Let It Blurt : The Life and Times of Lester Bangs, America's Greatest Rock Critic
Let It Blurt is the raucous and righteous biography of Lester Bangs (1949-82)--the gonzo journalist, gutter poet, and romantic visionary of rock criticism. No writer on rock 'n' roll ever lived harder or wrote better--more passionately, more compellingly, more penetratingly. He lived the rock 'n' roll lifestyle, guzzling booze and Romilar like water, matching its energy in prose that erupted from the pages of Rolling Stone, Creem,and The Village Voice. Bangs agitated in the seventies for sounds that were harsher, louder, more electric, and more alive, in the course of which he charted and defined the aesthetics of heavy metal and punk. He was treated as a peer by such brash visionaries as Lou Reed, Patti Smith, Richard Hell, Captain Beefheart, The Clash, Debbie Harry, and other luminaries. Let It Blurtis a scrupulously researched account of Lester Bangs's fascinating (if often tawdry and unappetizing) life story, as well as a window on rock criticism and rock culture in their most turbulent and creative years. It includes a never-before-published piece by Bangs, the hilarious "How to Be a Rock Critic," in which he reveals the secrets of his dubious, freeloading trade
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April 17, 2000
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Excerpt from Let It Blurt by Jim DeRogatis
The Closed Circle Conway Bangs needed a drink. He chain-smoked while pacing nervously in the cool night air outside Escondido Community Hospital--a fancy name for a tiny clinic run by one doctor in a wood-frame house only a little bigger than most of the others here amid the Southern California orange groves. From time to time he heard his wife cry out, and he knew that she must be hurting. Complaining about the pains of the flesh was not the way of the Jehovah's Witnesses, and Norma was nothing if not a faithful soldier. The doctor had urged Conway to talk some sense into his wife. There were risks in having a child at age forty-three, but Norma wouldn't hear any talk of abortion. The Witnesses forbade it under any circumstances, including a fatal threat to the mother. Conway didn't have much use for his wife's religion, but for once he was glad she stood her ground. A few years earlier the prison doctor had told him he'd never have a child. Them doctors seemed to be wrong a lot, he thought, because his son was born without complications at two minutes before eleven on the night of December 13, 1948. The baby arrived weighing eight pounds, eight ounces and exercising what sounded like an extremely healthy pair of lungs. The couple named him Leslie Conway in honor of his father, Conway Leslie. Once he saw that Norma and the boy were resting peacefully, Conway ran to spread the news to the rest of the family. "Conway was thrilled to death," said his twenty-one-year-old stepdaughter, Ann St. Clair, one of three children from Norma's first marriage. "When he came up to the house where my husband Ray and I lived, he told us that he had the most beautiful son in the world. Because Leslie was born with a full head of black hair--enough for three or four babies!--I didn't think he was very pretty, but that didn't make any difference. That was Conway's baby boy." From Ann and Ray's place Conway went to see Ben Catching, Jr., Norma's eldest son. At twenty-three Ben already had a four-year-old boy of his own, Ben Catching III. The two men drove trucks for Escondido Transit Mix. After work they would sit outside Conway and Norma's small rented house near Highway 395, drinking beer on the rickety front porch. Early on the morning of December 14 they drank a toast to young Leslie Bangs. For several generations on both sides Leslie's forebears were migratory Southwestern farm workers. The families' roots in the United States stretched back far enough for the current members to have forgotten the Old World traditions and even their particular European heritages. They shared some Scottish and English blood, no doubt, and possibly some Irish and German as well. Basically they were the sort of people portrayed in William Faulkner's "Barn Burning" and Nelson Algren's A Walk on the Wild Side. At the time they would have been called Arkies, Okies, drifters, or crackers. In his less charitable moments a grown-up Leslie would call them "white trash." Leslie's paternal grandparents Gady and Leota Bangs crossed the border from Arkansas to Texas around the turn of the century. They settled in the country between the small towns of Cooper and Enlow about ninety miles northeast of Dallas. Gady farmed, brewed bootleg whiskey, and drank, though not necessarily in that order. A broad, squat man with a penchant for oversize cowboy hats, he was as unpleasant and churlish as the plump, round-faced Leota was sweet and loving. The couple raised five daughters and two sons, including Conway Leslie, born on August 25, 1915. His middle name paid tribute to the sheriff of Delta County, but the family friend never did his namesake any favors. In fact, he was one of the men who sent Conway to prison. Conway's first arrest came a few months before his eighteenth birthday, six years after he dropped out of school in the seventh grade. Charged with four counts of burgla