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Who Are The Real Dictators?
By Lester Bangs

In early 1976 Lester Bangs visited the "Punk Dump" and banged out a stream of consciousness article that described his uncensored reaction to the Handsome Dick Manitoba vs. Wayne County incident. Shortly after he wrote it he read it out loud to the Dictators at a rehearsal session, and during his brief visit Lester announced to everyone he met that he was going to "expose the Gay Mafia" in the pages of PUNK magazine. At the time this was HUGE news in the NYC club scene. Many people warned us NOT to publish the article (even though no one had read a single word or had even a vague idea of what was to be published), and several advertisers dropped out of the magazine when they heard what we were about to do. This made me even more determined to publish it. But…

Once Lester returned to Detroit he had second thoughts about publishing the article. He was planning to leave his post at Creem and go into freelancing and he thought this article would hurt his career. So as much as I hated to look like we were caving in to pressure, I let Lester off the hook.

PUNK survived the incident. So did Lester, Handsome Dick, Wayne/Jayne County and everyone else involved. Since my take at the time was that some controversy would be good for the club scene, everyone's fear and trepidation got me very pissed off…

This is far from Lester's best writing, but it's a piece of history, and reveals a lot more of Lester than anything else. I am presenting it here in its original form – no changes – just a few missing phrases towards the end.

–John Holmstrom, Summer 2000

This is directed from a half-connected member of a certain very limited audience/scene/crowd/bunch of jerks to the rest of the people who think it's worth their while to identify themselves with same. Meaning that there is a scene in N.Y. rock behind The Scene, I just came in to take a look at it, and as an impartial observer who's just about to move here and lose his impartiality – well, this is what I saw and this is what I think. My ambition is to become James Wolcott anyway.

I got back from a trip to Jamaica and heard this Manitoba–Wayne County story. If you don't know what I'm talking about, don't read any more of this. It's been a truism and a truth for a long time that we all live in this miniscule world and act like it's the whole world when really there is so much outside which could not give a damn about us or our little internecine affairs. Nobody gives a shit about me or Lisa Robinson or Danny Fields (even though he got prime staging in a French rock magazine – which is really what all of us and all our scene(s) amount to – like in France they still have FLAMIN' GROOVIE fan clubs and maybe always will – so just hang out enough at NYC/CBGB's/Max's if you lick history and you too can become an automatic legend 'cross the pond – they're so starved, it's easier than new York, and all you have to do to be loved by the chi chi rock crowd in NY is be cutely out of it – Ramones, who are a lot better than what sometimes surrounds them like bathtub rings – or stalking slow no contract yet but the weight of history on your shoulders like Television, who are OK but shit, if it was expected of YOU that you gotta go to some fucking rock club and stand there awestruck or at least applauding or at least not saying, "What…?" you might get a little resentful too… What I'm trying to work up the nerve to say (!!!!) is that going to see Television at CBGB's at least is like being in church, and it's particularly uncomfortable stalling in the lead pew because it hurts to tell such a nice guy as Tom Verlaine that the "improvisations" of his band sound like the fucking Grateful Dead, latemodern-exploratory Pink Floyd even the Duane Allman Brothers et. al. was just a bunch of cats who didn't know how to improvise playing scales basically if you wanna get right down to it…. In other words fuck 'em, if you don't like Television or anybody else it doesn't make any fucking difference, if I don't like X Band it doesn't matter, all that really matters as I am beginning to discern in this N.Y. rock scene is who you please and if you're on the inside of this grand invisible sacred circle of the Cult Figures who have been deigned worthy of transmission to the outside world by the media connections because connections is exactly what they are so gonna hit it up every night of the week – if them folks like you &/or your band then you got a hell of a lot easier road to the national venue than some other nobody.

