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Lester Bangs

Lester Bangs
Born Leslie Conway Bangs
(1948-12-14)December 14, 1948[1]
Escondido, California
United States
Died April 30, 1982(1982-04-30) (aged 33)
New York City
United States
Occupation Music critic, musician, author
Nationality American
Period 1969–1982
Subject Rock music, jazz

Leslie Conway "Lester" Bangs (December 14, 1948 – April 30, 1982) was an American music journalist, author, and musician. He wrote for Creem and Rolling Stone magazines and was known for his leading influence in rock music criticism.[2][3]


  • Early life 1
  • Career 2
  • Style 3
  • Music 4
  • In popular culture 5
  • Death 6
  • Selected works 7
    • By Lester Bangs 7.1
    • About Lester Bangs 7.2
    • Works citing Lester Bangs 7.3
  • References 8
  • Related topics 9
  • External links 10

Early life

Bangs was born in Escondido, California, the son of Norma Belle (née Clifton) and Conway Leslie Bangs, a truck driver.[4] Both of his parents were from Texas. His father was from Enloe, Texas, and his mother was from Pecos County.[5] Norma Belle was a devout Jehovah's Witness. Conway died in a fire when his son was young. When Bangs was 11, he moved with his mother to El Cajon, California.[6]


In 1969 Bangs became a freelance writer after reading an ad in Rolling Stone soliciting readers' reviews. His first piece was a negative review of the MC5 album Kick Out The Jams, which he sent to Rolling Stone with a note requesting that if the magazine were to pass on publishing the review, that he receive a reason for their decision; however, no reply was forthcoming as the magazine did indeed publish the review.

Bangs wrote about Janis Joplin's death by drug overdose, "It's not just that this kind of early death has become a fact of life that has become disturbing, but that it's been accepted as a given so quickly."[7] In 1973, Jann Wenner fired Bangs from Rolling Stone, a negative review of Canned Heat being the final event.[8] He moved to Detroit to edit and write for Creem. After leaving Creem, he wrote for The Village Voice, Penthouse, Playboy, New Musical Express, and many other publications.

Bangs was enamored of the noise music of Lou Reed.[9] Bangs wrote the essay/interview "Let Us Now Praise Famous Death Dwarves" about Reed in 1975.[10]

At one point he climbed onto the stage while the J. Geils Band were playing in concert, and typed a supposed review of the event, in full view of the audience.[11]

His review of Black Sabbath's first album in Rolling Stone was scathing, rating them as Cream wannabes:
Cream clichés that sound like the musicians learned them out of a book, grinding on and on with dogged persistence. Vocals are sparse, most of the album being filled with plodding bass lines over which the lead guitar dribbles wooden Claptonisms from the master's tiredest Cream days. They even have discordant jams with bass and guitar reeling like velocitized speedfreaks all over each other's musical perimeters yet never quite finding synch—just like Cream! But worse.[12]
Rolling Stone later rated the same album to be on their 500 Greatest Albums of all time at number 243.[13]


Bangs adopted a radical and critical style of working, apparent in this quote:

Well basically I just started out to lead [an interview] with the most insulting question I could think of. Because it seemed to me that the whole thing of interviewing as far as rock stars and that was just such a suck-up. It was groveling obeisance to people who weren't that special, really. It's just a guy, just another person, so what?[14]


Bangs was also a musician in his own right. In 1976, he and Peter Laughner recorded an acoustic improvisation in the Creem office. In 1979, he released, as a solo artist, a 7" vinyl single named "Let It Blurt/Live", mixed by John Cale. The following year, he traveled to Austin, Texas, and met a punk rock group named the Delinquents. During his stay in Austin, he recorded an album as Lester Bangs and the Delinquents, entitled Jook Savages on the Brazos.

In 1981, he teamed up with Joey Ramone's brother Mickey Leigh, to put together a New York City group named Birdland. Their only album, mixed by Ed Stasium, was released in 1986.

In 1990 The Mekons released the EP F.U.N. 90 with Bangs on vocals in the song "One Horse Town".

In popular culture

Excerpts from an interview with Lester Bangs appeared in the last two episodes of Tony Palmer's seventeen-episode television documentary entitled All You Need Is Love: The Story of Popular Music.

He was portrayed in the 2000 movie Almost Famous by Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Lester's formative years are the subject of a documentary, A Box Full of Rocks: The El Cajon Years of Lester Bangs (director: Raul Sandelin) released in 2013.

