Pop Culture
Pop Culture: Articles for the Scripps Howard News Service & "Seen, Heard, Said"

Why the top-365-songs list isn't a stupid idea

Actors sink their teeth into vampire roles

Gregory Corso: My encounter with a Beat legend

Golden Globes: Sleazy and proud of it

In the offing, Clinton continent looms

"NYPD Blue" opener: The misery continues

 New movie genre: Reclusive authors anonymous

"West Wing," "Ally," et al.: Words, words, words

When TV shows outstay their welcome

Film critics dig their own graves with "Angels" review

Great Robert Altman films you never
heard of

Famous folk, next week in the arts, show business briefs

"Time regained": Proust in the multiplex

Glitterati is dead, long live Popfocus

Carl Barks: The man who put the ducks in Duckburg

"Almost Famous": Lester Bangs rises from the dead

Liz Hurley wins in war of words with Jane mag

Douglas poses with Zeta-Jones, and baby-makes three

Weddings that aren't: Douglas, Zeta-Jones, Madonna, Ritchie

The Emmy War: A half-century of coast-to-coast feuding

Jennifer Love Hewitt plays the Iglesias odds

It's raining books by and about Trumps

What's in a mane? Blond woman in the news

Liz Hurley denies dissing ex-beau

Rock Hall of Infamy: Anti-heroes from Elvis to Eminem

Barbra tix bankrupt fans

Laurels for Kathie Lee to rest on

Hillary "In bed" with De Niro, Cruise, Kidman

How "Sopranos," "West Wing" will divvy up awards

This just in: Donald Trump is not a dope

Walter Matthau: A rumpled old dog in the heart of the city

Sampras to take a stroke at wedding bells

Who wants to host "Monday Night Football"?

Queen rewards Tina Brown for demoralizing American readers

How the Korean War cane to TV land 20 years late

Ivanka Trump: From catwalk to commencement line

Lester Bangs: The troublesome punk who wouldn't die

Rags clash over Ted Turner "romance"

With straight face, Trump deems Marla's move "tacky"

"Friends" re-up for another season of top ratings, top money

Madonna in denial, and rightly so

"Suburbia": The continental subdivide

Howard Stern, Sly Stallone in bizarre, apocryphal triangle

Easter video viewing: "Spartacus" to "Harvey"

Billy’s in the news: Bob, Joel in love but not with other

"Charles's Angels" movie: Dispiriting news for old-time fans

Innovative career move for 'NYPD Blue' co-star

Top model: Why I gave oldish rocker husband the heave-ho

Unpleasantville: The awful truth about old-time TV families

Tina Brown held captive in desert by demanding children

Anybody's Oscar: Unusually suspenseful awards show looms

Oscar telecast: Looking for a few good hosts

"Lambs," "Beauty": Oscar's love affair with unacceptable behavior

Brad Pitt, Oscar to be in same room at same time

Letterman bites guest-host bullet: Andrew "Dice" Clay, call your agent

Seinfeld eyes East Hampton manse: Where's the welcome wagon?

"Mod Squad" Immortal dishes couple du jour

Brad Pitt's second thoughts about Oscar

Mike McCurry praises "West Wing": It's not entirely demeaning,,,"

Memo to "Hannibal" producers: Get Najimy while the getting's good

Don't Invite Gwyneth and Oscar to the same party

True or false: Douglas, Zeta-Jones don't even know each other

Ex-Clinton honcho linked to ex-"Cheers" costar

Third party cited in Trump-Knauss breakup

 Gossip queen goes to bat for Talk mag

20th century's No. 1 hit: "Satisfaction" hits the spot

Statement: Spice girl's marital problems insoluble

Charlie Brown, Pogo and me

From Howdy to Charlie Brown, we hate to say goodbye

The Beatle George: While his guitar gently weeps

Jodie Foster's people in mild tiff with CBS

A Peanuts trivia Q&A

Publicist: Boyle still joined at hip

There's video in your future and future in your video

"The future is now": Hit rewind

Whitney Houston presides over confluence of talent

Jim Carrey's flack earns A "D," Cher's A "B-minus"

