The Rest of the Story

The Rest of the Story
Fanatical Opinions

Russ Pitts | 14 Nov 2006 07:01
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"When I look back on it, it was obvious that I was gonna end up doing this because my two big obsessions were always music and writing. It's an outgrowth of being a fanatical record collector and a fanatical listener. You have fanatical opinions that you want to inflict on people."
- Lester Bangs, Rock Critic

In April of 1982, Lester Bangs, legendary rock critic, gave his final interview to 17-year-old journalism student Jim DeRogatis.

"I told the Gang of Four," Bangs recounted to DeRogatis, describing his encounter with the seminal, yet commercially unsuccessful, punk band, "I went to their dressing room when they were down in Los Angeles on their first tour, I said, 'Hi. I know you guys have been getting your asses kissed ever since you got to this country because you're English. I figured you'd appreciate one person coming up and telling you what a bucket of shit you are.'"

Such iconoclasm was the trademark of Bangs' career. Whereas some writers of the time would literally go out of their way to write glowing reviews, Bangs seemed to revel in doing the opposite, earning himself a reputation as something of a troublemaker, if an honest one.

His first review for Rolling Stone was a negative one, and his confrontational interview style eventually led to his dismissal from the magazine in 1973 for reportedly being "disrespectful to musicians." Bangs went on to write for nearly every print publication with a music beat and was frequently mentioned in the same breath as the likes of Hunter S. Thompson and Charles Bukowski; writers who Bangs himself cited as the inspirations for his work.

"The way I look at it," said Bangs, when asked about his comment that "almost all current music is worthless," "the only reason I have any credibility in the first place is because I'm willing to say things like that. And if anything does happen again, I'll have more credibility for the fact that I did say it."

Two weeks after the interview, after more than a decade of being the most influential rock critic on the planet, Bangs died in his New York apartment of an apparent drug overdose. His interviewer, Jim DeRogatis, would go on become one of rock's most influential (post-Bangs) writers, get fired from Rolling Stone himself and write a book about Bangs called Let it Blurt.

"There was a time in my life," Bangs told DeRogatis, "when you would have come up here and I would have got all drunk and everything like that and you might have preferred it that way and I would have been all exhibitionistic and like that, but if I act like that, I might live a long time, but I won't live very long as a good writer.

Boys Will Be Boys
Jim DeRogatis: Do you think there's a danger of rock 'n' roll becoming extinct?
Lester Bangs: Yeah, sure. Definitely.
JD: What would there be to take its place?
LB: Video games.

- "A Final Chat with Lester Bangs"

According to The Entertainment Software Association, "Ninety-three percent of game players also report reading books or daily newspapers on a regular basis." This tells us that people who play games read. Not just that they can read, but that they do read. "On a regular basis."

In 2003, the U.S. Department of Education-sponsored National Assessment of Adult Literacy found that literacy in America (unsurprisingly) fell along a fairly predictable bell curve. Those with "below basic" literacy (the lowest score, "no more than the most simple and concrete literacy skills") constituted about 14 percent of the population, while those referred to as "proficient" (the highest score, "can perform complex and challenging literacy activities") constituted 13 percent. Between the two extremes were two more categories: "basic" and "intermediate," which constituted 29 and 44 percent respectively.

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