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the pioneer of Dylan Studies; writer, public speaker, critic; became a Doctor of Letters in 2015 (awarded by the University of York, UK)

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Monday, April 30, 2007


Today (April 30) is, unbelievably, the 25th anniversary of Lester Bangs' death (at age 33). No-one will ever pay him a fonder tribute than did Cameron Crowe in his touching film Almost Famous (2000), but here is the short entry centred around him in The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia:

Bangs, Lester, the Black Panthers and Bob
The Desire song ‘Sara’ includes ‘Stayin’ up for days in the Chelsea Hotel / Writin’ “Sad-Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands” for you'. The subject was memorably polemicised by rock critic Lester Bangs (1948-1982) in a funny, wrong-headed froth of a review of Desire: ‘...if he really did spend days on end sitting up in the Chelsea sweating over lines like “your streetcar visions which you place on the grass”, then he is stupider than we ever gave him credit for.’

This was from a piece titled ‘Bob Dylan’s Dalliance With Mafia Chic’, from 1976. Bangs’ phrase ‘Mafia chic’ picks up the coinage of Tom Wolfe from his book Radical Chic And Mau-Mauing The Flak-Catchers, 1970, in which he excoriated New York socialites for their dalliance with Black Power, focussing on the appearance of prominent Black Panthers at a Leonard Bernstein party.

Bangs, likewise, duly excoriates Bob Dylan. An alleged meeting in 1970 between Bob Dylan and Black Panthers Huey Newton and David Hilliard had been mooted by Dylan’s first biographer, ANTHONY SCADUTO, in the New York Times in 1971, and discussed in ‘A Profile Of HOWARD ALK’ by Dylan’s third biographer, CLINTON HEYLIN (with research assistance by George Webber), in All Across The Telegraph: A Bob Dylan Handbook, 1987.

Leslie Conway Bangs, born in Escondido, California, on December 14, 1948, began writing freelance in 1969, starting with Rolling Stone but later for other music magazines, for The Village Voice, and for Playboy and Penthouse, his main influences beat authors (though he often comes close to sounding like HUNTER S. THOMPSON). In 1973 he was banned from Rolling Stone by JANN WENNER for being ‘disrespectful to musicians’. He died of an overdose on April 30, 1982.

[Lester Bangs: ‘Bob Dylan’s Dalliance With Mafia Chic’, Creem no.7, Birmingham Michigan, Apr 1976; republished Thomson & Gutman: The Dylan Companion, 1990. Anthony Scaduto: ‘Won’t You Listen To The Lambs, Bob Dylan?’, New York Times, 28 Nov 1971. (Tom Wolfe’s later essay on the same period, ‘Funky Chic’, is collected in Mauve Gloves & Madmen, Clutter & Vine, 1976.)]


Blogger zookie said...

I love the encyclopedia, Michael. Just a big word of thanks! PS - I have my own Dylan blog.

5:15 am  

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