Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung

Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung



The Pequod Review:

Lester Bangs was one of the great 1970s rock critics, whose work has an unusual combination of intelligence and passion — the latter of which was so crucially missing from many other contemporary music critics. Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung collects Bangs's early 1970s essays, reviews, and profiles written for a variety of publications, including Creem, Rolling Stone, and the Village Voice. In these pieces, Bangs celebrates underappreciated records (such as Count Five’s Psychotic Reaction), and offers perceptive reassessments of albums like Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks. His essays are personal and engaging, full of alternately brilliant and nutty observations, and are often very funny too. 

Here he describes Iggy Pop:

You’re goddam right Iggy Stooge is a damn fool. He does a lot better job of making a fool of himself on stage and vinyl than almost any other performer I’ve ever seen. That is one of his genius’s central facets. What we need are more rock “stars” willing to make fools of themselves… [until] they have not one shred of dignity or mythic corona left.

And on Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica:

Like almost all of Beefheart's recorded work, it was not even "ahead" of its time in 1969. Then and now, it stands outside time, trends, fads, hypes, the rise and fall of whole genres eclectic as walking Christmas trees, constituting a genre unto itself: truly, a musical Monolith if ever there was one.

Throughout his work, Bangs tried to place musicians in the overall cultural landscape, and drew parallels with artists in other genres. Here for example, he describes how Van Morrison’s masterpiece grew into his all-time favorite album:

Astral Weeks insofar as it can be pinned down, is a record about people stunned by life, completely overwhelmed, stalled in their skins, their ages and selves, paralyzed by the enormity of what in one moment of vision they can comprehend. It is a precious and terrible gift, born of a terrible truth, because what they see is both infinitely beautiful and terminally horrifying: the unlimited human ability to create or destroy, according to whim. It’s no Eastern mystic or psychedelic vision of the emerald beyond, nor is it some Baudelairean perception of the beauty of sleaze and grotesquerie. Maybe what it boils down to is one moment’s knowledge of the miracle of life, with its inevitable concomitant, a vertiginous glimpse of the capacity to be hurt, and the capacity to inflict that hurt.

And here is Bangs on rock music more generally:

“Art", "Bop" and "rock and roll" and whatever is all just a joke and a mistake, just a hunka foolishness so stop treating it with any seriousness or respect at all and just recognize the fact that it's nothing but a wham-o toy to bash around as you please in the nursery, it's nothing but a goddam Bonusburger so just gobble the stupid thing and burp and go for the next one tomorrow; and don't worry about the fact that it's a joke and a mistake and a bunch of foolishness as if that's gonna cause people to disregard it and do it in or let it dry up and die, because it is the strongest, most virulent, most invincible Superjoke in history, nothing could ever destroy it ever, and the reason for that is precisely that it is a joke, a mistake, foolishness. The first mistake of art is to assume that it's serious.


The trend toward narcissistic flair has been responsible in large part for smiting rock with the superstar virus, which revolves around the substituting of attitudes and flamboyant trappings, into which the audience can project their fantasies, for the simple desire to make music, get loose, knock the folks out or get ‘em up dancin.’ It’s not enough just to do those things anymore; what you must do instead if you want success on any large scale is figure a way of getting yourself associated in the audience’s mind with their pieties and their sense of “community,” i.e., ram it home that you’re one of THEM; or, alternately, deck and bake yourself into an image configuration so blatant or outrageous that you become a culture myth.

This is everything rock music criticism should be.