I had some vague sense of a “gonzo” rocknroll writer named Lester Bangs when I was growing up and becoming rock-savvy, yet I’d really never read anything by him until the 1987 publication of Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung, a collection of his writings in Creem and elsewhere. I was excited to, though – by that time I knew he’d loudly championed both The Stooges and The Velvet Underground when exceptionally few were doing so, and I figured it’d be great to see what real-time early 70s writing about both bands might look like. I totally loved the book, as many did, and the cult of Bangs grew rapidly and much further from that point onward.
In 1990 this “collectors’ edition” of a New Jersey fanzine called Throat Culture showed up on the racks, and was a no-brainer purchase at the then-normal price of $3.50. Editor Rob O’Connor and his fellow co-editors were pretty smitten with Bangs as well, and as they tell it, Throat Culture #2 was supposed to be a “normal” indie-rock fanzine until the Bangs mania totally took over, and they just decided to go all-Bangs this time around, for what ended up being their 2nd and final issue.
I gobbled it up once I bought it, and until last night, I hadn’t read it again. Since then I guess we had the Almost Famous film and Jim DeRogatis’ biography Let It Blurt, which I have read and very much enjoyed. But this Throat Culture mag has proved to be a key link in the Bangs chain! The editors’ mania ensured that they went down a number of Bangs-related rabbit holes, included talking to DeRogatis about his teenage meeting w/ the man (O’Connor’s piece even says “Jim DeRogatis, myself and no doubt less than a handful of others entertain the idea of writing Lester’s biography but that seems like a longshot, Who would care?”).
I guess at the time I totally bought into the “Lester Bangs was such a great writer that his pieces are more like literature than rock criticism” thing. I guess I still do today. I remember how eye-wateringly hilarious those Carburetor Dung things on The Godz, The Troggs and his Lou Reed interviews were. I also was a bit saddened, if chagrined, by the fact that this highly self-destructive, probably utterly depressed young-ish man medicated himself by guzzling cough syrup and alcohol by the bucket. There are numerous essays to that point in Throat Culture #2 from the folks that knew him best; childhood friend Roger Anderson; MC5 singer Rob Tyner; Joe Nick Patoski, Richard Reigel, Voidoids guitarist Ivan Julian; Creem co-founder Jaan Uhelszki and more.
The real killer, though, the pièce de résistance, is actually two pieces, both with Richard Meltzer involved. The first is Throat Culture’s reprint of his 1984 essay “Lester Bangs Recollected in Tranquility”, written two years after Bangs’ death. The San Diego Reader reprinted it later when the internet came along, so you can read it here, right now. Even better is a piece commissioned just for this fanzine, in which Meltzer and Nick Tosches turn on a tape recorder and start talking about Bangs – their memories, his shortcomings, his frailties, his incredible lust for life and encyclopedic knowledge of rock (and jazz), and much more. Many have been the times that I have found Meltzer to be quite absurd, pedantic, and/or too pleased with himself to consider him readable at all. These two fantastic pieces are not those times.
It would also be foolish not to note that this magazine prints, for the first time, a “rejected” Bangs piece that the NY Rocker wouldn’t take, written about Sid Vicious’ death. I wonder, knowing what we all know now, just how much attention anyone would have paid to Vicious’ antics. I sometimes find it difficult to read about the Sex Pistols at all. So much of my so-called musical education was formed with them as the dominant example of “punk”, the band that had changed the world and so on – it’s hard to even contextualize those guys now due to over-familiarity. I’m also not all that hopped-up on their music, and never really have been. Anyway, it was a nice score by Throat Culture, and it was later reprinted in the second Bangs collection, Mainlines, Blood Feasts and Bad Taste: A Lester Bangs Reader in 2003. Man, I need to read that again too.
When I published my own Dynamite Hemorrhage #8 fanzine and made it all about Slash Magazine, I absolutely took my cues from this particular issue of Throat Culture. If they could subvert the dominant fanzine paradigm, so could I! I’m glad to have engorged my brain with the thing again last night. Keep an eye peeled for it if it turns up on resale sites, as it’s definitely a gem worth having.