Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Are Green Day Kicking Ass For the Working Class?

By Alexander Billet

Published in Dissident Voice

When a band like Green Day venture into the shark-infested waters of cover songs, there is good reason to expect a symphony of groans. For the past ten-plus years, they have been the poster boys for corporate rock. Since their breakout, they have mostly conjured up images of suburban teenage angst; the perfect soundtrack for smoking cigarettes behind the gym after school and prattling on about how mom and dad don’t understand, but not a band of much substance. To the deeply committed punk rock community (where I cut my teeth), they are the ultimate heresy: “sell outs.”

In a way, the three boys from Berkeley are still trying to shake that label with their latest foray: a cover of John Lennon’s “Working Class Hero” on Amnesty International’s Darfur benefit album. If you’re both a Green Day hater and a cover-song purist (not to mention a Lennon fan), you will already be rolling your eyes. You would also be missing the point.

Even the most jaded of music fans has to admit there is something to be said for the shift in the band’s material over the past few years. The world was rightfully surprised when American Idiot was released, not only that they released a record that was not only of substance, but that seemed to actually make a statement. In the political desert that was the 2004 elections, American Idiot’s release was a welcome oasis; one of the biggest bands in the world was actually taking sides!

Like it or not, Green Day has the attention of millions of listeners. What they say matters to a very large swath of understandably alienated youth. Anthony Roman, frontman for the politically charged Brooklyn based Radio 4 pointed out “a lot of people make fun of Green Day, but they’re the band that’s getting through to twelve and fourteen year old kids. They’re the band that’s getting to people when they’re at an impressionable age and letting them know what’s wrong with this country.” This is what made American Idiot important, what makes their version of “Working Class Hero” important too.

In a way, it is also strangely appropriate. This song was written not too long after Lennon had shed his “former Beatle” image and was coming into his own as a solo artist. In the radical years of the late sixties/early seventies, Lennon had identified himself as a revolutionary. “Working Class Hero” was a highlight of this era in his work. It is a calculating yet angry story of lower class alienation. And there is no doubt that it reached an audience who took his call to arms very seriously.

To be honest, Green Day’s version doesn’t quite measure up. Lennon’s original was right on the mark when he highlighted his powerful lyrics with nothing more than a lone acoustic guitar. Green Day’s attempt to “punk it up” with overdriven guitars and thumping drums, not to mention Billy Joe Armstong’s trademark nasal delivery, in the end just muddles the message.

But that does not pull away from what the revival of this song means in this troubled moment in time. “We wanted to do ‘Working Class Hero’ because its themes of alienation, class and social status really resonated with us” is Armstrong’s claim. And it would be naïve to think they’re the only ones. How much of Green Day’s ever-swelling fan base is made up of kids staring down a life of bagging groceries for a living? How many of them will resonate with what Lennon’s lyrics say: “as soon as you’re born they make you feel small,” or “they hurt you at home and they hit you at school?”

More importantly, how many of them will hear the issue of class talked about for perhaps the first time in their lives? In a country that is perpetually mis-labeled as middle class, the blackout on the growing ranks of the working poor is not an accident. We hear about a prosperous economy, rags to riches stories and the exploits of the rich and famous. We don’t hear about the millions without health care, the growing amount of McJobs and the biggest wealth gap in the industrialized world. For a young Green Day fan, angry and alienated at the world, this song may actually be something to identify with.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Fats Domino Returns to New Orleans Stage for First Post-Katrina Concert

It's great to hear his music return to New Orleans. That city needs it. -AB

From RollingStone.com

*****

Despite sixty-plus years in the business, New Orleans R&B icon Fats Domino is an exceptionally reluctant, nervous performer. His anxiety prior to closing the 2006 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival was such that he cancelled his performance mere hours before the set, causing friends and fans to wonder whether he would ever perform again.

