A Book Review of Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung by Lester Bangs

As published by Valley Life Review (I think) in August, 1988 (I think)

Sometimes, at movie theatres, I inadvertently wander into the ladies restroom by mistake. Why only at movie theatres, I don't know, but I think that it has something to do with pre-movie anticipation enhancing my own natural confusion.

So there I am, in the girl's (women's?? ladies??) restroom, suddenly realizing that there are no stalls on the walls which means that I'm in a forbidden place!!! While my nerves and brains scream GET OUT NOW, my curiosity takes over. I mean, why do girls (women? ladies? females?) always go to the bathroom together? A couple of my female friends have for years maintained that there are Greek Gods that hang around the ladies' lavatory purely to satisfy female sexual desires. Now, while this doesn't explain why they go to the bathroom together (maybe the Greek Gods only like orgies?), it does explain a number of other things -- primarily why its so hard for mortal men to get laid.

Supposedly, men can't see these Greek Gods, but I always assumed they looked like the giant Apollo in the "Who Mourns for Adonis" episode of Star Trek: The Original Series, and what did expect to see was dozens of women lying around on the floor of the bathroom in pre and/or post-orgasmic states as they were being ravished by these invisible (but highly potent) Gods. And since they were invisible to my male eye, I expected my viewpoint to be like in "Calvin and Hobbes" when they cut away from Calvin's worldview and you see a little kid with a stuffed tiger. (And you know, thinking about it, I always wanted to see the inside of Snoopy's doghouse, especially before he had the fire and his Van Gogh was ruined. And also, how did he get that damn doghouse to fly? I spent years trying to get our doghouse to fly, and I always suspected that the reason it didn't was because my brother named our dog "Wiggles.") No such luck, since didn't see even one ravished female (of course, this was a matinee of Red Heat, not the Miss Alans at the Blue), and there were still no stalls on the wall and I still had to go, so I left, and I'll be dammed if not one person in the lobby or anywhere noticed that I had just left the wrong restroom, so I just shrugged my shoulders and went next door.

Would that I could be rid of this Lester Bangs book, this collection of essays about music with the unwieldy title of Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung, as easily.

For those of you who have only heard the name en passant from the R.E.M. song (which R.E.M. song? Why, you should know), Lester Bangs was a genius, the single greatest writer ever about rock and roll music. It's because he chose to write primarily about rock and roll that nobody outside the percentage of rock fans that actually read and/or write about the stuff has ever heard of him. A shame, because for my money (about $1.57) he was one of the single greatest writers ever about anything. It's not fair for the rest of the world that he chose to write almost exclusively about his passion for rock and roll. It's especially not fair that he mostly did it in the 1970's and now it is 1988 and he's been dead for six years. Because now, nobody really cares if he idolized Lou Reed and Iggy Pop (in 1988, doesn't everybody?), or hated Jethro Tull (ditto), or thought that The Clash would self-destruct in a fireball of their burgeoning popularity colliding with their overdeveloped populist sensibilities. (I always thought that The Clash self-destructed in a collision of Mick Jones' burgeoning dance-music sensibilities and Joe Strummers' mouth.) But those of you that can ignore the anachronistic nature of a collection like this, can probably get off to the nth degree on Lester's fantastic genius as a writer.

Why do I just toss out a term like genius? Well, it goes like this . . . Just about everybody who has written any thing at any time has experienced this phenomenon: when you transfer something from your head to a piece of paper it never looks as good on the piece of paper as it sounded in your head. Some vital thing always seems to be missing. What made Lester such a fucker, and an icon among rock-crit types, was that he always seemed to be nailing the exact, unedited thoughts in his head in pure gonzo style. With no barriers. This made his writing the closest literary approximation to the power and beauty of rock and roll that anybody could imagine.

No barriers. And that creates what is the biggest appeal of this book -- this completely incomplete tombstone to someone who loved rock and roll so much that he ended up almost hating it for what it became -- the pure adrenaline rush of his writing. His writing was about removing the "/" from the head/paper dichotomy so it becomes not head/paper but headpaper headpaper and what the hell is a headpaper anyways?

No barriers. A writer's wet dream. Fuck that, it's any even semi-creative person's dream: musicians, artists, directors, actors, etc. are constantly looking for finished product that matches mental conception. But most of the time, it doesn't, and that's why these people are often frustrated and crazy.

No barriers. That's what allowed Lester to write his heretofore unpublishable Elvis fantasy where he eats the drugs that killed Elvis right from his dead body. Why would anyone wanna do that? Because, if you eat Elvis' drugs -- the ones he actually took -- then, maybe, just maybe, you'll know what it's like to BE ELVIS. The ultimate fan wish-fulfillment fantasy. Elvis isn't everywhere, Elvis is me. Necrophilic Elvis-worship taken to its horrible illogical extreme. And it is gross (especially the bits about Sid Vicious' forearm) and awful (I mean, really imagine this for a second) and one of the funniest things I have ever read. As the whole thing unfolds and Lester makes his speech as Elvis I was horrified and laughing out loud at the same time, like when I first saw Sam Kinison suggest that the Ethiopians get out of the desert. Had Lester any barriers at all they would have been screaming at him: "YOU CAN'T WRITE THAT!! Hell man, YOU CAN'T EVEN THINK THAT!!"

But Lester did. And he cared. He gave a shit. Especially about rock and roll. And all of the things, good and bad, surrounding it. About that, he gave too much of a shit. He shat so much that it killed him. And so what? He would have hated everything now, anyways, except for Sonic Youth and The Replacements.

And so what? Maybe because of the title essay, where, in two paragraphs buried in thousands of words, he explains, in better terms than anyone ever will, just exactly he (and I) (and maybe you) kept on buying albums when we were (are) often setting ourselves up for disappointment. And so what? Find this book, and find out what. And sorry, you can't borrow mine, because I'm taking it on my next trip to the wrong bathroom.

--Jim Connelly

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I was listening to R.E.M. -- Fables of the Reconstruction of the Fables