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Lou Reed's generosity of spirit: "Who was Lester Bangs?"

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Oh, that Lou: He's such a curmudgeonly old crank, unwilling to ever acknowledge that anyone else in any way enhanced or even shed light on his unparalleled genius. (John Cale what? Robert Quine who?) Witness this dis of his critical amanuensis Lester Bangs the other day at the Tribeca Film Festival, as reported here and quoted below, during a conversation with handpicked interviewers Julian Schnabel, director of the new "Berlin" concert film, and overpaid Vanity Fair rock gossip columnist Lisa Robinson, who no one will ever, ever quote about anything.

Audience question: “Lester Bangs said Berlin was the most depressed album ever made. What are your thoughts on that?”

Reed: “I don’t have any thoughts on Lester Bangs’s comments. What does that have to do with anything? You just saw it.”

Schnabel: “I just thought it obviously made me want to make the movie.”

Robinson: “I just want to say we knew Lester Bangs and would not 35 years later quote him. However –”

Reed: “Who is Lester Bangs?”

Schnabel: “Isn’t he the guy who Chris Walken drowned in At Close Range?”

As Bangs' biographer, I'm rarely peeved enough to defend his legacy -- it doesn't often need it -- but every once in a while, it's worth setting the record straight. Compare Reed's cavalier and dismissive comments above with Bangs' poetic prose on "Berlin" below, which I first dusted off after hearing Reed contend at SXSW that critics all trounced his dark orchestral epic upon its release. Reed can rewrite history all he wants, but the fact remains, Bangs' championing of his best work helped in large part to build the audience he now enjoys.

What ["Berlin"] really reminds me of, though, is the bastard progeny of a drunken flaccid tumble between Tennessee Williams and Hubert (Last Exit from Brooklyn) Selby, Jr. It brings all of Lou’s perennial themes -- emasculation, sadistic misogyny, drug erosion, twisted emotionalism of numb detachment from ‘normal’ emotions -- to pinnacle.

It is also very funny – there’s at least one laugh in every song -- but as in ‘Transformer,’ you have to doubt if the humor’s intentional. ‘Transformer’ was a masterpiece at least partially by the way it proved that even perverts can be total saps -- whining about being hit with flowers, etc. -- and this album has almost as many risible non sequiturs as that did: the heroine gets up from a beating and says that it’s ‘no fun... a bum trip,’ and the protagonist’s plaints draw a laugh just when they’re most spiteful.” – Lester Bangs, Creem magazine, December 1973

Hey, Lou: You know who Lester Bangs was. The last time I interviewed you, when you were hyping your rewriting of Poe for "The Raven," you asked me to mail you a copy of his biography, and you spoke quite warmly of him. The Catskill comedian shtick really gets old sometimes.

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10 Comments

Get 'em, Jim!

You know what else is really getting old? Lou Reed's losing streak. The last Lou Reed album I got excited about was a reissue of a concert from 1972!

Well Jim for the first time ever, I've enjoyed something you've written....Well, that's not really true but it's been a while.

Lou Reed is a washed up old hack that, in my opinion, could be the most over-rated...ahem...musician ever. Lou, go away, nobody cares about you!

He sounded like he was just being flippant to me.

Agree with Peter, though, Lou really needs to get serious about making new music again.

Or, maybe, not being serious and just having fun making new music would work better for him.

(I loved his 70s albums (even the ones I hated) because each one was different than the last.)

Anyway, these 60-something rockers can learn from Neil Young, who's still cranking them out like he did in the middle of his career.

Jim - Forget Lou Reed. Go to the Double Door this week and discover a great new band.

Lou Reed will be still be listened to and talked about a hundred years from now. Will Lester Bangs?

"Will Lester Bangs?"

Yup

Velvet Underground will still be talked about in a hundred years. Lou Reed? Only in that context.

David

Currently listening to Lou's 'Metal Machine Music'. Oh Lou, so sublime!

If Lester Bangs is remembered at all several decades from now, it will only be for his uncanny ability to be an amazingly pedantic dick.

Who is Lester Bangs? I know who Lou Reed is, but I had never heard of Lester Bangs until I read this article.

Synopsis of article: "Wah... someone didn't praise my Hero Lester Bangs. Wah wah wah... I try to sound edgy like him by I have no sense of subtext and never really understood Bangs' writing or that Bangs deeply admired Lou Reed, and called him "the real deal" on a few occassions. Wah... I wrote a biography no one cares about and I need attention. Wah wah wah." Lou Reed is way out of your league. lol.

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Thomas Conner

Thomas Conner covers pop music for the Chicago Sun-Times. Contact him via e-mail.

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