IN BRIEF

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The Independent Culture
Psychoctic Reactions and Carburettor Dung by Lester Bangs, ed Greil Marcus, Serpent's Tail pounds 11.99. For anyone who ever wondered what earned Lester Bangs the distinction of being the only rock writer to be favourably name-checked in a song (an REM song at that), this collection of the Californian critical hell- raiser's finest work is an essential purchase. Some bold claims have been made for Bangs' work, and not just by the man himself ("Who was better?" he once demanded, "Bukowski? Burroughs? Hunter Thompson? Gimme a break. I was the best"). Greil Marcus' introduction suggests that what Psychotic Reactions demands from the reader is "a willingness to accept that the best writer in America could write almost nothing but record reviews". Like all the best bizarre statements, this one has a kernel of truth in it.

You don't have to have an obsessive interest in Lou Reed or Rod Stewart or The Godz or whichever delinquent reprobate Bangs was ranting on about at any given moment to appreciate the genius of his writing. In fact not caring is almost a help. Because the key to Bangs' greatness was his ability to write about music that any normal human being would probably have approached with a sceptically raised eyebrow, as if it were the only thing keeping him alive.

His identification with his subject matter is total. Not in the Nick Kent fashion where the writer competes to be even more of a decadent egotist than his subject, but in the sense of bringing the same creative energy to reacting to the music as was put into making it in the first place. When Bangs confesses that some of the pieces he wrote about Lou Reed's music in the Seventies were "probably better art" than the records themselves, his tone is not so much conceited as regretful. "I suspect almost every day that I'm living for nothing," he lectures some death-fixated rock beast. "I get depressed and I feel self-destructive and a lot of the time I don't like myself ... but I also feel that this precarious sentience is all we've got, and simplistic as it may seem, it's a person's duty to the potentials of his own soul to make the best of it."

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