An EW senior writer recounts his own brush with the legendary critic

By Tom Sinclair
Updated September 27, 2000 at 04:00 AM EDT
Credit: Bangs: Bob Gruen/Star File
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Cameron Crowe’s semiautobiographical ”Almost Famous” recalls how late great rock scribe Lester Bangs profoundly influenced his career. But his isn’t the only story to tell. EW’s Tom Sinclair recounts his own brush with Bangs.

I could kiss Cameron Crowe for putting Lester Bangs in ”Almost Famous.” Lester changed my life. Like William Miller, the fledgling teen music journalist in the film, I was weaned on Creem, the seminal rock magazine that Bangs wrote for in the early ’70s. During those years, Bangs was not only my favorite rock writer, he was damn near my favorite writer, period. To say his writing sang is to sell it short: It shouted, sighed, belched, wheezed, guffawed, whispered, and yodeled. It’s true I was obsessed with rock & roll, but I was equally obsessed with Lester Bangs.

By 1979, my hero was living in New York — my hometown — and writing for the Village Voice. I was publishing a photocopied fanzine, Chaos & Evolution/Trom, full of record reviews, bad fiction, and worse poetry. One day that June I screwed up my courage and called the great man. I reached him on the first try, told him I was a big fan and wanted to interview him. ”Sure,” he said. ”Come over Saturday at 2.”

My idol, sans his trademark mustache, greeted me affably at his seedy West 14 Street apartment. There were records strewn all over his living room, among them several sealed copies of Iggy and the Stooges’ ”Raw Power” (”I’m always worried it’s gonna go out of print.”) Contrary to his image as a Romilar swilling rummy, he was stone sober, declining to partake of the Colt 45 I’d brought to mark the occasion.

Lester was a natural raconteur, able to talk about music and life endlessly. What’s more, he seemed genuinely interested in what I thought. We talked for two hours after my interview tape ran out. When I left, he gave me a gift: two poems he’d just written and a Pere Ubu single.

I never saw him again. He died three years later of an apparent Darvon overdose. Since then, I’ve become a ”real” music journalist, one who’s paid to interview rock stars and write record reviews. If it weren’t for Lester’s example, I’d probably be a bike messenger or a postal clerk. So, from the bottom of my heart: Thanks, buddy, wherever you are. (And don’t let the movie star thing go to your head.)

Almost Famous

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  • 124 minutes
  • Cameron Crowe