Artwork courtesy of the RICHARD GOODMAN GALLERY
“Check out Jim’s new spoken poetry with Manzarek overdubs album, An American Prayer, the best recitative sluice of American literature on LP since Call Me Burroughs, and hell, even Burroughs never had the sheer nerve to lead with “All join now and lament the death of my cock.” In a way Jim was really the end of the Masculine Mystique as celebrated American culture up to and through rock ‘n’ roll, because unlike clowns like John Kay or indeed any of his progeny, he was a master of the sly inflectional turn, so that his every utterance no matter how repetitious rolled out oozing irony and sanity.
Who further to say that he finally showed the fans his weenie in Florida he was not oh-so bemusedly letting them in on the cosmodemonic comedy the whole thing boiled down to, the understanding of which he’d been considerate enough to spare them up to then because he respected virgins as much as the next good Irish Catholic boy? Who’s to say the “bubble gum” / “parody” in the third and fourth Doors albums, so dismaying to early believers, was not entirely intentional, premeditated, one juncture in a vast strategy of liberation? A strategy scripted from day one to ultimately reveal that not only did machismo equal bozo in drag, but furthermore that all rock stars were nothing more than huge oafus cartoons ( more New Wave foreshadowing!), that in fact these games of both “Poet” and “Shaman” were just two more gushers of American snakeoil. He knew! And now, eons later, so do we.
This album proves what the emergence of Patti Smith had given us reason to hope: that beatnick poetry is not dead. Jim’s whiskey breathed wordslinging varooms on, not only in Patti Smith, but in Richard Hell and maybe even Bruce Springsteen if he’d ever get down with the greasemonkies he talks about. Fuck the James Taylors, not to mention the Warren Zevons, who may wave brave handguns but are pure pseudo Randy Newman mannerism. Jim’s violence is cool school: “Hey, listen, man I really got a problem. When I was out on the desert, ya know, I don’t know how to tell you, but, ah, I killed somebody. No…it’s no big deal, ya know. I don’t think anybody will find out about it, but, ah…Let your children play… this guy gave me a a ride, ah ah, If you give this man a ride…started giving me a lot of trouble, sweet family will die, and I just couldn’t take it, ya know? Killer on the road And I wasted him, Yeah.”
I’d like to see Charles Bukowski beat that – “A .45 To Pay The Rent,” indeed! Why even bother playing the fucking rent, when Jim understands the single kernel of no mind koan-truth that eluded both philosophers and poets (not to mention P. Smith) over the centuries: that death is about as serious as anything else we diddle our imaginations with. Or at least that our attempts to rationalize it are beautifully, lovingly funny. Anybody who thinks this stuff just dope-noggined gibberish oughta recheck Kerouac’s Mexico City Blues and “Old Angel Midnight” of the extra opiom-ated latter pages of Lautreamont’s Maldoror. Or Patti’s Babel, for that matter. All those benighted verbiage-vectors went on at ridiculous length about the tragic communication of sex and death: Jim was hip to the comedy implicit in romantic obsessor: “I pressed her thigh and death smiled. Death, old friend. Death and my cock are the word…Hey man, you want girls, pills, grass? C’mon…I show you a good time…”
Sociology? “He’s rich, got a big car.” God-stuff? “We could plan a murder or start a religion. Guru’s questions answered? “Will you die for me? Eat me.” Allen Ginsberg hasn’t written anything this good in 20 years almost. The Beats meant to bring poetry back to the street’s and the guttermind of the people at large, and they succeeded: they gave birth to Jim Morrison, a giant resplendent in the conviction that stardom may guarantee Chivas Regal till you drown, but to clown is divine and ultimately sexy.
— LESTER BANGS, CREEM MAGAZINE, 1981 [via DANGEROUS MINDS]
ROCK SNOB ENCYCLOPEDIA: Back in the day, Lester Bangs, Richard Meltzer and Nick Tosches formed a terrible triumvirate of rowdy, hard-living rock scribblers — angel-headed hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of rock — feared and loathed by the music industry’s power elite. They didn’t just write about rock ‘n’ roll; he lived it, drank it, smoked it, felt it up, snorted it down and puked it up all over the page the morning after.
BOING BOING: 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. MORE
KEN TUCKER: Rock music criticism remains, for the most part, an unknown quantity in contemporary cultural coverage. Rock critics are generally held in contempt by their high-culture counterparts, and the rock audience seems interested in little more than consumer tips – buy this record, don’t buy that one. There have been a few excellent book-length examples of rock criticism – most notably Greil Marcus’s ”Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock and Roll Music” (1976) and Simon Frith’s ”Sound Effects: Youth, Leisure, and the Politics of Rock and Roll” (1981) – but for the most part, writing about rock music has been deemed as transitory as yesterday’s novelty act, the literary equivalent of Alice Cooper.
In this context, ”Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung” amounts to a cultural event. This collection of essays and reviews by Lester Bangs rescues from oblivion one of the most distinctive voices in modern popular criticism. After long bouts with drugs and alcohol, it’s no small irony that Bangs died of complications from the flu in 1982 at the age of 33. He created a rude yet earnest persona in his writing, one that believed passionately in rock music as the most vital and innovative of the popular arts even as he decried its crassest excesses.
Rather than simply babble on about this or that favorite rock group, Bangs attempted to place rock within a cultural framework, pointing out its similarities to everything from Dada to Jack Kerouac. For a critic like Bangs, Andy Warhol was as much of an esthetic signpost as the Beatles; an understanding of Lou Reed, the Velvet Underground founder and recent Honda spokesman, was impossible without discussing Brecht’s alienation effect. Most attempts to examine rock in serious terms seem hopelessly pretentious, lacking in the very things that make the music thrilling: its emotional directness and impertinent sense of humor. Bangs was well aware of this, and these qualities became the salient characteristics of his prose. ”It’s not about technique,” he wrote in 1980, trying to set down a sort of antidefinition of rock. ”It’s not about virtuosity, twenty-five years at Juilliard, contrapuntal counterpoint, the use of 6/8 time in a Latin-tinged context. This stuff is not jazz.” MORE