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Thursday, August 15, 2013

"Mainlines, Blood Feasts, and Bad Taste", gonzo music journalism

Mainlines, Blood Feasts, and Bad Taste. A Lester Bangs Reader- Lester Bangs (compilation edited by John Morthland)

Hunter S. Thompson writing about music. That's what's has been going in my mind while reading Lester Bangs for the first time. A long-time pending must-read in my agenda, I was more than curious to get myself into the writings of one of the most (if not the most)  recognised music journalists ever. After finishing "Mainlines...", now I can say I understand the myth. Reading Bangs is letting yourself go into a unique, several times pretty wild ride, about music. And much more.

This compilation of Bangs writings selected and edited by his friend and colleague in Creem Magazine (he was the editor in 1974-75), John Morthland, is divided in five chapters, with the clear goal of offering not only the widest possible selection of Bangs works, but also a general scope of the journalist's prose. There's sarcasm, rage, pure vitriol (haven't read a book with so many insults and expletive words), as well as an unparalleled passion on the topics he wrote about. Unmatched. And there's also an ambitious, without boundaries, aim to cover almost everything in his articles. It all reveals, in my opinion, a stunningly lucid, although quite suffering, thirsty and relentless mind. I think the quote "The pencil is mightier than the sword" is attributed to Shakespeare. But it fits much better to Lester Bangs. With him, the pencil looks like a complete arsenal.

That acid, uncontrolled, pulsating and extreme way of writing is incredibly addictive in the stand-out chapters of "Mainlines..": "Hypes and Heroics" and "Pantheon", the ones that are devoted to music. What a hallucinated, surreal, edgy music feast! I always considered myself a very though critic (maybe even more with films and books), but compared with Bangs, I'm as soft as Bambi. There are several articles where you can feel Bangs is so close to lose himself in the midst of chaos and continuously linking ideas... but somehow he always manages to make his point, loud, clear... and poignantly. Dylan, Stones (what a bitter, merciless compendium of essays he devotes to them), Fleetwood Mac, ELO... proceed with care if you are fan of any of these... 

Unfortunately, I think the remaining three chapters (minority of pages compared with the previous two) are way less interesting. With the exception of a couple of articles/essays on the "Travelogues" section, the one describing his trip to Jamaica searching Bob Marley, pure Gonzo, and his impossible conversation with Hendrix, and the moments of brilliance in "Raving, Raging and Rebops" accounting the roots of punk and the endless discussion of the current state of music (compared with the past), these chapters look a hodgepodge to me. Sure, it serves well the purpose (also with the teenager passages of initial section "Drug Punk") of showing Bangs "views of the world", as there's a bit of everything there: relationships, drugs, fame, politics, culture, future, sex... But the articles are more eloquent in revealing Bangs frustrations and pessimistic vision on almost everything surrounding him than getting really anywhere in terms of writing. I believe the last article of the compilation, "Trapped by the Mormons", summarizes it all very well. 

In any case, don't miss the chance of reading Lester Bangs pieces on music. Like the best records and/or songs, I want more!

SCORE: 7/10

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