a sense, he was outnumbered. To be truly successful, you have to be one of the walking dead. You have to be marked. Wounded with a blessing.

She turns to exit the stage, but pauses and turns back.

Rachel  In photos, Lou almost always wore sunglasses. Lester never did. Make from that what you will.

The grating sounds of Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music increase in volume as a spotlight goes up on Lester, looking like a mess and typing furiously. He stops typing and pulls the sheet out, reading it aloud. As he reads, he stands and approaches a lectern.

Lester 'Peter Laughner is dead. Perhaps the name means nothing to you. If it doesn't I would hope that you would read this anyway, because one of the reasons I am writing this is that there is more than a little of what killed Peter in me, as there may well be in you. The last time I saw him, the day after he got kicked off the stage at CBGB's by Patti Smith, he looked terrible, all at once ghastly and pathetic. I got really angry and lit into him: "You're killing yourself just so you can be like Lou Reed and Tom Verlaine, two people who everybody in this town knows are complete assholes!" I told him I could no longer trust myself around him and not get drunk and take drugs, so I had no choice but to never be around him. It was the last time I ever saw him. Now he's dead, and I would just like to preserve some of the meaning of Peter's life and death, mostly directed at a certain asshole who laughed when I went to CBGB's the night of Peter's death and told everyone about it. Because this kid's death is not meaningless, he wasn't just some fool who took too many drugs. Peter Laughner had his private pains and compulsions, but at least in part he died because he wanted to be Lou Reed. This certainly was not Lou's fault; it was Peter's. Though he was a casualty of the times, he brought it all upon himself.'

Metal Machine Music fades and is replaced by a live recording of a stoned Elvis Presley babbling incoherently onstage, cracking up, fucking up the lyrics, making fun of his backup singers. etc.

Alcoholics Anonymous Meeting, Greenwich Village, Spring 1982

Lester quietly folds the sheet of paper and puts it in his pocket.

Lester  Hello, my name is Lester, and I am an alcoholic and a drug addict.

Offstage Voices  Hello, Lester!

Lou Reed appears behind Lester, smoking a cigarette.

Reed  Hello, my name is Lewis and I am an alcoholic and a drug addict.

Offstage Voices  Hello, Lewis!

Lester turns and regards Lou.

Lester  Really?

Reed  Got my year chip.

Lester  I'm almost up to a week.

Reed  Day at a time. You know the drill.

Lester  No, I don't. I don't know if I can do this.

Reed  You want to be dead?

Lester  Of course I don't.

Reed  You sure write about it enough.

Lester  Just following your lead.

Reed  That's fair. When did you realize things had gone too South for comfort?

Lester  Mmm. Might be a bunch of things. Landing in the pokey in Austin. Waking up on the street around the corner from my apartment. Barry Kramer putting a plastic bag over his head.

Reed  I heard. I'm sorry. You did your best work for CREEM, I think. Even if you got a little too vicious.

Lester  Quine told me you hired him for your new band.

Reed  Yep, got a new album, new tour, new wife. You?

Lester  I'm going to finally sit down and write that novel. 

Really. What's it about?

Lester  I don't know yet. My mother died recently. My father was burned alive when I was nine. Maybe it'll be about being a 34-year-old orphan.

Reed  I always start with a single image and then it grows exponentially. Like the opening shot in billiards. The balls just erupt around the table and you just watch in amazement where they go, where they end up.

Lester Yes. I think I can name that tune in two notes. My therapist told me that the reason I called Metal Machine Music "the greatest album ever made" so much was that it reminded me of my father's death. But I told him he was wrong. One night, I fell asleep with that playing, right after I wrote my obit about Peter Laughner. And I had this dream -- although I swear my eyes were still open, so how could it have been a dream -- where my father and my mother were going out to a restaurant in my hometown. I was the age I am now. We were seated at a red leather booth with a white tablecloth and candlelight. I remember looking at my father with amazement: there he WAS. I couldn't believe my luck. I have so much to say to you, I said. I can't believe you're here! He smiled and pulled me into a bro-hug. I know, he said, I know. My mother looked at her men and just beamed.