But this past Saturday, the 79-year-old Domino returned to the stage for the first time since his rescue from Hurricane Katrina’s floodwaters. The hiatus diminished neither his sweet-tempered voice nor his robust piano chops. Taking the stage at fabled New Orleans venue Tipitina’s, the still-hearty legend squeezed eleven songs and a sprinkling of medleys into a scant thirty minutes.

Done up in his trademark natty attire, Domino opened with the loping “I’m Walkin’,” backed by a five-piece horn section that featured longtime tenor saxophonist Herb Hardesty. The band followed him through “Blueberry Hill,” “My Girl Josephine” and “I’m In Love Again” in quick succession.

With that, Domino stood up and attempted to exit stage right, only to be intercepted by friend and local news anchor Eric Paulsen, who gently suggested that perhaps a few more songs might be in order. How about “Blue Monday”?

So Domino returned to the piano, rolling his ample shoulders and grinning broadly as he pumped out trills and other flourishes. The sold-out crowd of 500 roared its approval for each familiar melody: “I’m Ready.” “Ain’t That A Shame.” “Shake, Rattle and Roll.” “Valley of Tears.” After a brief detour into “Natural Born Lover,” he circled back to “So Long,” his farewell. He barely paused long enough for Louisiana State Senator Diana E. Bajoie to proclaim May 19th Fats Domino Day before hustling off-stage and disappearing into the New Orleans night.

-- Keith Spera

Monday, May 21, 2007

Russell Simmons Responds...

Folks may remember my article on Simmons' response to the Imus debacle by eliminating the words "bitch," "ho," and "nigger" from radio play. Simmons got wind of the article, and posted it on the blog of his myspace page.

Here is what Simmons wrote, also on his blog:

"Alexander Billet's concerns are legitimate. Here is my response:

My intentions are sincere and heartfelt. When I endorsed former Lt.
Governor Michael Steele, I believed he was the best man for the job.
I'd seen his work at fighting poverty in Maryland as honest, good
and productive.

My trip to Africa is part of a huge undertaking to change the entire
diamond industry from the inside out. We created the Diamond
Empowerment Fund to lead the way toward making the diamond industry a
more conscious and giving community with a greater concern for Africa.

On the subject of rap lyrics, recent public outrage has caused self
reflection and I agree that if someone's mother or children want to
hear the words "bitch," "ho" and "nigger" they should go
to the club or buy the records."

My hope is to interview Simmons one on one. We obviously disagree, and I want to go more in depth as to why. Stay tuned for more info on the interview! -AB

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Mick Jones: "Joe Strummer would love the Libertines"

Truly moving. We miss you, Joe... -AB

from NME.com

*****

The Clash man recalls his old friend

The Clash's Mick Jones has declared that he is convinced Joe Strummer would have liked The Libertines.

Speaking in this week's issue of NME, Jones said he sent Strummer a copy of The Libertines' 2002 debut album just before the singer died.

Jones, who produced the record, said: "I think Joe would have liked the current music scene - it's really healthy at the moment. He would have liked Peter (Doherty), I'm sure. I'd done the first Libertines album before Joe died - I sent him a copy and I think he was pretty into it."

Sunday, May 13, 2007

I Got the BP Blues

By Alexander Billet

Published in Znet and Dissident Voice

Call me a purist, but I don’t think that music should be a part of advertising. To me, as well as thousands of other music junkies, a good song is so much more than a few bars with a catchy hook, or something to hum to pass the time. Good music is a living, breathing part of being human. A great song is one of the few places where a person can validate the myriad emotions and instincts that we are otherwise forced to repress and ignore. In other words, it helps us cope with and make sense of a confusing and frightening world.

Advertising, on the other hand, does the exact opposite. The sole function of a commercial is to divert attention away from reality and toward an image of trendiness or practicality. And in this upside down system, where millions are spent on marketing thirty different brands of toothpaste while countless children go without basic dental insurance, image is one of the only things the corporate hacks can rely on.