I ramble because I don't want to get to the point. Why I don't want to get to the point is that I am moving to this city and I don't wanna cross the (at least rock – although I'm sure and you KNOW it extends even more strongly through theatre, the art world, etc.) rock culture FAGGOT MAFIA which exists in this town, N.Y.C., right now, and makes its presence known every day in so many thousand ways that upon reading this article they may not even bother to say no but may smile and sit back and say, "Sure it's true, dumbo, what're you gonna do about it?"

They got a good gimmick going for them. Historically, it's extremely limited, about as limited as you can be on the silver screen of centuries, got all that you jerks genuflecting in the presence of a senile Bette Davis's wrinkles, but, but, but in the short run it don't mean shit. This, what I'm writing right now, is neither directed to straight or gay readership, but to anybody who detests either Joe McCarthy or Robert Christgau. So read on, you all non-registered members of the generation which is not even good enough to be as blank as Richard Hell did his best to make you into something approximating art but he'd have done a lot better to have started talking about the hang Out generation, the people who sit frozen at tables in any club or in front of their record players waiting for somebody who "Matters" to come along and tell them that's cool, hip, correct, RIGHT FOR THEM TO LIKE. THE AUDIENCES AT CBGB'S AND NEW YORK ROCK CLUBS GENERALLY NOW ARE THE WORST CONFORMISTS I HAVE EVER SEEN. They're worse than maynard G. Krebs on Dobie Gillis. At least Maynard knew he liked Thelonious Monk, even if he had to pawn the records to buy his mother a birthday present, because of course beatniks liked Thelonious Monk at least in the mythology of the late 50's – early 60's. But the people around now are so null – like I mean that movie and song whichever came first shoulda been called "Null Generation" and anybody who takes credit for being a member should be publicly ridiculed – the audiences at OmFug's Palace and Max's and wherever else you can go to sit and bland out to the New bands, these kids are so fucking dull they make the rank and file, conformist, rigidly Cool beatniks of legend look like Neal Cassady on lastchance bebop whoopup binge. Dig, daddios and kiddios? I mean like there is such stiffness in the air you could cut it with a blunt palette – meaning it ain't art, it's copping oldtime attitudes (like way oldtime, like Sixties you fuckheads) which is in the only soul it could pretend to a matter of standing still, holding quiet jaded whatever tides might wanna jump up and scream NO IN THUNDER or at least BETTER BETTER PLEASE I GOTTA MEMORY BESIDES WHICH MY HAND IS STAMPED WITH BREAD I PAID TO SEE SOMEBODY PRETEND THEY'RE THE NEXT BIG THING, no, you are absolutely forbidden to say that, fuck what you think, it is not hip to think although it is hip to have opinions if anybody is willing to lend you an ear, otherwise forget it, you'll be silenced as a dumbshit in no time flat…

In other words come clean. A limited group of people really do decide what is cool to get out to the rest of the schlubs in middle America. Never mind that if you ever met any one of the members of that limited group they would turn out every bit as schlubby as the worst jerk you might know, just keep in mind that there is a Mafia, a new cultural Mafia, it exists and is not about to go away, and if you ever cared about the Velvet Underground, Doors, Stooges, David Peel, Nico, Dolls, Television, Ramones, Sidewinders etc. on and on and on you might as well know that I can't even name names here but a lot of your macho rock heros got their contracts etc. by fucking sleazy aging homosexuals who are in a position to help them by putting the word out, calling up their friends who are of like disposition, or simply signing you to the company they work for that puts out all those records by all those pretty faced stars you been buying all your life and why do you think they were there in the first place…

But that ain't news. That shit's as old as Brian Epstein. Older. If you wanted to be really artsy and show off your erudition you could go back to how it's documented that Nijinsky had to let Diaghilev buttfuck him to be a "success." It's like all the old shit you ever read about Hollywood, Starlets and the Casting Couch, and it's all TRUE, except it is and has been pretty boys that somebody wants to suck off. It's like I remember in '66 seeing a thing about Warhol and the Velvets on Public Television, me and my nephew are there smoking weed and watching the Velvets at the Dom playing seamless "oriental" blast jams with Cale mooning over his open-tuning viola and Lou Reed strumming in front of a massive wall of amps and then cut to the audience who was all these Warholite scenemakers of the time doing jerky null-elbow no-knee methamphetamine catatonic dances to this drone, and in all 1966 naivete I turned to my nephew and said, "Gee, I wonder how you could ever get into a group of people like that?"