Lester (continued) The waiter wasn't arriving. I decided to go to the lounge to get drinks for all of us. Standing at the bar, nothing seemed right. The very air felt evil. The restaurant had transformed into CBGB's. People kept buying me drinks, more than I could keep up with, with people saying, "Say something outrageous, Lester!" I was terrified they would leave me behind yet these were the wrong people to be that around. We ordered shot after shot with beer chasers, slamming the glasses back down on the bar and going Ahhrrr like a bunch of pirates. I spotted you winding through the crowd wearing an old Superman costume. I asked you if you remembered me interviewing you at the Whisky A Go-Go in '69. I asked you, Why did you move to El Cajon? and you replied, Because I'm not in The Biz anymore. I wanted to go somewhere where no one knew me. Unfortunately, in the corner were a bunch of Jehovah's Witness Elders and they were staring burning holes in both of us. It was getting late. I thought I'd better call home and see if mom and dad had made it back okay, but someone had pulled the phone out of the wall. I went outside the bar and saw that the early morning mist off the Pacific had completely engulfed El Cajon. I could not see one building, one streetlamp, one person past that gauntlet of white mist. I felt desperate and terrified. I couldn't go out there. I couldn't leave this bar. Where was Dad? Where was Mom? I hadn't done anything wrong and yet I felt that I was guilty of something. I couldn't see any other way out. I didn't want to go home without any friends. There was something terrifying about going back out there. I looked a the wall of mist as it continued to swallow up the city. Pure dread and terror. Unreal. Pulsating.

Lester (continued) I woke up in my chair at my desk, the needle on the record was at the end. I could hear it scratching and popping and rolled over in bed and felt like my entire day had been ruined by my dreaming night. Lou, I don't want to ever dream anything like that again. But I knew I would, someday.

Reed  I think I've always wanted to do that.

Lester  Do what?

Reed  Write a novel.

Lester  You already have, Lou. Every album you've ever made is a new chapter.

Reed  Mmm. I like that.

Lester  You wanna share a cab? I showered this time.

Reed  No. We both have work to do. (reaches out hand) Goodbye, Les. Take care of yourself.

They shake hands.

Lester  Goodbye, Lou.

Enter the GEEK CHORUS: William S. Burroughs, Robert Quine, Nick Kent, a Jehovah's Witness, Rachel The Transsexual, Angela Di Guglielmo.

Jehovah's Witness  New York killed Lester, just like it did John Lennon, and Andy Warhol. I think that’s why Lou named his best album New York.

Burroughs  In January of 1989, Lou Reed released New York. In the liner notes, Lou directed his audience to listen to the whole album s if it were a novel or a movie. He started performing wearing frameless spectacles and with a music stand in front of him, like he was Ferlinghetti or Delmore Schwartz giving a reading. Two years earlier, Anchor Press released Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung, a collection of Lester’s writings. Both projects wound up introducing both men to whole new audiences.

Quine  Both these men wanted to write the Great American Novel. Both of them realized it when they met. They saw it in each other. It became a race. Instant competition. Lou got there first. But both of them were also on a death trip. Lester got there first, albeit completely accidentally. Lou would go on to be the godfather of punk. He would make a commercial for Honda Scooters and American Express cards and travel to Europe to sit with its leaders and statesmen. By living, he also had a chance to keep making a complete ass out of himself. Lou loved Lester. How could he not? Lester kept Lou alive in the 1970s. It took all the strength Lester had. Only to have Lou say later, “Who is Lester Bangs?” That was their difference: the more serious Lou gets, the funnier he is, albeit completely unintentionally. The more funnier Lester got, the more serious everything around him seemed.

Andrea  They’ll be a reckoning, though. You can bet on it. When Lou’s liver fails, he’ll go right up to the pearly gates, and there will be Lester with a little clipboard, laughing like a hyena with a deviated septum. ‘Sorry, we’re all full up here, sir. But feel free to wait beyond the red velvet ropes!’