So when British Petroleum launched an ad campaign using a catchy, blues inflected tune to get us to ante up at the pump, I could only shake my head at how utterly cheap everything is to the suits at BP.

One has to hand it to them: the commercials themselves are pretty damn cute, and the song itself is so catchy that I still can’t get it dislodged from my brain a full day later. The ad is computer animated, showing four babies (!!!) driving a car, singing along to a tune by a little known group called Message of the Blues. “Say hey,” the refrain goes, “make the day a little better.”

I admit knowing absolutely nothing about Message of the Blues. And until this ad campaign started, I can guarantee neither did most other people. Their Myspace page lists them as unsigned, and they don’t appear to have a massive fan base for a local group. The songs on their page are nothing mind-blowing. They’re hip, laid back bits of jazzy pop-rock that, as I have said, are undeniably catchy; and I wouldn’t mind at all having them on my iPod.

The song in question was originally an ode to Los Angeles, with “LA” in place of the commercial’s “say hey.” Needless to say, the original is much better, with the ad not even including the groovy instrumental break — the song’s best part. Overall, this is a band with talent and solid musicianship.

Then it occurred to me: that the BP ad campaign is probably the best thing to ever happen to Message of the Blues. For an unsigned band searching for recognition, getting a song in a commercial must be like finding a genie in a bottle. It’s a one-way ticket to mainstream exposure.

How tragic is it that the only way a genuinely creative artist can only get a hearing is by going through the soulless edifice of corporate power? It’s the sad truth of being an artist in this world. But the extra tragedy comes from that this is a company with even more blood on its hands than most.

By now, it’s become almost cliché to rant about the evil of oil conglomerates (not that you’ll hear me complaining), and execs at BP have been trying to distance themselves from a near-demonic image in the mind of the public. Their previous campaign tried to put them on the map as an environmentally conscious firm. But saying BP is less exploitative compared to other oil companies is like saying Trent Lott is less of a bigot compared to David Duke.

Underneath the image BP is trying to cultivate, they are still part and parcel of the modus operandi of any oil company. They built their original empire on the back of the overthrow of the democratically elected Mossadeq government in Iran during the fifties. Today, they are supporters of the vastly unpopular Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan pipeline that runs through Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan. This pipeline has been the target of environmental, labor and indigenous rights activists since its inception. Their neglect for safety standards directly led to the Texas City refinery explosion in 2005 and the deaths of fifteen workers. And their presence in West Papua has bolstered Indonesia’s brutal occupation of that region. And the list goes on.

This is a far cry from the cool, happy-go-lucky image that the ads, and Message of the Blues’ song, convey. It is not “cool” to decimate the environment of a region. It is not “chill” to disregard safety standards. And it is certainly not “hip” to support brutal occupations and governments from Indonesia to Colombia.

It is hard to blame to Message of the Blues for jumping at the opportunity to get exposure. For countless talented artists and acts, those opportunities are few and far between. On the other hand, BP is making a move that is typically Machiavellian for an ad campaign. Ultimately they view the band more or less the same way they do their workers; as commodities; expendable and cheap. When they are done with the group, they will throw them away.

But the unfortunate upshot is that if Message of the Blues wants to achieve any measure of credibility and success, then the unfortunate fact is that from now on they will be forever trying to shake off the label of “those guys that did the BP ad.” That’s a hard rep to get rid of.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Tune of the Week: The Sex Pistols' "God Save the Queen"

"In honor" of the Queen's visit to the States. I think it's pretty ridiculous that there is any such thing as a monarch at all nowadays.

Who can forget when the Pistols played this on a boat floating by the Queen's Jubilee back in '77? It makes you want to go find a flat-bed truck and drive it past the White House during last night's white tie dinner, blasting this tune all the way. It also makes you wish Johnny Rotten hadn't become such a sell-out.