Bangs is mentioned in the lyrics to the R.E.M. hit "It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)". Bangs is mentioned in the lyrics to the Ramones song 'It's not my place (in this 9 to 5 world)' on the album Pleasant Dreams.

In his biography of David Foster Wallace, D. T. Max writes, "Wallace admired Bangs's exultant prose, which probably came closer to the way Wallace talked than any other writing."[15] Wallace and his co-author Mark Costello dedicated their book Signifying Rappers to Bangs.

Along with artist Dori Seda, Bangs is the subject of Bruce Sterling's 1989 alternate history short story Dori Bangs in which the two meet and have a relationship.


Bangs died in New York City on April 30, 1982, of an accidental overdose of Darvon, Valium, and NyQuil.[16][17]

Selected works

By Lester Bangs

About Lester Bangs

  • Let it Blurt: The Life and Times of Lester Bangs, America's Greatest Rock Critic, biography, Jim Derogatis. Broadway Books, 2000. (ISBN 0-7679-0509-1).

Works citing Lester Bangs

  • Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk, biography, Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain. Penguin Books, 1997. (ISBN 0-14-026690-9).
  • Bangs is mentioned ("Hangin' out with Lester Bangs you all") in the Ramones song "It's Not My Place (In the 9 to 5 World)" on the album Pleasant Dreams.
  • Bangs is mentioned ("They kept alive the great casino sound, for Leslie Conway Bangs") in the Tullycraft song "If You Take Away the Make-Up (Then the Vampires They Will Die)" on the album Every Scene Needs A Center.


  1. ^ Christgau, Robert (May 11, 1982). "Lester Bangs, 1948-1982".  
  2. ^ Lester Bangs. Random House. Retrieved on November 4, 2007.
  3. ^ Rock criticism from the beginning: amusers, bruisers, and cool-headed cruisers Ulf Lindberg, Gestur Guomundsson, Morten Michelsen, Hans Weisethaunet. Ed. Ulf Lindberg. Publisher Peter Lang, 2005. ISBN 0-8204-7490-8, ISBN 978-0-8204-7490-8 p. 176.
  4. ^ Derogatis, Jim. Let it Blurt: The Life and Times of Lester Bangs, America's Greatest Rock Critic. New York: Broadway Books. pp. 3–4.  
  5. ^ "My Highschool Days With Lester Bangs".  
  6. ^ Mendoza, Bart. "Lester Bangs: The El Cajon Years". San Diego Troubador. Retrieved April 22, 2014. 
  7. ^ Jackson, Buzzy (2005). A Bad Woman Feeling Good: Blues and the women who sing them. New York: W.W. Norton. p. 234.  
  8. ^ DeRogatis, Jim. Let it blurt, p. 95 at Google Books
  9. ^ Gere, Charlie. Art, Time and Technology: Histories of the Disappearing Body (2005) Berg, p. 110
  10. ^ DeRogatis, Jim. Milk it!: collected musings on the alternative music explosion of the 90s, p. 188 at Google Books
  11. ^ Maconie, Stuart (2004). Cider With Roadies (1st ed.). London: Random House. p. 227.  
  12. ^ "' - 'Black SabbathAlbum Review Black Sabbath". Rolling Stone. September 17, 1970. 
  13. ^ "'500 Greatest Albums of all Time'". Rolling Stone. 
  14. ^ DeRogatis, Jim (November 1999). "A Final Chat with Lester Bangs". Perfect Sound Forever. Retrieved August 6, 2008. 
  15. ^ Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story (Little, Brown, 2012), p. 122.
  16. ^ The Official Punk Rock Book of Lists By Amy Wallace, Handsome Dick Manitoba. Hal Leonard Corporation. p. 56.
  17. ^ Kent, Nick (April 12, 2002). "The life and work of Lester Bangs". The Guardian. Retrieved July 31, 2014. 
  18. ^ Matt Carmichael
  19. ^ Lester Bangs. "Astral Weeks". Retrieved February 14, 2009. 
  20. ^ MC5: Kick Out The Jams, Rolling Stone
  • "Lester Bangs columns". Rolling Stone. 

Related topics

External links

  • MENTOR. EDITOR. LESTER: A Personal Appreciation at the Creem.
  • 1980 interview with Bangs posted at
  • Bangs reviews (1979) Van Morrison's Astral Weeks.
  • May 13, 1980 Interview with Lester Bangs by Sue Mathews of ABC Radio (Australia) Complete transcript plus MP3 stream of the interview.
  • Richard Hell remembers Lester Bangs in the Village Voice, August 7, 2003
  • Lester Bangs at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database
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