Lester Bangs audio interview


In 1975, when I was nine years old, I discovered Lou Reed from reading about him in CREEM magazine. It was probably the very first rock magazine that I ever bought. The article, titled "Let Us Now Praise Famous Death Dwarves"really captured my young attention. It was the coolest thing I'd ever read. The author, Lester Bangs, conjured up a spectacularly ghoulish portrait of a totally disheveled, wasted and just plain old mean Lou Reed even as he hurled drunken druggy insults right back at him throughout the entire interview. The writing was sublime. I'm not saying I realized this when I was nine, btw, but even that young, I knew I was reading the unfiltered thoughts and opinions of someone who seemed to know about, and feel passionately about, a heck of a lot of really cool things. In his writing on rock and roll, he could really convey strong emotions. Bangs didn't hesitate to let you know where he stood on groups like Yes and Emerson Lake and Palmer (that would be two thumbs down) but when he loved a record or a group, his rhapsodic gonzo prose was worthy of being compared to Jack Kerouac, Tom Wolfe or Hunter S Thompson. Sometimes his writing was even better when he hated a group!

When each new issue of CREEM would come out, I'd go straight for the Lester Bangs articles and record reviews and I'd obsess on owning the albums he liked. This was back in the days (ahem) when you couldn't find anything like an Iggy Pop or Velvet Underground album outside of a specialist shop in a big city or through mail order, but the writing of Lester Bangs inspired you to want to have the same experience he had listening to groups like PiL, The Clash, The New York Dolls and The Stooges. He never, ever steered me in the wrong direction and not only do I see that my own passion for deviant culture comes from a crucial young connection to the mind of Lester Bangs, but also that he's one of the stylistic voices I've most emulated in my own writing.

So what an incredible thrill it was to come across a 90-minute interview with Lester Bangs himself on a Bit Torrent tracker recently. To finally, at long last hear the speaking voice of one of my literary heroes --it was like having a mental orgasm. Pure joy! Bangs and the interviewer cover a lot of ground in the two part interview including the state of the music industry at the time, whether or not the Rolling Stones ought to retire (in 1980!), John Lydon's PiL and what music Lester was listening to himself. It's a wonderful, articulate and thoughtful interview with a great writer whose speaking voice we rarely hear.

Someone at at website called The Interview Archive has posted the interview online. It's absolutely worth listening to, a rare treat.

Lester Bangs Interview | Lester Bangs, King of the Noise Boys | Let Us Now Kill White Elephants



  1. Lester Bangs is great, but boy oh boy howdy did he inspire a lot of horrible post-punk music journalism.

  2. I’m sorry, but you were too young at nine to be reading Lester Bangs. I was still trying to play Peter,Paul,and Mary songs on my nylon stringed guitar at that age. Too young I say!

  3. I thought he sounded familiar and then saw that he was Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s character in “Almost Famous.” Cameron Crowe said he was inspired by him and I would be, too. I don’t think you can be too young for good rock journalism.

    I listened to part of the interview and found him extremely articulate and perceptive. He was commenting on some real schlock music, but describing it in such broad clean strokes.

  4. “No more! No more fucking Rock stars! No more! They are short. They are homely. And they are dumb.”

    Lester was one of those people that if you are ever going to like them, you like them the first minute you meet them. I mean — pardon the play — it was bang! with Bangs. I met him at a CREEM editorial meeting and, later, broke a bottle of whiskey in half with him and laughed all goddamn night. Jesus, he was really something!

    R.M., you would have loved him.

  5. I’m sorry I did not read his work at the time. Seems like someone I’d have seriously appreciated. Thanks for the post, I’ll have to do some digging to find out more.

  6. I discovered Lester Bangs by accident, in my college days – I was in the Library, researching a paper, for this music class I was enrolled in, and randomly picked up “Psychotic Reactions and Carbeurator Dung”…I was hooked, immediately.

    I read the entire thing, in one sitting, or rather, standing, far back in the stacks of the old Library…

  7. That’s crazy Guesstimate Jones! I pretty much did the same thing. I was in my freshman year of school, and was searching the library index cards for The Stooges and found my way to “Psychotic Reactions…” While I didn’t read it in one sitting, it was enough of a distraction that I soon dropped out of college. I’m back in and on the Dean’s List so, all’s well that ends well. I don’t entirely blame Bangs.
    I have to agree with Metzger about the whole thrill of the hunt thing regarding music. “Psychotic Reaction” was a road map to a highbrow/lowbrow aesthetic that’s warped my tiny brain ever since. To this day I can’t find that Count Five album. The hunt continues!

  8. MARK,

    It was a crazy sort of thing. I had picked a few poems for a couple of issues, so I was briefly, and jokingly, the poetry editor. I knew Rick Siegal and their publisher, and I met most of the other guys. But I lived in San Francisco, and on a kind of Marin county commune too, which made communication somewhat difficult.

    I remember being asked one night at a Greek Town restaurant in Detroit, amid a half-dozen bottles of Retsina, if I was interested in being THE editor; but that might have been a wine-influenced joke. The guys were at a sort of crossroads, I think, and were uncertain about their course — they were reading Baran & Sweezy’s “Monopoly Capital”— and were a bit overwhelmed by their growing circulation.

    I do remember suggesting that they hire a couple of 18 year olds who were still in love with rock ‘n roll, that maybe they were getting jaded and burning out. They seemed … embarrassed by success, if you can relate. But they sure were a hell of a NICE bunch kids, I do remember that.

    I went back to CA a week or so later and never saw them again.