*****

God save the Queen
Her facist regime
They made you a moron
Potential h-bomb

God save the Queen
She ain't no human being
There's no future
In England's dreaming

Don't be told what you want
Don't be told what you need
There's no future, no future
No future for you

God save the Queen
We mean it man
We love our Queen
God saves

God save the Queen
'Cos those tourists are money
And our figure head
Is not what she seems

Oh God save history
God save your mad parade
Oh Lord God have mercy
All crimes are paid

When there's no future
How can there be sin
We're the flowers in the dustbin
We're the poison in the human machine
we're the future, your future

God save the Queen
We mean it man
We love our Queen
God saves

God save the Queen
We mean it man
And there's no future
In England's dreaming

No future (x3)
For you
No future (x3)
For me
No future (x3)
For you
No future, no future
For you

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Single Banned After it's Revealed as an Advertisement

Well, this is just flat-out shady. -AB

from NME.com

The track 'Style, Attract, Play' by Shocka Feat. Honeyshot has been banned by Radio 1 after it was revealed it was an advert for Shockwaves hair styling products.

The song, which had been played by DJs Judge Jules and Annie Nightingale, was pulled from the airwaves after it was revealed that the band Honeyshot were created by the advertising firm Saatchi & Saatchi.

The pop group is said to have been made so that companies could buy them "off the shelf" and covertly promote their brands.

The title of the song is the same as Shockwaves current advertising slogan of: "Style, Attract, Play."

A Radio 1 spokesperson said: "The track was presented to Radio 1 in the usual way, via a legitimate promotions company and we were not aware that it was a promotional tool for a hair product.

"As this is created by an advertising agency with the sole purpose of selling this product, and we do not play adverts, it is not something we would play again."

The track has also been played by XFM and Kiss.

Initially a press officer for Shockwaves denied all knowledge of the song, but later admitted that "there may be a link" between the two.

In an interview with Sunday Times last year Andrew Wilkie,the managing director of Gum the company's content division which created the band said Honeyshot offered a wealth of opportunity.

He said: "It could be as simple as sponsorship of a tour through to clothing that could be worn, drinks, cosmetics- all that stuff is possible."

Saatchi & Saatchi have yet to comment, reports The Guardian.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Rage Against the Machine Returns!

By Alexander Billet

Published in Dissident Voice

At this year’s Coachella Valley Festival, a long dormant specter returned to haunt the structures of power and profit. When Zack de la Rocha, Tom Morello, Tim Commerford and Brad Wilk took the stage on April 29th for the first of several shows, it was their first time in almost seven years.

But it couldn’t have happened at a better time. And if there is one thing that Rage Against the Machine know well, it’s good timing.

When RATM’s breakout single “Killing in the Name” hit in 1993, the images of the Los Angeles uprising was still fresh in the world’s mind. The song’s freshness was unmatched at the time. Long before the advent of “rapcore,” the LA based outfit’s blend of skilled MC-ing and mind-bending guitar work was a shock to the shoe-gazing of grunge and decadence of geriatric hair-metal. It is easy to forget, but at the time, RATM was doing something completely new, original, and musically revolutionary.

Most importantly, the song’s refrain, “some of those that work forces are the same that burn crosses,” rang true for the millions outraged by the bald-faced racism put on display by the Rodney King trial. And the repetition of “fuck you I won’t do what you tell me” was undoubtedly the motto of the thousands who rioted after King’s badge-wearing assailants were acquitted.

That a rock band could not only attempt to hold a mirror up to reality, but actually engage in smashing and shaping it, was something that had not been seen on Rage’s level since the 1960s. As the stultifying 80s gave way to small but significant cracks in the ruling class agenda, Rage echoed the sentiment that “business as usual” wasn’t going to cut it anymore.

Their second album Evil Empire would only solidify their position at the forefront of political pop culture. “People of the Sun” was heavily influenced by the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas, Mexico. The group would also become public supporters of the burgeoning Students Against Sweatshops movement, as well as play benefit shows for the growing campaigns around Mumia Abu-Jamal.

