We have a winner in the “Where are they now?” contest. Chaz Galupi from the great Chaz is a Music Snob (check out his reply to the “Rap against Rockism” article) submitted this great piece about meeting the late, great Lester Bangs. Or is he?
So it’s Thanksgiving Day, the turkey has been devoured, the football is over and I am looking for something to do because one more night of staring at my own four walls is going to drive me nuts. So I am driving through town, just up and down some side street to see what’s there and I come across a little non-descript shack with an old gold Caddy and busted neon sign that reads J–rn-list L-unge. Hmmm, I am up for someplace named ‘The Journalist Lounge,’ I thought.
I walked into a dank, dark bar, couple pool tables, couple old four chair dining room tables with wooden chairs that had seen better days before ending up in here and an old black squat jukebox that still plays 45s over on one wall. It’s just me and the bartender in there, a tall blonde guy with glasses behind the bar watching some sitcom on a TV in the corner. I took off my jacket and sat down at the corner stool next to the TV.
“What’s it going to be tonight?’ he asked.
“Bourbon and Coke,” I told him. He reached for a glass and started pouring. “Slow night?”
“Always is,” he said. “’Specting some traveling folks will be through tonight though.”
He handed me my drink and leaned against the cooler again and resumed watching his show, leaving me to stare at the ice in my drink. Out of boredom I wandered over to the jukebox. Man it was a beauty, circa 1979 like they used to have at the little grill down by the lake when we lived in Arlington. I used to ride my bike down there in the summer and get a soda and listen to Rick James’ Superfreak, Blondie doing One Way or Another or Nick Gilder’s Hot Child in the City. Or maybe it was James’ Mary Jane… Anyway, so I am checking the titles, not bad, little Luchenbach, Texas, little That’ll Be the Day, the Buddy Holly version, Chuck Berry, Creedence, London Calling!
“Get away from that fucking jukebox!” someone yelled at me, making me jump and almost spill my drink. “That’s a travesty of a jukebox! Not one fucking Sex Pistols song on it!”
“And there ain’t gonna be, neither!” shouted the bartender. “We put one on for you and you broke four tables spinnin’ ‘round drunk and bouncin’ off the walls, you fuckin’ walrus!”
“Aw what do you know about rock and roll?” the stranger shouted back. “The most progressive thing in your record collection is Frank Zappa.”
I turned to that taunt to see a wide bodied man in a black T shirt, black leather jacket, jeans and black boots glaring at the bartender. His shining shaved dome reminded me of Brando in Apocalypse Now. The bartender clicked his tongue and shook his head, not daring to meet the stranger’s glare.
“Whatta you want tonight Lester? I ain’t talking music with you no more you evil motherfucker.”
Lester slammed his hand on the bar at that.
“That’s right you fucking yokel, you know I’m right, that’s why you won’t argue with me! Gimme bourbon, straight up!”
“Bangs, you’re still a fucking pig, despite the haircut,” the bartender growled and he poured. “And you don’t know SHIT about music and you never did.”
“I knew how to make a living writing about it,” he said.
“You knew how to write enough to get paid,” the bartender said. “I wouldn’t call it living.”
“Fuck you Clem,” Lester shot back. “I did the Morrison and ‘died’ and now look at me! I’m worth more now than I ever was alive! My name is everywhere! EVERYONE’S comparing themselves to me, a fucking loser form El Cajon California who just typed for something to do while he was speeding away! I’m a fucking genius now that I’m dead!”
“You sure are a LOUD son of a bitch for someone who’s dead,” Clem growled back.
“SHEE-IT Clem, you should see it! They’re out there knocking themselves out trying to figure this shit out. ‘What would Lester say if he was alive today? What would he think about today’s music? What would he think about the state of rock journalism?’ I’ll tell you what I think of the state of rock journalism. Those fuckers like Marcus and Marsh and that hack Kurt Loder can eat my fucking smelly BVDs. Jann Wenner is a starstruck faggy asshole who wouldn’t know a musician if they bit him on the ass. He’s an Art Garfunkel loving, Mick Jagger’s dick sucking wanna be. He wanted to be the star. Fuck him! Fuck his slick, star fucking loving fashion plate magazine! Man, back in the day…”
Suddenly, mid-rant, Lester turned and started glaring at me.
“Who the fuck are you and why are you here?”
“Man, I just stopped in for a drink,” I said, sitting back down at the bar.
