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Mark Gauvreau Judge


Please Flush

Why rock critics need to re-read Lester Bangs—and JPII.

Let's impose a moratorium on rock critics. Now. A few months ago, I came across this line by critic David Dunlap, Jr.: "[The band] Windsor for the Derby has plenty of experience jumping subgenres … everything from slo-core to krautrock to electronica to its current flavor of Mancunian-tinged postrock."

Call me square, dismiss me as an oldster, but I think when you're referring to Mancunian-tinged postrock, it's time to hang it up. Pop music criticism has grown so insular, full of itself, hipper-than-thou, and, most important, aesthetically disjointed from the thing it claims to examine that we'd best start over—beginning with a rediscovery of the granddaddy of all modern rock critics, Lester Bangs [pictured above].

Some rock critics who see that sentence will howl in outrage. Bangs, they contend, is the problem. Since his death in 1982, hordes of imitators have sought to claim his mantle. Bangs was rude, obnoxious, narcissistic, drug-addled, and brilliant. His numerous heirs are only the first four. "Bangs's enduring influence strikes me as a cancer," wrote Brian James on popmatters.com, "one that needs swift uprooting if its current purveyors ever expect to become a worthy alternative to the detested corporate mags." Ira Robbins was even harsher at salon.com: "What was once garret zealotry—practiced by idealists driven to spew, destroy and proselytize—is now well-placed product shilling … [and] celebrity worship written by well-funded content providers, pushed by powerful flacks and neutered by timid editors."

Yet James and Robbins are wrong. Not about the lousy writing and narcissism of the Bangs imitators, but about mainstream "corporate" magazines and newspapers. Entertainment Weekly and The New York Times frequently pan popular rock bands, and sometimes it can get vicious (see the Times' atomizing of Coldplay earlier this year). "Even the largest and most powerful and most established music magazines lack the spine to disagree with ...

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