By the beginning of the 21st century, hundreds of thousands had marched in Seattle, Quebec and Prague against the G8, IMF and World Bank, and against the idea that a tiny group of people should have control over the planet’s resources. When the slogan “another world is possible” was raised, its urgency was felt by millions.

Significantly, this was also at the height of RATM’s popularity. Sports-writer and activist Dave Zirin, who was in Genoa, Italy for the chaotic demonstrations against the G8, remembers a flat bed truck blasting the group’s music as the first day of protests began. “I thought it was amazing that these young Italian kids, none of whom seemed to speak a lick of English, were setting off a rebellion with this music,” says Zirin.

This synchronicity between music and protest had come to personify Rage’s work. Their third album The Battle of Los Angeles was filled with incendiary tunes that, in De la Rocha’s words, “give volume to various struggles throughout the world.” But the proof of their commitment, as always, was in their actions. When the 2000 Democratic National Convention was met with large demonstrations, Rage played to the mass of protesters outside. It has since become an infamous show.

So while RATM’s breakup in 2000 came as a shock to the thousands who had been inspired by the group’s radical message, there was an almost eerie serendipity that accompanied it. Less than a year after the band’s demise, 9/11 would send the slow but steady rise in consciousness and struggle into a downward spiral. The anti-globalization movement in the US collapsed. Striking dock-workers were crushed for jeopardizing “national security.” And Bush was allowed to invade Afghanistan with minimal opposition. The shift in US politics was sharp. Despite the group not even being together anymore, RATM’s website was shut down by the FBI for several days in the aftermath of 9/11.

But a lot has happened in six years. Bush, having squandered a free ride to rehabilitate US empire, now has approval ratings below thirty percent. Rage guitarist Tom Morello’s sentiment of living in a “right-wing purgatory” no doubt finds sympathy among a whole host of the population.

But there is more to it than this. A vast majority of the US opposes the occupation of Iraq. Most people are appalled by low wages and the lack of decent health care in this country. Despite a climate of vicious immigrant scapegoating, there is wide support for citizenship for undocumented workers. And since the 2006 elections, more people are opening up to the idea of struggling for a better world.

Similarly, the dissatisfaction with Bush and company has lead to some small rumblings in the world of music. Some of today’s most popular acts, from Linkin Park to Nine Inch Nails, have been releasing anti-war, anti-Bush material. In other words, the opportunity for radical artists to reach a new generation of activists with their music and ideas is greater than it’s been since before 9/11.

True to form, when De la Rocha and Morello staged a warm-up gig at Chicago’s House of Blues in mid-April, it was to celebrate the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ victory over McDonald’s in the tomato fields. And though the struggle of farm workers takes precedence, if Rage’s reunion proves permanent, the left will have one more thing to celebrate.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Sharpton Caving to Imus

Okay, this is getting ridiculous. If Sharpton wants to be a civil rights leader he should be fighting racism and sexism in society as a whole, not setting his sights on hip-hop. As I have said before, this only validates Imus' excuse. An incredibly unfortunate act. -AB

****

From Spin.com

Never one to be outdone, Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network, a "political, social, and activist-oriented organization," has assembled the "March for Decency," a protest this Thursday (May 3) in New York City aimed at forcing music labels to censor the use of the words "bitch," "ho," and "n*gger" in rap music -- a hot topic in the wake of Don Imus' controversial on-air slurs. The march, also commemorating what would have been the 74th birthday of James Brown, a renowned advocate for non-vulgar music, will kick off at 3 P.M. in front of the Sony Building on 55th and Madison, then lead through Midtown Manhattan, passing the office buildings of Warner Music Group and Universal as well.