  9. This is an excellent pointer. Your taste in music mirrors mine. It is scary. Creem was always a great read, especially here in Australia, where reading about tours by artists like Iggy, Lou and even Bowie was always entertaining yet frustrating as many of these artists had not toured downunder at that time. At least Lou had made it in 1974.

  10. I met Lester once, and only once, when he was walking into Bookie’s with Rob Tyner. Bookie’s was a punk club in a very bad neighborhood on McNichols in Highland Park, which isn’t Detroit but might as well be, since it’s contained within it. He and I had a brief exchange about a piece he’d written on Jim Morrison and the Doors, but he and Tyner didn’t stick around. Bookie’s had a local punk revue that night, and although Detroit has this glorious musical heritage, our punk bands from the day aren’t part of it. Bangs must’ve thought so too, since he and Tyner left to go to Menjo’s up the street, a gay dance club. Creem magazine was truly funny when Lester was with them, and truly unfunny when he left, you could definitely tell the difference. I fondly recall an article on The Ten Worst Restaurants that he had scribed, and how one of the ten “served snot-ridden spinach to unsuspecting junkies”. You just don’t forget stuff like that. Lester Bangs, you hell-bent sonuvabitch, you are missed.

  11. Not had time to listen to this yet, but it sounds like it might be this interview; a transcript can be read there.

    #10, Fred H:

    Have you seen this video of the Count Five doing Psychotic Reaction beside a swimming pool? It totally ruined my mental image of the band…

  12. Discovered Creem at just about the same time you did, and it warped me for life, in what I hope is a good way.

  13. I’m not sure why I ignored Creem in favor of Hit Parader when I was an adolescent. Oh, well.

  14. Hello,

    I checked the webstats today for interviewsarchive and got a little surprise.

    Thank you for mentioning and linking up the Lester Bangs interview.

    Most people site Albums or music that changed their lives. In 1995 I was running a record label that went belly up, I was ranting about a lot of the issues with the record biz and was lamenting to a well known Australian music journalist.

    He said, “Have you ever heard of Lester Bangs?”; he had a friend that interviewed Lester back in 1980 in New York and that he recommended I should listen to it.

    He made a dub and sent me a copy, as I heard it I heard Lester say the exact same things I was ranting about the fall of a music scene in 1995 (only Lester said it better 15 years before and a lot better then I could hope to).

    I was running a fanzine at the time called ‘Loser Friendly’ and transcribed the interview that only published Side One and the 2nd part never appearing. I later published the entire interview on my own website cousincreep.com, (which a user has pointed out in his comments).

    A lttile while back I received an email from the BBC wanting to get the audio of the Lester interview for a Post Punk radio documentary they were putting together. I was then living in the United States and that tape (along with all my other mini discs) was in Australia.

    Once I received the tapes & mini I digitized the tape, and also the same with all the interviews from my radio show on radio 3RRR. This idea gave me the idea to start up the Interview Archive Site. The concept was to have a shared archive of audio interviews that anyone could add to. Not everyone keeps their interviews and most people scrub these after they’re done…. So, adding to the archive has been limited….

    Anyhow, thanks for linking up Lester & Interviews Archive…

    Cousin Creep

  15. #14 Bookies
    And eventually Bookies started morphing into a club that was half punk and half queer – by it’s end it was mostly a crazy gay bar.

    Menjo’s really blew tho. I hated that place and am kind surprised that those guys wanted to hang there. Perhaps I missed the heyday.

    So tip of the day: Lester wrote a full length on Blondie that is often vicious and hilarious. It’s worth seeking out – while it’s not his best stuff, the fact that anyone hired Lester of all people to do one of those goofy 70’s fluff fan books is funny as hell.

  16. I love Lester’s writing, too, but I can’t say “He never, ever steered me in the wrong direction.”

    Man oh man, Lester’s excitement is contagious, but I still can’t forgive him for suckering me into buying Lou Reed’s unbearable feedback album, Metal Machine Music.


    Has anyone ever listened to more than five minutes of that record?

    I never went to Menjo’s, but I think Bangs went there because he had such an open mind about music overall, good, bad or otherwise. There are actually two books of his writings, the aforementioned Carburetor Dung and the more recent Mainlines, Blood Feasts, and Bad Taste: A Lester Bangs Reader (2003). I have an article written by him that I clipped out of New Wave magazine, I can’t even tell you how old it is, maybe early Eighties. In it there’s a photo of the Osmonds onstage. Here’s Lester’s caption below it: “Now, these guys are punks: (a) dumb, (b) showoffs, (c) never been laid, (d) dress like jerks, (e) don’t play music.” But now here’s an excerpt from the article itself: “…the little jerks from Punk magazine, who when I invited them to a party at my house and put on great mid-Sixties Motown and Stax-Volt sides so everybody could dance like we used to at parties in Detroit…” It’s out of context, but you catch my drift. Lester liked punk too, but like everything else he separated that which was good from that which wasn’t. And what he said about Iggy was this: Iggy never wanted to be a Punk, he wanted to be a Man.

  18. NEWWAVE,
    Re. Metal Machine Music, here’s from the same article mentioned above, in reference to the same “little jerks from Punk magazine”: “…they all huddled in the kitchen, so I put on Metal Machine Music to see if I could drive them out the door.”

  19. #21 Agreed – I’m just savoring the irony that all the cool gay people were going to Bookies at the same time that apparently our rock and roll heroes were going to a bar we didn’t like much at all!

    The Blondie book was the only Bang’s book I know of that was actually out before he died (I think the others are all posthumous ).

    Here’s the link – it looks like you can find it pretty easily, there is even a hardcover:

  20. #22 Ha – all music has a proper function I suppose, and Metal Machine Music is an A-number-1 party killer, I’ll give him that.

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