Kent  Until then, Lou is pursued by Lester, the fat little goblin who he can’t outrun or outshake. At every interview, at every public reading or performance, someone is gonna bring up Lester. That’s Lou’s penance. He’ll be enduring it for the rest of his life. He knows who the real writer was.

Rachel  Meanwhile, down below, in the world we all are damned to keep inhabiting, thousands upon thousands of Little Lesters are firing up their blogs, ready to tackle the New Little Lous.

End on video footage of Lester Bangs live onstage at CBGB's.

SOURCE MATERIAL: Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung by Lester Bangs; Mainlines, Blood Feasts and Bad Taste: A Lester Bangs Reader edited by John Morthland; Let It Blurt: The Life and Times of Lester Bangs, America's Greatest Rock Critic by Jim DeRogatis; Punk: The Original edited by John Holmstrom; The Best of Punk Magazine edited by John Holmstrom; Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk by Legs McNeil & Gillian McCain

Friday, November 1, 2013

Lester Bangs Lou Reed (Pt. 1 of 2)

[A few years ago, The Beast saw the film Frost/Nixon and thought about writing a parody centering on the legendary interviews conducted by rock critic Lester Bangs with punk godfather Lou Reed. It started off as a goof -- then quickly turned serious and pretentious, like the punk-rock version of Angels In America. It remains unfinished, but in light of the passing of Lou Reed this week, we decided to pull it out of the archives. Here's some excerpts.]

Tribeca Film Festival, New York City, May 2008

It’s is just after a screening of the film version of Lou Reed’s Berlin. Reed and artist Julian Schnabel, the film's director, sit onstage in informal interview format. Both are dressed terribly. Lou: running shoes, red socks, jeans with turned-up cuffs, plaid jacket over black hooded sweatshirt, messy curly hair, frameless glasses. Schnabel: purple running suit that looks like pajamas under black pea coat, scruffy pirate beard, horn rimmed glasses. Both sit in plush red velvet chairs in front of a red velvet curtain. Both hold up microphones as they speak. Journalist Lisa Robinson is the moderator.

Schnabel  It was my responsibility that I had to make this film. I heard Berlin in 1973 when it came out and it had a huge impact on me and it was an important part of my life. (to Reed) You had a bad experience with Berlin a long time ago. This wasn't like someone doing a retrospective. I'm just amazed at having all this on camera.

Reed (bored) Uh, well, Julian knew the record better than me. He asked me, "Why wouldn’t you want to do that?" And I said, "But I did do that." And he said, "Well, that was then and now we’re over here." So I said, "Okay, why not do that."

Robinson  Lou, was it a luxury going back 35 years -- or a curse?

Reed  Yes. (audience laughs) It's 1973, and we're watching it now.

Robinson  If not now, then when?

Reed  In the old days I'd wear sunglasses; now I can't wear sunglasses or I'd fall over a cable. I had grand ambitions for Berlin. I was trying not to use street slang, and musically, was trying not to date it too badly. Still, I wouldn't change a hair on its head since the film not going to be in the main theaters. No one wants it here, but it is popular in Europe.

Schnabel  Yeah, Germany and Brooklyn, right? (polite laughter from audience)

Robinson  Lou, how long does it take to write a song?

Reed  I don't think I need to answer that again. There are certain questions that have run their course.

Schnabel  You should ask me how long does it take me to paint a painting, the answer would be 56 years and 5 minutes. (chuckles from audience) No, but I think there has to be a level of trust with a project like this. Lou knew that if I was going to film him, he could be comfortable. Trust is important. I think trust wasn't there for Lou in his life.

Reed  Probably in everybody's life. I could bitch and moan, but if I can't do it with Julian, who could I?

Robinson  Do we have any questions from the audience? Yes, you in the back...

Audience Member  Mr. Reed, would you acknowledge that the music on Berlin was way ahead of its time?

Reed  That is a lose-lose question.

Audience Member  Lester Bangs said Berlin was the most depressed album ever made. What are your thoughts on that?

Reed  Huh. I don't have ANY thoughts on his comments. What does that have to do with anything?

Schnabel  I just thought a comment like that obviously made me want to make the movie.

Reed  Who is Lester Bangs?