"I think it is important that we make a strong appeal as consumers to demand standards that will not offend us or dehumanize us based on race, gender, or any other category," Sharpton said in a press conference. Joining Sharpton will be Brown's daughters as well as Brooklyn Councilwoman Darlene Mealy and Tamika Mallory, NAN's Decency Initiative Director. "We aren't marching against artists -- we are marching against record companies to ban these words completely," said Mallory. "We must reshape the positive culture in music, and redefine images of women in media. We will no longer tolerate misogyny and racism as a mainstream form of entertainment for our children."

Meanwhile, the protest and its universal initiative are up for debate across the web. Many hip-hop fans cite the first amendment and genuine street culture as protection and motivation for the freedoms of such art, while others agree with Sharpton, claiming vulgar and demeaning lyrics have no place in music.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

The Mad, Loud and Brilliant World of Lester Bangs

By Alexander Billet

Twenty-five years. In music, it's a span of time that can be an eternity, and yet last no longer the blink of an eye. So much can change. So much can stay the same.

One wonders what Lester Bangs would say about music today. The rise of hip-hop. Internet downloading (hell, the internet, period). Would he really lay into the Justins and Christinas of the world? We'll never know. The "what ifs" that arise when one thinks of the untimely departure of Bangs, considered to be rock n' roll's greatest scribe, are staggering.

A quarter century ago, he overdosed when trying to treat a cold with darvon and valium. It's a loss that we still feel today. Not a single music journalist worth their salt does not cite Bangs as an influence. So today, when so much has changed yet stayed the same, it is worth looking at why this man, who believed in his very soul that rock n’ roll was a truly “democratic art form,” could remain the legend he is.

Bangs was born to Jehovah’s Witness parents in California in 1948. His mother was fanatically dedicated to the vision of the Second Coming, and his father was an alcoholic who frequently disappeared for weeks on end. When he was nine, Bangs’ father vanished for good. Lester was told that he burned to death in a fire.

This intensely alienating childhood—an absent father and religious zealot mother—took a toll on the young Bangs. Not surprisingly, he began to rebel by venturing outside of his mother’s strict boundaries. He read Kerouac and became enthralled in the free jazz of the 60s. Davis, Coltrane, Mingus. The freedom, the unrestricted expression of jazz and the Beat generation was an obvious attraction compared to the insulated apocalypse-mongering of the local Jehovah’s Witness chapter.

But the straw that broke the camel’s back came in the form of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Bangs would describe his first experience listening to them as “a supernatural visitation, a cataclysmic experience of Wagnerian power that transcended music.” Not long after, he was expelled from the Witnesses and struck out on a two-year jaunt dedicated to sex, drugs and rock n’ roll.

When he came out the other side (which included a brief stint with the Hell’s Angels, though certainly not as a member), he gave journalism a try. His first real effort came in the form of a scathing review of the MC5’s Kick Out the Jams. In a now infamous move, he sent the article into Rolling Stone with a note attached: “Look, fuckheads, I’m as good as any writer you’ve got in there. You’d better print this or give me the reason why!” Rather than offer up a reason, RS printed this review.

It was this gutsy, uncompromising outlook that set Bangs apart in the world of rock journalism. Whether he was singing a band’s praises or ruthlessly cutting them down, the reader always knew which side Bangs stood on.

His tastes reflected this brash attitude. Fellow rock journo Nick Kent points out that by the late sixties Bangs had little time for the Beatles or Bob Dylan. He made no bones about calling Jim Morrison a buffoon. He had dismissed the Stones as irrelevant has-beens: “[T]he Stones have become oblique in their old age…” Rather, he preferred sticking with that gritty, seedy side of rock n’ roll that poked its head out only occasionally by that time. He loved the Stooges and the Velvet Underground, and Lou Reed would remain on of his heroes. Through all of this, it was clear that he held rock up to an undeniably high standard.

