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richard hell on lester bangs

Posted on 19 August 2003 by Caryn Rose (0)

The Right To Be Wrong, by Richard Hell

Out of seemingly nowhere comes this insightful, thoughtful, gentle (but not apologetic) review of the latest Lester Bangs anthology, in last week’s Village Voice, written by none other than Richard Hell. It’s ostensibly a review of the book, but it ends up being more of a tribute, and an affirmation of Lester’s place in the world of rock journalism.


It’s probably no secret to anyone who’s read my writing over the years that I idolized Lester Bangs. More than anything, I wanted to be like him, but I knew I never could. For one, I didn’t like, or want, drugs. And I wasn’t quite brave enough to walk that tightrope that Lester did with alarming regularity and brutal honesty – “The right to be wrong,” Hell comments, and it’s no accident that this is the title of the article (even though I’m not quite sure how much it has to do with this anthology, which others have commented seems thin and lightweight).

The one quality of Lester’s that captured me the most, then as now, is what Hell describes as the “drive to describe and be true to what matters in life.” The drive to describe is what keeps me going, keeps me writing, makes me sit in front of the computer even when I’m dumb enough to not save something before previewing it, and even though I lose it, to sit down and write it again. The drive to get it *exactly* right, so that when someone reads it who can relate to it, they feel it again, and when someone reads it who has never experienced it, they feel it just a little.

I wanted to talk some more about “the right to be wrong,” but I’m not sure how much this ties into the book (saving it, since I’m working my way through the new Chuck Klosterman now). It’s an interesting concept, because I’m not sure there are any spaces left for music writing where a writer is allowed to be wrong, to correct themselves, to revisit something. You’re certainly not going to find it on, say, Pitchfork (note how I don’t hyperlink that); the only space I can think of right now that would tolerate it is ex-ATN/SonicNet Editor Michael Goldberg’s neumu.net. And even if a publication or web site did allow for that kind of thoughtful commentary, would anyone really care any more? What’s the shelf life of a record these days?

Anyway – read the Hell (I’m not going to go all New York Times and start calling him “Mr. Hell,” eesh) piece in the Voice (linked at the top); it’s the most inciseful, least apologetic, most sincere piece of writing I’ve read about Lester in years.

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