Schnabel  Isn’t he the guy who Chris Walken drowned in At Close Range?

Reed  Who IS Lester Bangs?

Blackout. Robert Quine, a somewhat sinister-looking bald guitarist with a beard and sunglasses enters and addresses the audience. He wears a ratty bathrobe and slippers.

Quine  Thing is, it’s a heartbreaking thing for a rock writer not to be able to be a rock star. On the other hand, it’s entirely feasible for a rock star to be a writer, and not just about music. Lou wanted both and got it. Lester couldn’t. It must have been heartbreaking – to have a doppelganger who could outclass you in his chosen field as well as yours. It bodes the question of whether the world even needs you at all, if you have been naturally selected to fail and be your own witness to it.

Robert Quine’s Apartment, New York City, December 1980

Joe “King” Carrasco’s “Caca de Vaca” plays over this scene.

Lester (dressed in Texas garb, bean dip on his Lacoste shirt) Lennon was just shot? Good! Good riddance.

Quine  Lester….

Lester  No, seriously, who gives a flying fluck? You wanna hear about PURE tragedy? Tex Avery died and no one noticed.

Quine’s three forty-seven in the morning.

Lester  Q, you’re an asshole for even liking that limey stupe. D’you know he once said that comic books are “the nigger of literature”?! What right does he have?

Quine  As offensive as that is, you've said much worse.

Lester  I have not!

Quine  Like when you went to that Bobby Womack party. You were begging for it. AND you hit on his wife. You're lucky they didn't string you up by your dirty sneakers.

Lester (on a roll) The late 70s-early 80s suck, Quine. The early 70s were wrigglingly, obscenely alive—the misery was spread around, and it was intoxicating. Now its being controlled, duped, doped, pharma'ed. You saw the election results. We’ve got Andy Griffith in the White House now. The vise is clamping. "Everything looks brand spunkin’ new when you put an ’80 at the end of it!" I can feel it coming, Q. I have Romilar-spiked visions: young clean cut men in narrow ties and white shirts, carrying Bibles, spreading well-meaning pus out all over the city. The Moral Majority, whoever they are…

Quine  Didn’t they sing that song "Up Up and Away"?

Lester  …they’re saying it’s a "victory for decency." It feels like Phnom Penh just before the Khmer Rouge marched in.

Quine  Don’t change the subject, Les.

Lester  Eat my wongo, Q!

Quine  I told you I don't want to be around you when you're flying.

Lester  I’m not. I tell you. Austin was a steam bath. It cleansed my pores. New York is a sick maggoty toad’s head -- and Lou Reed is its calcified Ringmaster. I know you feel differently, Q. But it’s a fungus in the brain. Mark my words, Austin is the future!

Quine  You haven’t been outside of New York for years and all of a sudden you get on a plane and it’s the Second Coming of music cities? C’mon. I know a kid from Escondido who would have laughed at you before blowing snot on your shirt.

Lester (starts rummaging in Quine's cabinets) I’m telling you, Q. It’s not just Austin. That’s the future of this thing we love: these small pockets of resistance. Spread out far apart from each other. It’s not about LA of NY: the monoliths, surrounded by dumb apes touching it and coming away meat eaters. Nosireebob. It’s these small towns with bored people: Austin, Athens, Chapel Hill, Seattle, Denton. Not even knowing there’s others out there like them. Working in complete isolation from each other, yet all working towards the same vague cosmic goal. Because that’s what I’ve come up with in my mind, Q: The best art, the best rock and roll, comes from places where no one is looking. Like The Basement Tapes, only on a mass scale. Like Cleveland.

Quine  Like Hilly’s.

Lester  No! No. No. No. Not like Hilly’s. Well, yes, Kind of. (finds a bottle of cheap cooking wine and takes a gulp) Hilly’s before HE started hanging out there. His blood already poisoned by Bowie’s glitter needle. As was Iggy’s.

Quine  That’s cute, Lester. You do know I'm going out on tour with him, right?

Lester  Who? Iggy?

Quine  No. The Ringmaster himself.

