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39 of 44 people found the following review helpful
on April 19, 2000
Lester Bangs had the energy for writing that Iggy Pop and Mick Jagger had for rock and roll, back when they cared; and Lester Bangs never stopped caring. His writings deserve their legendary status, and a great reason to buy this book is to read more of them, in excerpt. But the story of his life is even more fascinating and poignant than you might have expected. These things make Let It Blurt a must-read for anyone who's taken the trouble to check out readers' reviews of this fine biography. It suffers, like most books on rock, from a glibness of tone, and perhaps even from Jim DeRogatis's reverence for Bangs - but make no mistake, it's riveting. Also included: lyrics to a few of Bangs' own songs, including the eponymous "Let It Blurt." The book makes me miss Lester Bangs more than ever.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on July 6, 2001
"Let it Blurt" is an important history lesson in the rock journalism and criticism that many of us take for granted. I for one never gave any thought to its origins, and assumed music reviews have been around since the advent of magazines. Little did I know that it was championed by charismatic dreamers, frustrated musicians, and firebrands who saw the forum as a way through which to turn others on to the music they were so passionate about. In a lot of ways, the early critics for magazines like Rolling Stone and Creem were like "old school" athletes- folks who weren't paid much, and did it for the love of the game. Lester Bangs wrote in order exorcise his own feelings about music, while broadcast his feelings to a broader audience, whether they took the form of passionate endorsements, angry tirades, or merely exorcised demons.
One of the salient points made by DeRogatis is that when Bangs wrote reviews, he used the word "we", so as to implicate the reading audience, "addressing his readers as fellow appreciators instead of mere consumers." In other words, Bangs was writing for the audience instead of to it. He was a music fan first, and a writer second. Now, however, reviewers seem more out to pitch product, or at the very least, to avoid confrontation or- God forbid- being blacklisted from a band or record company's party and/or press release invitation list.
As a character study/biography independent of a rock criticism history, the story of Lester Bangs is captivating. His celebrity was certainly unconventional, and on the periphery of the oft-told stories of rock stars. He had the addictive personality, the creativity, and the personal demons of a rock star, but communicated through a different- though overlapping- medium. He seemed like a loveable bear of a guy- no saint, to be sure- but someone you could have a few beers with while engaging in a frank discussion of (what's wrong with) your favorite band. Bangs clearly struggled with the unrealized dreams, girl problems, and increasingly-politically correct world that most of us do.
DeRogatis' research was impeccable, and it is clear that Bangs was a hero of his. Furthermore, the writings of Bangs that are quoted throughout make the book read like an interview. While DeRogatis clearly is biased in his admiration for Lester, his writing was never fawning, nor did it gloss over the character's flaws. Lastly, there is a well chosen piece from Bangs at the end- a sarcastic piece on how to be a rock critic. Anyone who enjoyed this book will surely be pursuing more of Bangs' writing. I know I will.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on August 11, 2000
Like many martyrs, Lester Bangs did not die for his cause, he WAS his cause and he died. This book does his life justice, because it lets Lester's writing, actions and body odor tell the good and bad of his story. I didn't finish this book feeling Lester was a God. I finished it feeling like I'd met someone who reveled in his humanity to the point where everyone who knew him either loved or hated him for doing so. Never before have I been so inspired by a writer -- not from reading his work, appendix one is the first of his writings I've ever read in its entirety -- but from simply reading about how he lived his life. The freedom and zeal with which he so naturally lived and wrote was truly a gift to me though it may have been a curse for him.
Turning to the author, I think DeRogatis' strong point is definitely his exhaustive, perfectly detailed research. His prose -- nothing special beyond its dutiful journalistic clarity -- serves his years of investigation well. I guess when you're reading a book about a literary stylist like Lester, the biographer's writing style can pale in comparison to even the few short examples of Lester's writing included in the book. But perhaps that's just another instance of Lester's expansive personality overshadowing everything around him -- even the pages of his own biography.
This book tells the story of one of the greatest characters in rock and roll AND American culture. Lester belongs in the same league as Woody Guthrie, Jack Kerouac and Andy Kaufman (who, in certain pictures, I thought he eerily resembled) -- artists cursed with a singular voice who lived in a society that refused to let it blurt loud enough.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on May 24, 2000
Jim DeRogatis interviewed me for this book about two years ago and I am delighted by the end result. Jim's account is accurate and compelling. Lester was a handful (he was a hellacious housemate), but he was also a funny, sweet and sensitive man...an amazing writer and thinker. I loved him. I'm so glad that this book is out there finally. Lester was one of our most valuable American literary observers and Jim's book assures his well-deserved prominent place in the pantheon of great American writers. Living, working with and publishing Lester Bangs was, without a doubt, one of the highlights of my life.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on August 12, 2001
This is a welcome, if rather brief and somewhat flimsy, addition to the woefully incomplete Lester Bangs canon, as of this date represented solely by Greil Marcus' anthology "Psychotic Reactions and Carb. Dung." Derogatis has interviewed plenty and done his research, and of all the young rock critics out there today, he's probably the one closest to emulating Lester's style and ideas, so credwise he's ok.
But while there are some interesting revelations about Lester's boyhood and events in his life, the book rarely does more than scratch the surface of Bangs' writing. Derogatis seems content to gather up numerous chunks of information and a few quotes from Lester, and decide that that alone should tell the story. And in one sense, I suppose it does, but can't help but feel that this book could use more depth. At times, Derogatis seems headed in that direction - periodically, he makes reference to some of Bangs' limitations, or acknowledges that Lester sometimes wasn't the greatest person in the world. I enjoy these tough looks at one of my literary idols - it makes his great pieces all the more impressive. But that's as far as the author will go, and the majority of the book is filled with the kind of pussy-footed trepidation that seperates intellectual criticism from the more suspect fan bio.
