Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung collects about 350 pages of vintage essays by Lester Bangs, whose rock-critic career lasted from 1969 to his death in 1982. Musically, this coincides with heavy metal, glam rock, progressive rock, and punk. Psychotic Reactions contains essays on all of these, but discusses everyone else too, including John Coltrane, Barry White, Elvis Presley, Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream, and James Taylor.
Bangs’ public feud with Lou Reed is a highlight of the book. After writing, “Lou Reed is my own hero principally because he stands for all the most fucked up things that I could ever possibly conceive of”, Bangs humiliates and tortures his hero. Psychotic Reactions will exhaust some readers with this nonstop iconoclasm (literally, “idol smashing”); as Bangs wrote about Richard Hell, “The only trouble, and what limits his necessity, is that his intelligence, so awesome in possibility, is finally reduced to the torment it revels in.”
Bangs was an alcoholic, Robotussin-swilling speed freak who wrote post-Beat prose that writhes on the page. He was self-destructive but possessed with an awe-inspiring intellect. Because he wasn’t afraid to speak his mind, or to change it, any summary of his taste or critical judgments is fatuous and self-defeating. But even those who prefer pretension and self-conscious “art” to incompetent garage bands will admire Psychotic Reactions’ honest and often very funny appraisal of seventies pop and rock music.
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