(Lester's kinetic energy seems to deflate. He looks confused, then hurt.)

Lester  Can I come?

The sounds of the Dictator’s “Go Girl Crazy!” blasts over the intercom. John Holmstrom and Legs MacNeil, two scruffy-looking young hipsters, enter the stage.

Legs MacNeil  Am I the only one who thinks Richard Hell looks like Victor Mature?

John Holmstrom  What’s the difference?

CBGB, The Bowery, Fall 1975

Legs and Holmstrom sit at the bar.

Holmstrom (reading manifesto) "Kill yourself. Jump off a fuckin’ cliff. Drive nails into your head. Become a robot and join the staff at Disneyland. OD. Anything,. Just don’t listen to disco shit….That’s wrong with Western civilization is Disco. Eddjicate" – I misspelled ‘educate’ on purpose –

Legs  Nice!

Holmstrom  "Get into it. Read Punk!"

Legs  So, it’s settled then. We’re calling it Punk.

Holmstrom  From Burroughs, right?

Legs  Yeah, the five Burroughs. Ha ha.

Holmstrom  We’re gonna wrote about what? Junk?

Legs  Yeah. Not the stuff you put in your veins.

Holmstrom  The stuff you put in your brains! Before you blow them out.

Legs  Yeah: Lame reruns on TV, getting laid, cheeseburger wrappers, comic books, B-movies and this weird music no one seems to like, cheapo wrestling shows on black and white TV. Only problem is we’ve gotta find someone for the cover.

Holmstrom  I like Victor Mature, personally. He knew he wasn’t talented. Which makes him the greatest actor ever.

Legs  No, that’d be too much to start with. How could we follow that?

Holmstom  Iggy?

Legs  Yeah, right. You wanna go interview him the Acute Ward? He'll probably chew your arm off.

Holmstrom  Wait, wait, Legs. Legs. Look.

Legs  What?

Holmstrom  It’s Him.

Legs  Who?

Holmstrom  At the end of the bar!

Legs  Where?

Holmstrom  There. Lou Reed. Sitting not ten feet away from us.

Legs  He looks drunk.

Holmstrom  That’s 'cause he’s wearing sunglasses.

Legs  I didn’t know he had eyes.

Holmstrom  They’re not eyes. It’s that line from Kesey: ‘burnt fireplugs.’

Legs  Let’s go talk to him.

Holmstrom  Don’t pull my leg, Legs. He’s not going to like your teeth.

Legs  Can you imagine having Lou Reed as the cover of our first issue? This is what the old timers called a “scoop.”

Holmstrom  Okay, I’ll get the fedoras. You get the little card that says “PRESS” and we’ll put them in the brims, and…

Legs  I’m doing it, John. I’d never forgive myself if we passed this up. Nor would I forgive you, either.

Holmstrom  It’ll be like interviewing the Mummy. Look how old the guy is.

Legs  Then if we move in quick we can hear the death rattle.

Legs moves in across from Reed at the booth. Lou, wearing sunglasses, pretends he’s not even there.

Legs  Hi, Lou. How’s it hanging?

Lou just looks past/though/around Legs.

Legs  We’re from Punk magazine!

Reed  “Punk”?

Holmstrom  Yeah, Lou. We’d love to put you on the cover.

Reed  Really. Your circulation must be fabulous.

Holmstrom  No, my hands and feet are always cold.

Holmstrom sits down next to Legs, begins threading a reel-to-reel tape recorder clumsily.

Reed  Look at this, the holy triumvirate. Are we having a séance?

Legs (begins lighting candles and placing them on the table) Holy what?

Reed  Nothing you’d understand. (to Legs) What the hell are you doing?

Legs  Lighting for the photos, Lou.

Reed  I see. I hope you figured this into your budget of $0.

Just then, the Ramones take the stage, none of them playing the same song. Johnny Ramone throws down his guitar, swears and stomps offstage.

Legs  Wow. Was that the Gestapo?

Reed  You’re lucky I’m a lapsed Jew. Long Island division.

Holmstrom  What do you think of the Ramones, Lou?

Reed  Oh. I. Think. They’re. Fantastic.