Don't get me wrong, I'm a fan, too, just like Derogatis. But given the opportunity to write about a man who was both talented and interesting, Derogatis only goes about halfway. There's still much to enjoy, and plenty of facts, anecdotes and gossip about the 70's rock scene to keep even the well-informed intrigued. Though disappointed, I still enjoyed it, and can only hope that it will help bring about a new and expanded anthology of Lester's work. Greil's was great, but limited in scope (naturally - it reflected the interests of the compiler, which is fine) - Bangs' essays on the Ramones, Black Sabbath, Miles Davis, reggae, even Grand Funk Railroad, all should be made available to those curious about the full Lester Bangs story. Contact your local publishing house today.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on May 1, 2000
And that's truly what Bangs was, a rock and roll star. He used his criticism to try to change the world just as Lou Reed and other singers used music. That Bangs could be called a collegue and an equal to the biggest rock acts of his time shows just how much rock critcism (and pretty much all writing about celebrities) has changed over the last 20 years. Back when Bangs was writing he could (and did) take on singers head on, baiting them, insulting them, picking fights when he felt the urge. It's hard to believe that today Bangs would get near any big-time act, out of the record label's fear that he would rip their precious "artists" limb from limb.
But Bangs was far more than a hatchet man. He loved music with a passion that radiates out from his prose. He was one of the great stylists of his day, cranking out pieces that explode with all the energy and anger of the best rock and roll. He loved great music and hated lazy and pretentious performers who put out crap and expected the world to bow down. Lester was never the sort to bow down.
Derogatis does an excellent job of describing how the boy from El Cajon metamorphosized into the force of nature that blew through Detroit and New York. He also shows the terrible toll that drugs and alcohol took on him, which certainly hastened the end of his life. He died at 33 and he was an old, old 33.
You shouldn't read this book without also reading "Psychotic Reactions and Carburator Dung", which is a collection of Bangs' work that I read in college. I certainly hope there will be a revival of interest in Bangs and more of his work will be published again. You just gotta read this guy's work, it'll blow your doors off. And Derogatis does a fine job of revealing the man behind the roar. END
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
HALL OF FAMEon December 17, 2001
This brilliant biography of Lester Bangs captures the essence of the man and what he was about with great clarity. DeRogatis writes with passion (I mean, he makes Lester's passionate sense of life come alive) and unlocks great swathes of rock culture and rock literature that I had not been aware of. It pleases me to know that Bangs was a kind person with integrity. The afterword covers his legacy in the work of music writers, in the lyrics of other artists, in his musical influence on certain alt-country bands, and in the book "Psychotic Reactions," a compilation of his work by Greil Marcus. The appendices include Lester's "How To Be A Rock Critic" and some of his lyrics, and the book provides copious notes, sources and a wonderful bibliography of Bangs' articles, reviews, books, contributions to anthologies and encyclopedias, letters and recordings, plus articles about him by other authors. It is well-illustrated throughout. Let It Blurt is a classic, both as a fascinating life story and history of rock criticism, and as a valuable reference source to Bangs' work.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on September 20, 2000
I found this a most entertaining read. Lester Bangs is the most important critic in Rock history, not because of his writing style (which is unmatched), but because of his understanding of the subject matter. Jim's unflinching portrait of the troubled yet loveable critic makes you want to read everything Lester ever published. If you love music, and the critisism of it, do yourself a favor and read this book. You will not be disappointed.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
If you want to experience Lester Bangs' writing, buy one of the many rock criticism compendiums that include his reviews. If you want to know what it was like in the 70s and 80s, in the hey day of rock--and the rock criticism Bangs helped invent--buy Let It Blurt. While it may seem that Derogatis' understated book is "just the facts," anyone who has experience writing at book length will recognize that Derogatis not only did an extraordinary job of reporting, he then did a brilliant and subtle job of selecting and arranging the information so that the book is real page-turner. I've purchased quite a few books by big-name journalists only to find them to be full of hyperventilation and name dropping. In contrast, Derogatis sticks with his story, and never gets sidetracked telling anecdotes about the glitterati. As a small-time music critic working in New England in the 70s, I had passing acquaintances with a number of the people mentioned in this book (not Bangs, though) and loved the way that Derogatis portrayed each of them using just a few key details. Absolutely top-notch work on a thought-provoking topic.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on February 19, 2002
Jim DeRogatis captures the spirit of Lester Bangs EXACTLY as Bangs would want: "honest and unmercifully." At the beginning of the novel I yearned to be a Rock journalist. Now that I have completed it I want to be a Rock journalist but am devoid of alot of romanticism.
"Almost Famous" turned me on to the character of Lester Bangs. I felt that I identified with Phillip Seymor Hoffman's character in the movie. After seeing "Famous" I wanted to find out more about Lester Bangs. Thus I found "Let it Blurt." In the novel Jim DeRogatis' captures all of Lester Bang's journalistic triumph's, substance abuses, and Romanticisms with directness and little editorializing. He tells the story of Lester bangs exactly as it was.
After completeing this novel, I realize that I do not identify with Lester Bangs at all. Anyone who has seen "Almost Famous" and expects Bangs to be portrayed in the light that he was in the film will learn alot from this book. Anyone who aspires to be a TRUE Rock Journalist will find "Let it Blurt" a source of inspiration.
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