Anyone who’s written about music since the ‘70s (and not been a boring dipshit about it) owes a debt to the great rock critic and giant smartass Lester Bangs. He distinguished himself as a opinionated contrarian early in his career by dismissing Black Sabbath’s debut as “like Cream but worse,” and was fired from Rolling Stone in the early ‘70s for being insufficiently obsequious. The man’s outsized personality, maverick style and overdose death in 1982 combine to make his legend as a writer beyond huge.
So one could be forgiven for forgetting that he was a musician in his own right, too.
Dangerous Minds already shared Bangs’ 1976 duet with Pere Ubu’s Peter Laughner (another member of the died-too-young club), but when I found, on the wonderful Egg City Radio sharity page, a post about a full length album with the acutely Bangsian title Jook Savages on the Brazos, recorded by Bangs in 1981 with the Austin, TX band the Delinquents, I was a bit floored, as I had no idea it existed. I was aware of his LP with Birdland, a band he formed with Mickey Leigh (Joey Ramone’s brother), but the Delinquents record has eluded me, possibly since it has been bafflingly out of print for about ever. It was released in 1981 on a label called Live Wire, which was owned by Delinquents guitarist Brian Curley, who would later go on to further renown as a Roky Erickson sideman. It would be reissued on CD once, in Germany, in 1995. And that’s it. How is that possible?
Bangs himself offered a typically rambling account of working with the band in the essay “Notes on Austin,” reprinted in Main Lines, Blood Feasts, and Bad Taste:
Austin, laid-back and somewhat indulgent as it is, might be a terrible place for a New Yorker or anyone who wants to move and shake culture or corporations but it’s an undeniably great place to start a band, as I recently learned. No paranoia, no career hang-ups. no star trips (well, not usually), no heroin, no your drummer informing you at Thursday’s rehearsal that he’s just gotta play with this “Smoke on the Water” copy band Friday night instead of with you at CBGB’s because he says he desperately needs the money even though he lives with his parents in Westchester. None of that kind of stuff. I met this band called the Delinquents, we said, “Okay, let’s do it,” I took my lyrics and guitar down there and we wrote three songs the first rehearsal and a record FIVE the second. Took me months to get a decent set of songs written with the last buncha assholes I worked with in New York, and longer to actually make it onto the stage with out oh-so-elaborate “show” all worked out. Six weeks here, from first rehearsal to Duke’s opening where we wowed ‘em unto St. Vitus in the aisles. It’s almost too easy to make music in this town. The Delinquents have their own thing as well as working with me (in fact they sound completely different in the two context), and their thing is surf punks. Dick Dale and “Telstar” and alien beach parties and rantin’ ‘n’ ravin’ about whoever double-crossed you this time while the guitars flare free. Of course they’re great (I think), why else would I work with them? No, they suck. They act real mad when they sing sometimes, which is cute. Do I sound supercilious? Well I don’t mean to. It’s just that this I feel is the essence of punk. When all is said and done.
I’m going to have to ask some of my friends who currently live and make music in Austin about that ‘graf…
A quick listen reveals a really appealing, laid-back lo-fi album with a legit flair for country-rock—quite surprising, given that during his Creem years Bangs became known as an early champion of the music that would soon come to be understood as proto-punk. Check out “Life is not Worth Living (But Suicide is a Waste of Time)”:
More Lester Bangs after the jump…