“You can’t just stop in here for a drink,” Lester howled. “You’ve gotta be a licensed journalist! You just letting anybody wander in here, Clem?”
“I got a BLOG I write on.”
“Oh fuck,” Lester rolled his eyes. He downed the shot and motioned for a refill. “A BLOG? Well excuse the fuck out of me! You fuckers, you all think you’re Lester bangs, don’t cha? You ain’t him pal. There’s only one and he’s dead.
I stared at Lester for a second. “Didn’t you just say you were him?”
“Yeah, you got me. Well, I used to be him.” He sipped a bit of the whiskey. “Yeah, I used to be. Had someone sell all my shit and send it to me in Mexico where I can write in peace. Great move dying. Suddenly, everyone re-thinks their stand on you, man. They forgive you for whatever fucked up shit you did to them. Talk nice about you. I miss some of those dudes. Loved that little shit Cameron Crowe. Thought about calling his ass after Almost Famous, ha ha. ‘This is the voice from the grave you little fucker, send me some money! Quit writing dipshit movies and tell us what it’s like to bang Nancy Wilson all night!’
He stopped and sipped on the whiskey again.
“Ha ha,” he chuckled. “That would have been hilarious. See how they got Phillip Seymour Hoffman to soften me up for the movie? I’m an angel now, a ‘prophet for the fall of rock and roll and rock journalism.’ Ha ha. Man, I was just rambling. I just did what I did, I just let it fly.”
He took a crumpled pack of smokes out of a pocket of his jacket and fished one out.
“I wanted to be a musician,” he sighed, taking a drag. “Never learned to play though. Never… shit I don’t know. I tell that drunken buffoon Morrison I wrote better lyrics than the fucking Crystal Ship or anything on that third Doors album, but he just calls me a hack and keeps going down the beach. I keep telling him to get a haircut, too, but he’s still a fucking hippie.”
“Jim Morrison?” I asked.
“Yeah, he split for a walking tour of Europe in’71 and never looked back, he says. Seems like a nice enough guy now that he gave up coke and shit. Met him in Mexico in ’85, now we’re neighbors in a little town in Guatemala. He’s a jogging freak, too. Always walking or running somewhere. The Doors guys are hip, send him some cash when a CD is re-issued or shit. Man you should have seen the fat check Marcus cut when they issued that second book of MY shit. I saw all those zeros and I thought I missed a decimal point somewhere!”
He stubbed out the cigarette and downed the whiskey.
“So you’ve got your little BLOG and you write about what you like and you do it for kicks and hope someone reads it. You do it to clear your head. It’s a great thing, no deadlines, no column inches to fill, just write what you want when you want. That’s it man, that’s the way to be. Paper will always be around, but the Internet is where it’s at man.”
Lester stood up and put the crumpled pack of smokes in his pocket again.
“Hey Clem, set him up on my tab,” Lester said. He offered a hand and I shook it. “Nice to chat with you, I gotta run. Catching a plane to Hunter Thompson’s for a weekend of football and drunken debauchery.”
“But Lester,” I asked, “What about the future of music journalism?”
“Fuck it man. Like the man once said: NO FUTURE. All you can do now is get a job writing ass kissing pieces for Rolling Stone or people or churning out shit books on Springsteeen like Marsh, or ghostwriting Levon Helm’s memoirs. No man, rock journalism is fucking dead as a doorknob. Dead as Michael Jackson’s career. Man I write reviews on Amazon.com for grins. There ain’t no money in it, but it’s as valid a medium as any of the rock and roll magazines today, since there’s no such thing as a bed review anymore. Still afraid to piss off advertisers.” He chuckled to himself again and put a friendly hand on my shoulder. “No, you keep doing it the way you are, plugging away for a dozen or so friends on your little web page. Because there is no real journalism anymore.”
And he stood up again and shook my hand again. “Gotta run. See you next time through, Clem! Get some real music for that jukebox!”
And with that, he was gone. I sat stunned for a few minutes. Clem sat another bourbon and coke down next to my half empty one.
“Intense, isn’t he?” he said wiping down the bar and putting the shot glasses in the sink. “I don’t know if he really is or not. He just shows up once in a while and has a few and we don’t see him for three or four months. Been doing it for years now. He’s awful fun to hang around with anyway.”
I sat there and drank my drinks in silence for a while, thinking about what the man had said and thinking ‘That’s what I get for looking for an adventure after the turkey has been devoured and the football is over.’
By Chaz Galupi