Wednesday, April 30, 2014

RIP Lester who would've eventually loved The Human League

Lester Bangs died 32 years ago today under a musical circumstance that fits his authenticity-mongering legend all too neatly. According to Jim DeRogatis' biography Let It Blurt, the needle of Bangs' record player was stuck on the outgroove of The Human League's Dare when his body was found (which side, though, which side?). As befits a critic who regularly griped about commercialism and soullessness in music, this finale could not have been better scripted - chilly, electronic new wave come to drain the blood from all music ever and Bangs' body. It's of a piece with those letters from beyond received by Dave Marsh in 1986 (published in Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung) in which dead Lester learns The Lord (who, though? Elvis? Lennon? Sid Vicious?) smoked him so early to save him from MTV. Dead from Dare not Darvon, Bangs never got to experience a musicscape that acted like punk never happened.

But as someone who cocked an ear towards Eno and Kraftwerk and wrote lovingly that " the bottom line of rock & roll,"* Bangs possessed the capacity to appreciate music that combined both as compellingly as Dare did. I have full confidence that he would've come around on disco (beyond occasional shoutouts like Pazzing "Funkytown") and applauded techno in the 1990s if a higher calling hadn't taken him away from rockwrite by then. So to honor his impeccable post-1982 music taste, allow me to praise my favorite track from Dare, "The Things That Dreams Are Made Of."

"The Things That Dreams Are Made Of" opens Dare as a sort of concept album about alien Phil Oakey going over his instructions for blending into that league they call human. Before he touches down on Earth, he reminds himself of what he needs to accomplish: "Take time to see the wonders of the world, to see the things you've only ever heard of," on and on, listing all manner of banalities and truths we hold to be self-evident. You and I think about "fun and money and food and love" all the time. But Phil-3PO needs to learn this stuff. The music is pure instruction too, taking disco's dancefloor demands into the realm of mere duty.

It sets the scene for the rest of the album in which Phil wanders the globe and discovers that this human stuff ain't so easy. By the time he gets to the big hits, "Love Action" and "Don't You Want Me," he's become a big jerk, getting snippy over failed relationships and demanding proper credit for career boosts (answer to title question of latter song: "Um, not really"). That's what happens when you start to need "love and affection."

But his jerkiness just endears us to him all the more. Like the dull extraterrestrials of that great Kids in the Hall skit, Phil reminds us what it means to be human at the most cold, fundamental level. And in the end, the music hits home as soulfully as Otis Rush. Right, Lester?

*The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll. New York: Random House/Rolling Stone, 1992. Eds. Anthony DeCurtis and James Henke with Holly George-Warren. Original Ed. Jim Miller. 454.

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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Found: Greatest Pic Ever

Here it is:
Also screen grabs from two crappy musicals:
                               Moonlight in Hawaii (Charles Lamont, 1941)

                                Moonlight in Vermont (Edward Lilley, 1943)

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