Legs  What about Television?

Reed  Never watch it. But Tom Verlaine’s nice.

Holmstrom  Patti Smith.

Reed  She’s great. Uh-huh.

Legs  What about Springsteen? I think he’s a piece of shit.

Reed  Is that your question? Is that even a question? Why would you ask something so stupid. What difference does it make what I like? Do I ask you what you like? I don’t give a shit what you like. I don’t even give a shit what I like. You’re so predictable. Is this supposed to be the underground press? You're asking what everybody asks!

Holmstrom  What does an interview mean to you, Lou?

Reed  Nothing! They don't mean SHIT. They don't sell records, that's for sure.

Holmstrom  Then why do you do them?

Reed  Just to find out what people like you are up to. I mean, if I didn't have people like you around, I'd have to pay someone on the streets to say, 'Hey Lou, what's happening?' Okay? That enough for you?

Reed blows out a few of the candles before he gets up and leaves.

Holmstrom  Well, that was incredibly boring. He’s like a sour old person!

Legs  Yeah, we try to pick the guys brain a little bit and he treats us like, like, we’re…

Holmstrom  Lester Bangs.

Legs  Yeah! We’re not Lester Bangs!

Holmstrom  We’re Punk!

Legs & Holmstrom Punk! Punk! Punk! Punk!

They pass a wizened old figure in a fedora and old suit sitting at the bar, who turns to the audience.

William S. Burroughs (holding up a metal vibrator) That’s funny. I always thought a punk was someone who took it up the ass.

He clicks the ‘on’ button, the sound of Steely Dan’s “Show Biz Kids” plays.

Blackout. Enter Lester's childhood friend, Andrea Di Guglielmo, a fetching and theatrical brunette dressed like Nancy Sinatra.

Andrea  Everybody agreed that it was Lester who came up with the concept of “punk,” even before Dave Marsh coined the phrase “punk rock.” Lester may have got there first with his unpublished 1968 novel Drug Punk. But there was no uniform for this music yet. No razor blades, no safety pins, no torn clothing, no ripped mesh stockings or day-glo hair. The correct term should have been “blob rock,” from Lester’s Autobiography of a Blob. ‘Blob’ referred to the boredom and claustrophobia of being poor and fired up and trapped in a lower middle class nightmare, what Lester once called “the cowering rodent citizenry of elm-lined tract homes”: cinder block hotboxes passing as domiciles, the racism, one movie theatre, terrible reruns on TV, pulp comic books, sniffing glue and inhaling paint, shitty exploitation soundtracks for $1.99, that iron lung called religion. I mean Lester grew up in El Cajon, which is Spanish for “The Box.” In fact, while Lou Reed was four-years into changing rock music with the Velvet Underground and hanging around The Factory with some frozen-faced Midwestern freak named Andy, Lester was living in a Box and hanging out with me, a girl named Andy.

El Cajon, California, Summer 1968

A young Lester is squatting in an abandoned meat locker, scribbling in his journal. Next to him is a mattress, a record player, and a crumpled paper grocery sack. He is surrounded by discarded wrappers, beer cans, cough syrup bottles.

Lester (reading aloud) ‘Andy came to me last night and told me Bobby Kennedy was just shot. I was too busy thinking about Andy Warhol getting shot two days later. She tells me, ‘America is disintegrating, Les’ and I couldn’t have agreed more. ‘I know it, I’ve known it for a long time…The reason it’s falling apart this way is that the people of America have been living in the past too long…For too long, we’ve broadcasted the American Dream on all networks as gospel…The nation is falling apart now because its people haven’t been able to face it when the granite thunderbolt plows square into their upper plates, that the American Dream is only a dream. I keep returning in allusions to the Velvet Underground, no, specifically, Lou Reed, who made it out of the New York maelstrom relatively intact…’

Andy comes up the hill.

Andy  Les?

Lester  Halt, whose goeth hither! Showeth thyself, young Trojan lass!

Andy  Les, you live in a garbage dump. Have you realized that yet?

Lester  Every day I spend on this hill I get stronger. I can see ‘em coming from up here.

