Lou Reed’s generosity of spirit: “Who was Lester Bangs?”

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Oh, that Lou: He’s such a curmudgeonly old crank, unwilling to ever acknowledge that anyone else in any way enhanced or even shed light on his unparalleled genius. (John Cale what? Robert Quine who?) Witness this dis of his critical amanuensis Lester Bangs the other day at the Tribeca Film Festival, as reported here and quoted below, during a conversation with handpicked interviewers Julian Schnabel, director of the new “Berlin” concert film, and overpaid Vanity Fair rock gossip columnist Lisa Robinson, who no one will ever, ever quote about anything.

Audience question: Lester Bangs said Berlin was the most depressed album ever made. What are your thoughts on that? Reed: I dont have any thoughts on Lester Bangss comments. What does that have to do with anything? You just saw it. Schnabel: I just thought it obviously made me want to make the movie. Robinson: I just want to say we knew Lester Bangs and would not 35 years later quote him. However Reed: Who is Lester Bangs? Schnabel: Isnt he the guy who Chris Walken drowned in At Close Range?

As Bangs’ biographer, I’m rarely peeved enough to defend his legacy — it doesn’t often need it — but every once in a while, it’s worth setting the record straight. Compare Reed’s cavalier and dismissive comments above with Bangs’ poetic prose on “Berlin” below, which I first dusted off after hearing Reed contend at SXSW that critics all trounced his dark orchestral epic upon its release. Reed can rewrite history all he wants, but the fact remains, Bangs’ championing of his best work helped in large part to build the audience he now enjoys.

What [Berlin] really reminds me of, though, is the bastard progeny of a drunken flaccid tumble between Tennessee Williams and Hubert (Last Exit from Brooklyn) Selby, Jr. It brings all of Lous perennial themes — emasculation, sadistic misogyny, drug erosion, twisted emotionalism of numb detachment from normal emotions — to pinnacle. It is also very funny theres at least one laugh in every song — but as in Transformer, you have to doubt if the humors intentional. Transformer was a masterpiece at least partially by the way it proved that even perverts can be total saps — whining about being hit with flowers, etc. — and this album has almost as many risible non sequiturs as that did: the heroine gets up from a beating and says that its no fun… a bum trip, and the protagonists plaints draw a laugh just when theyre most spiteful. Lester Bangs, Creem magazine, December 1973

Hey, Lou: You know who Lester Bangs was. The last time I interviewed you, when you were hyping your rewriting of Poe for “The Raven,” you asked me to mail you a copy of his biography, and you spoke quite warmly of him. The Catskill comedian shtick really gets old sometimes.

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