Bangs was the kind of writer that could tear your guts out and make it tickle. His writing style was a flowing, poetic and acerbically funny. His impatience with the circus that rock had become is obvious in this 1981 review of Stevie Nicks’ Bella Donna:

“Stevie Nicks may be a space case, a terminal mutation of the genus Superstar (her manicurist gets a liner credit), and at times emetically narcissistic—the cover, which is thoroughly repulsive from where I sit as a man or graphix fan, is the worst thing about Bella Donna, her successful bid for solo stardom. The best things about it are state-of-the-art production, the husky passion of her voice, and her melodies, which are so tenacious I’m still listening a full two months after I bought this record and decided it was a bunch of shit.”

This humor and willingness to not take himself all-too-seriously, gave the impression we weren’t reading the tome of some academic music expert, but a fan, just like you and me.

At the time, this was sorely needed. Bangs wrote at that crucial era; between rock's unpredictable apex coinciding with the rebellion of the late sixties and before the advent of hip-hop, when it looked as if the tentacles of the biz might succeed in wrapping themselves around rock n’ roll and squeezing out all that had made it vibrant. The Bangs portrayed by Phillip Seymour Hoffman in Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous calls it a "death rattle.” As the stadiums got bigger and the contracts more lucrative, so did grow the temptation for the critics to follow the bands into the plush hotel rooms and ivory towers. Bangs resisted. He was a true believer that rock had to stay dirty, ugly, rebellious and incendiary.

But this true belief, combined with a flowing and poetic writing style, would not always lead to the praise he may have sought. Jann Wenner, Rolling Stone’s editor then and now, apparently had little faith in Bangs’ abilities and wouldn’t let him take any weightier assignments. To Wenner, Bangs was a rogue, a loose cannon. To Bangs, though, he was simply speaking his mind. In 1971, a frustrated Bangs left RS and started writing for Creem, and was arguably one of the writers that brought the magazine to its present cult status.

When punk reared its head in the mid-seventies, Bangs was supportive (though, as always, critical). Punk seemed to be a breath of fresh air. Bangs referred to it as the time when “buying records became fun again.” The writing of this era was some of his best. Though he took issue with much of the constant droning of “boredom” that was endemic in punk’s early days, he saw the new genre as a return to the days when rock n’ roll actually mattered to people’s everyday life. He put it brilliantly in his account of following the Clash on tour:

“[I]f rock n’ roll is truly the democratic art form, then the democracy has got to begin at home; that is, the everlasting and totally disgusting walls between artists and audience must come down, elitism must perish, the ‘stars’ have got to be humanized, demythologized, and the audience has got to be treated with more respect. Otherwise it’s all a shuck, a rip-off, and the music is as dead as the Stones’ and Led Zep’s has become.”

Truer words have seldom been written about music. In this line, like so many others, Bangs had made clear both the potential of music and all the old crap that was weighing it down. Such faith in the power of true creativity, unfettered by the shackles of money-making and shallowness, is seldom seen in music journalism. By this time, Bangs had left Creem, had moved to Manhattan and was contributing to the Village Voice.

Yet Bangs still found himself frustrated creatively. As Kent, also a friend of Bangs, points out, he “wanted to be viewed as a great writer, yet he was gaining notoriety as a gonzo journalist—a phrase he couldn’t stomach, because it reminded him too much of his nemesis Hunter S. Thompson. He was wasting his time writing about people who looked down on him as though he were a disturbed stalker.”

The frustration of having a message, of wanting to rock the boat but not finding enough people to join in, may have been what did him in. Like his father, Bangs relied on alcohol and drugs as a vent for his anger. When he slipped into a drug induced coma and died at the age of 33 on April 30, 1982, he was listening to the Human League’s Dare, whose decadent synth-pop sound would all but overtake rock n’ roll in the 1980s.

There is a twisted irony in the fact that twenty-five years after his death, Bangs is considered the greatest rock critic of all time, while he never achieved this recognition during his life. What his writing has achieved since his death is something that few other writers have been able to: he reminded us exactly what it is that we love so much about rock n’ roll.

Lester Bangs was a man whose undying faith in the power of music guided him. It is bittersweet that he is not here today to receive the recognition he truly deserved.