Lester Bangs, who died in 1982 at the age of 33, is the patron saint of gonzo rock criticism. In the decades after his death, he was memorialized in print (Jim Derogatis's biography Let It Blurt) and in film (Almost Famous). in the early 1970s, he was the co-editor of Creem and a freelancer for a number of seminal rock-and-roll publications, including the Real Paper, a Boston weekly later absorbed by the Phoenix. This piece originally appeared in the issue of October 24, 1973. (A much longer version appeared a year later, under the title "How to Be a Rock Critic," in Buffalo's Shakin' Street Gazette.) If you replace every reference to "Rolling Stone" with "Pitchfork," it could almost have been written last week.

I bet you get damn tired of seeing all those pompous smartasses raking in cash, glory and free records for scrawling about the latest heavies in rags like Creem, Rolling Stone, Phonograph Record and Awake. I bet you wonder what makes these cats so allfired omniscient, what gives them the right to expound on all this stuff as if they knew what they were talking about or the whole thing wasn't just a matter of taste anyway. The answer is NOTHING. Being a rock critic is the easiest thing in the world, talent has nothing to do with it, so why don't you give it a try? And don't worry if you don't know how to write. Don't even worry if you can't put a simple declarative sentence together. Don't worry if you sign your name with an X. Anybody can do this shit, all it takes is a high level of unconsciousness and some ability to sling bullshit around. Also the bullshit is readymade, you don't even have to think it up, all you gotta do is invest in a slingshot. So instead of telling you what it's like to be a rock critic in this space, I'm gonna let you experience it yourself firsthand. All the word type stuff you need has already been written anyway, it's in old yellow issues of Creem, Stone and all the rest; if you're like lotsa rock critix I've known and loved you'll just sit around reading and rereading the damn things all day and pretty soon you'll have whole paragraphs of old record reviews memorized, which is not only a good way to impress people at parties but allows you to plagiarize at will. And don't worry about getting caught, because nobody in this business has any memory and besides they're all plagiarists too and besides that all record reviews read the same. I learned to write 'em outa Down Beat, and it's the same shit in Rolling Stone; it's the same shit all over. Just stir and rearrange it every once in awhile. Take one riff and staple it to another; and if you get tired of thinking about how you're a rock critic, remember William Burroughs and the cutup method and think about being avant-garde. I do all the time.

Okay, now it's time for you to write YOUR VERY FIRST ORIGINAL RECORD REVIEW. It's easy, all you gotta do is point. First, pick a title for the album.

1. Oranges in Exile

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  Topics: Music Features , Lester Bangs, Gonzo journalism, writing,  More more >
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