Andy  Great, good for you. I have a message.

Lester  From Rolling Stone? You know, I’ve been sending them my record reviews.

Andy  No, it’s from your mother. (imitating the movie Shane) “Leslie, Come back, Leslie! Come back to Kingdom Hall”!

Lester  But doesn’t she know? I’ve got you Andy. That’s all I’ll ever need.

Andy  That’s sweet. Barf.

Lester  Such a lady.

Andy  Don’t change the subject, “Leslie.” You mom says she wants you to come to Kingdom Hall. The Elders would like a word with you.

Lester  Oh man! Yes! What I’ve been waiting for! We can sing ‘The Old Rugged Cross’ together and I can amuse myself by counting all the hairs coming out of their ears.

Andy  Look, I’ll be the first to admit Norma is a nightmare, okay? But she really seems to be trying this time. Obviously, she wants you back. She says she needs a man in the house.

Lester  Uh-huh. Andy. Did I ever tell you about the last time I saw my moth—Norma?

Andy  Uh no. You never told me. You probably wrote it down in that notebook of yours.

Lester  I was home on a day hotter than today, right? I’m blasting John Coltrane’s “Africa” and jumping up and down on the couch, splitting my lip trying to play this rusted old saxophone I stole from the music room. But this didn’t seem like enough, so I popped some bennies and put on my Superman costume and resumed my jumping on the couch. But that still didn’t seem like enough. So I got out my copy of Howl and So Norma comes home from work and sees me doing this, and I tell you it was worse than if she had caught me jacking my meat hammer and I left gooey stalactites all over the scenery. Do you wanna know what she was most angry at?

Andy  That you stole the sax?

Lester  No, not the “forbidden horn of iniquity.” Guess again.

Andy  The Coltrane.

Lester  Nope, not the “coon caterwailing.” One more try.

Andy  The Ginsberg?

Lester  Wrong wrong wrong-o, not even the “degenerate homo poet”! It was the Superman outfit! I was committing multiple sins all at once and it was the outfit that pissed her off! And do you know why, Andy?

Andy  Les, you’re sweating all over me. When's the last time you showered?

Lester  False idols! I was dressed like a false idol. I yelled at her: ‘I am Superman! I am ruler of the world!’ And she pulled me down off the couch and screeched, ‘No, God is the ruler of the world!’ That’s what she got from that. That was the most important thing she could think of. (pause) Goddamn. We’ve gotta get out of here, Andy. I can’t breathe. I feel like I’m wrapped in cellophane.

Andy  I know, Les. We will. We just need a plan. Maybe—and I’m just thinking out loud, so don’t get mad—but maybe you could, you know, go back down the Hill…

Lester  Here it comes.

Andy  …and just talk to Norma, okay? I mean, she’s your mother. She’s obviously trying very hard.

Lester  I got everything I need right here.

Andy  Les, comic books and beer and records and cough syrup are not a substitute for life.

Lester  Neither is El Cajon. (pause) Wanna jerk me off?

Andy  Psssh! Why don’t you get Lou Reed to jerk you off?

Lester  I’m working up to it.

Blackout. "The Old Rugged Cross" plays. A young Unidentified Jehovah’s Witness in white shirt, thin black tie, bearing a sign reading ‘Do You Know What Time It Is?' and copies of The Watchtower.