Geraldo: bye-bye, doghouse

Michael Douglas does nothing much, reporters go wild

Ricky Martin on Menudo: Look back in anger

How to outsmart Halloween crowds at the video store

Tom Cruise puts himself in harm's way, only not really

1800-1900: Steaming towards revolution

1700-1800: Liberty, equality and bloodshed

1600-1700: The earth moves; North America is settled

Trump mulls travel plans, from altar to White House

"Faces of Impressionism" Time machine made of canvas, paint

Major quakes aren't personal unless they happen to you

Brad Pitt gracious about character assassination

Director insists Harrison Ford is not a brainless hulk

Costner, Willis, Douglas. Branagh, Sting_ in that order

Streisand: Color her ready to plug her new album

Julia and Benjamin's rings devoid of significance, flack says

Literary mud wrestling, featuring Geri and The Spice Girls

Urgent news: Ford to replace Gibson on "GMA" eventually

She married a monster from outer space

Never mind Godzilla VS. Mothra, Here's Trump VS. Cronkite

Spurned by Pitt, Redford pays court to Damon

Celebrity coyness is bustin' out all over

"Detroit Rock City": Kiss of death

Talk is cheap? Not with Tina Brown at the helm

The Beats: Remembered, Lionized and Unread

Real estate beat, starring Woody Allen and Donald Trump

Mood Music, or how we learned to stop worrying

Sex in the cinema: From "Last Tango" to "Eyes Wide Shut"

Two easy steps to looking exactly like Ricky Martin

Close encounters of the Muppet kind

Upcoming Brad Pitt movie not garbage, insiders say

Kathie Lee's eyewear excites Islanders' ire

Back to the future, continued

"Wild Wild West": Buck Rogers in the 19th century

Sculptures by Roy Lichtenstein: Fun, Fun, Fun

An expert's verdict:" Austin Powers" is pretty neat

Click here for pointless celebrity gossip

P. Dempsey Tabler of the jungle: The many faces of Tarzan

Kirk Douglas' Ex tells all about Errol Flynn fling

New twist in TV programming: Ax profitable shows

Private jet fees spell the end for another celebrity union

Killer serials: "Flash," "Buck" and a boy named George Lucas

Top nonfiction books: A message from two old men

Celebrity Dream dreams: Monica, Donald, Barbara, Georgette

Two divas, publicist form bizarre show-biz triangle

Johnny Cash tribute: Ring of fire, ring of friends

Streisand employee really upset about rumors

Grande Dame Eyes MGM Grand Gig

Secretive celebs? Not by a long shot

NBC honcho bristles at notion that Brokaw is not a saint

Barbara Walters not keen on daily dose of Monica

"Seen, Heard, Said"

David Letterman, Donald Trump, Eddie Murphy, Elton John

Madonna, Frank Sinatra, Prince Charles, Maj, Ronald Ferguson, Fergie, Miranda Richardson, Brad Pitt, Juliette Lewis, Axl Rose, Stephanie Seymour

June 7, 2000

Lester Bangs: The troublesome punk who wouldn't die

By ROGER ANDERSON Scripps Howard News Service

My mom hated him. Not at first, though. In the early days of junior high and high school, she saw him as a bright, funny kid who loved music and books and thus was a good influence on me.

And he liked her. After all, she wasn't like his own mom - a gloomy if well-meaning Jehovah's Witness widow who disapproved of everything. No, my mom was a worldly lady who smoked cigarettes, wrote magazine articles and was doing a masters thesis on Emerson and Thoreau.

But then things got weird. The late '60s set in, and everything was a turmoil of drugs, alcohol, loud music and strange behavior. Sometimes I disappeared for days at a time. Police officers had a habit of showing up on our doorstep. My mother imagined my friend, who was in fact incorrigible, was somehow at the bottom of it.

By the time he had established his byline - Lester Bangs, rock critic - in the pages of a fledgling publication called Rolling Stone and than moved away from our hometown of El Cajon, Calif., to the Detroit area to work at a magazine called Creem, she was glad to see him go.