Witness  Here’s the continuum as follows: Andy Warhol hires the Velvet Underground to play his Exploding Plastic Inevitable events, which features Lou Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison and Moe Tucker and sometimes a girl named Nico. Gerald Managna dances around shitless in leather pants and a whip. The EPI goes to California and plays L.A. and San Francisco, which are choked with hippies and Laurel Canyon pseudo-cowboys. The EPI hates California and vice versa. The local press calls the shows examples of “the urban evil of New York.” A kid named Jim Morrison sees the EPI show in L.A. and learns nothing, save for the sight of Managa’s leather pants, which he steals when he fronts the Doors with Ray Manzarek. A kid from Detroit sees Morrison's leather pants and learns nothing from the Doors, who make music that seems likes its coming from some Haight-Ashbury dentist’s office. That kids name is also Jim, but he changes it to Iggy and wears a pair of cheapo imitation-leather pants and no shirt, and steamrolls through brutal shamanistic performances to crowds of mentally deranged and unemployed people in rural Michigan. His gang of Stooges make their first album with John Cale, who hears the Velvets' influence in their obsession with playing one riff over and until the listener is hypnotized into submission. Ray Manzarek, who has been looking for a Jim Morrison substitute since Jim drowned in his bathtub, tied to corral Iggy for another record but Iggy falls apart and so does his band. In walks this pale delicate-boned British boy named Bowie, who has previously rescued Lou Reed from obscurity by producing the Transformer record. He tries to rescue Iggy and the Stooges for Raw Power, but messes up the recording mix. The one thread through all of this is a fat guy with terrible B.O. and a cheesy Rob Reiner moustache. This is Lester Bangs. He wrote about all of them. (coughs) I guess it doesn’t make any difference because everyone I just mentioned of is going straight to the Lake of Fire. Well, that’s it then. You're up to speed.

The Velvet Underground’s “Sister Ray” blasts as the Jehovah's Witness exits and is replaced by a sclerotic, glam-dressed British rock journalist named Nick Kent, who smokes as he speaks to the audience and absently pages through a cop of The Watchtower that the Witness has handed him.

Kent  Lester was a hick from the West Coast who looked like a blob. Everything about him looked wrong, and wrongly conceived. The wrong clothes on the wrong body, the wrong face and the wrong hair. Quite simply, Lester was an abortion whose head didn’t get sucked into a vacuum cleaner. He should have died at birth. He was a California hick. He was obnoxious and artless in his waking life. He even did the wrong drugs. Who the hell drinks Romilar cough syrup in the 1960s? Lou was a hick from the East Coat. He already had a uniform: the Beatle boots, the leather jacket, the wraparound shades. When those two men met, that’s when blob and punk came together. What came out of their marriage, their verbal fucking, was everything we know now. (takes out a Zippo and lights the newspaper on fire) Punk rock. They were fighting over who could claim the end of everything.

CREEM Magazine House, Walled Lake, Michigan, Winter 1973

"Up, Up and Away" by the Fifth Dimension plays over this scene. Lester appears, older and slightly more put together in a new leather jacket and old, nubby plaid shirt. His hair is sweaty and messed up. He is reading a copy of a review that Kent wrote. As he speaks, he fires off a list of rhetorical questions to the young scribe, who repeatedly tries to answer but is interrupted by Lester's Foghorn Leghorn-style speed-patter.

Lester  So you like this music? Why? What do you mean, it’s got a nice middle-eight and the cow-bell sounds cute on the finale? That’s not good enough. What are these guys really trying to sell us here? What does this music say to your soul? Do these guys even sound like they have souls to you? What’s really going on here? What’s going on behind the mask?

Kent (nodding off on Quaaludes) The...mask?

Lester  YES. The MASK. They all wear it. They aren't born with it, right? They have to create it. And the winners, kid, the winners are the ones who wear the biggest masks, the shiniest and most impenetrable ones. But the stories -- the real stories people like us crave -- lie with the losers of the world. And in rock and roll, the LOSERS have the most compelling stories. They have NO masks because they can't afford to have them! Do you understand what I'm saying?

Kent  I can honestly say...that I don't.

Lester  Obviously then, I need to show you. You know what? You should come to Detroit with me.

Kent (wipes drool from mouth) But it's snowing out, Les. Really bad.

Lester  The guys on tour with the Motown shows had to do it. Papa Zita and Jamerson faced death every night on these roads, stuffed in their little unheated cars. So will we. And do you know who never had to do that?

Kent  Uhhh, Leonard Bernstein?

Lester  Close. I will show you. Exhibit One of what I've been speaking of. Let's go.

Kent  Les, I think I'm not feeling so well...

Lester grabs a notebook, a tape recorder, some ephedrine inhalers and a few liquor bottles and stuffs them in a paper grocery sack.

Lester  Don't worry. I'll drive.