Of course, if you had told her or told me or even told Lester, for that matter, that the day would arrive, at the turn of the new century, when a reporter who was a little boy back then would write and publish an exhaustively researched, carefully and lovingly written biography titled "Let It Blurt; The Life & Times of Lester Bangs, America's Greatest Rock Critic" (Broadway Books, $15.95, paper), we would have said you were nuts.

Yet here it is. My older sister and her friends - "straight" kids who strongly disapproved of the trouble Lester and I were always getting into back then - are scratching their heads trying to figure out what happened. Even my mom, who, died while the book was being written but knew all about it, couldn't understand why anyone would still be interested enough to read, let alone write, a biography of this wretched boy who (she thought) caused her so much anxiety.

By the time she passed away, Lester had been gone for a long
time - he died In 1982, age 33, of an inadvertent drug overdose, what some saw as a long-overdue denouement to 15 years or so of major-league substance abuse mixed in with furiously prolific, wildly funny, achingly eloquent writing about rock 'n' roll for RS, Creem, the Village Voice, the New Musical Express and a host of other American and British 'zines - both mag and fan - too
numerous to list.

It was astonishing enough when the prestigious publishing house Alfred A. Knopf published Lester's "greatest hits" in hardcover back in 1987, under the title "Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung." Even then, some of his staunchest admirers (like me) were amazed that his currency as a writer had outlived him by as much as five years. It seemed to be pushing the outside limit.

But then things got weird In a different sense: years, even decades passed, and Lester's name stayed current. It appeared in the lyrics of an REM hit - "It's the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine)" - and he was often cited as a cultural oracle in magazines like The New Yorker. And "Psychotic Reactions," though far from a best-seller, never did go out of print.

When the author of "Let It Blurt," Jim DeRogatis, approached me a few years ago about providing reminiscence for his projected work, I even asked myself why this was happening and came up with what I now know was the wrong answer.

I thought a biography of my old pal was in order because he had "invented" punk rock. The truth, and even I knew it at the time, was that he had actually done no such thing. The term, now common cultural coin, was first used in print by other writers.

Yet the fact remained that without Lester, punk rock would never have existed. He was the guy who came right out and said, in effect, forget about all this arty Sergeant Pepper/Pink Floyd stuff - let's listen to the Stones, the Kinks and the Velvet Underground and wash it down with heavy chasers of "96 Tears" by Question Mark and the Mysterians, "Woolly Bully" by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, and "Pushin' Too Hard" by the Seeds. Let's forget about becoming musical virtuosos and just get up there and bash out three chords if we must, and if our voices aren't fit to be raised in song, just sing louder. The passion is what matters, no matter how rough its edges.

The Clash, anyone? Kurt Cobain? Green Day? Korn?

No one dreamed in his day, however, that "punk rock" as he had limned it would become a permanent part of Western culture. Yet even the punk aesthetics’ surprising staying power isn't what makes a book about Lester pertinent.

I've had to dig to find it. It's in there, among the ravings, the strange behavior, the binges, the depression, the seedy living situations in El Cajon, Detroit, New York, the almost violent confrontations with musical artists like Lou Reed, the vituperation, the wildly uneven writing output, the posturing - a big heart that truly loved the best and bravest music more than it loved drugs, booze or even itself.

When he died I'd been out of touch with him for a couple of years, but I'd been half-expecting that phone call from a mutual friend since the days when we were still both living in El Cajon. Yet his death came as a shock that I'm still dealing with. Gone for good was the guy who, back in 1965, lent me his copies of "On the Road," "Naked Lunch" and "Bringing It All Back Home" and played me East Indian ragas and Charles Mingus on his hi-fl while his poor mom tried to sleep in the next room.

"I'm sorry for your loss," my own mother said in a letter after I told her the news, "although there were many times when I could have cheerfully strangled him."

Now it doesn't matter anymore. They're both dead, and one thing I know for sure - where they are, the cops never show up on your doorstep, and Thoreau and Mingus both are just down the hall.

Roger Anderson is arts and entertainment editor at Scripps Howard News Service.

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