Okay, I'm not putting down going down, and I'm not putting down homosexuals, A straight person can't afford to do anything remotely approximating such an action at this point in history, because just like blacks the memory of ugly oppressions is too close, in fact out there in wherever most of America lives it of course is still an apparent fact of life, meaning that sorry if this sounds patronizing but I feel sorry for anybody who has to go through their life with total assholes snickering at them with sadistically gleaming eyes just because they happen to be a little bit different in some way or another. There are pains beyond trendiness, beyond S&M/B&D chi chi shit which any self-respecting sadist or masochist must hate as much as the author of this piece does, pains that have to do with smirking leering and obviously incomplete individuals, obviously repressed fuckheads who are gonna make you eat dirt because you might happen to love or love to make love to your own sex or carry some other propensity which does not happen to fit their narrow locks of endless dread…

But. New York is not the U.S.A. at large, as we all know to our humor, chagrin, indifferences… and thus being gay, in New York right now, is not, as far as I can see from everyone I have met and talked to on all levels of business and media (in that order – art shambles somewhere on down the line) – being gay in New York right now, at least in the media, or certifiably in the rock div. of the media which I have been observing firsthand since 1969 – admit it, you cocksuckers, being gay in the music business is nothing to hide except when you gotta make nice with rack jobbers from lower Ill., being gay is of course rather something that you understandably are proud of and trumpet or at least (and this is where the real perversion comes in) parlay to your advantage. Everybody knows it around here but nobody says it except all the women who complain that all the guys in New York now are gay (which itself is a cliché and not worthy of reply – what they really mean is that the straight guys are pathologically clumsy and they feel more comfortable around faggots who at least won't make some lumbering pass ⅔rds of the way through the evening on some interior timeclock even weirder than any gay riff) and those few faggots who realize they run the show and don't have to pretend or suck off surrogates or swindle come out of Stooges no more, time has come today right right?, time has come when it's all out in front that most of the influential music business/club-owning/magazine publishing (like for instance the most popular mass-distributed glossy-color beefcake Brit-band fanzine in the country and After Dark which I can even name because their writing is so shitty I never have to worry as a freelancer about losing assignments because they don't pay good enough besides which they'd be proud of being known in River City & Environs as the gay Playboy which only goes to further prove my original point), it's more clear that even as one in New York trying to do something artistically on any level has always from time immemorial been either In or Out Of Favor, it's clear by now 1976 that you better please the hip elite gay cognoscenti around town, boy, or you ain't got a chance sorry junior.

Again. I got no axe to grind against gay people. Especially since (a) as soon as I say anything derogatory at all about any espousedly gay artist or gay culture as a whole I'm branded as a "homophobe" or repressed or something, and (b) the people currently calling the rock scene shots in NYC are not gay, they are faggots. Crucial distinction, like black people and niggers. Being white and straight, I tread water that nips the ankles at this point, but I believe that just like there are people who happen to be black in disgusted with and detesting members of their own race who play up big Nig for white bozman, so of course there are Faggots both professional and, uh, "common law," okay? there are homosexuals who use their sexual predilections not as an instrument of any kind of honest politics but very politically (if "honesty" and "politics" aren't mutually exclusive) to get their rocks off and beyond that lay down the law in New York about just exactly who's acceptable and who's ignorable, and it's hilarious how many straights, who are probably too sheepish to declare themselves a minority group, will inevitably and always go along with the Gay (no relation to any liberation – the key word here is ARROGANCE) Party Line.

Like Lenny Kaye. I haven't and will not name very many names in this piece, because I'm a politician too, you have to be to survive these days. I'm Jimmy Carter, everybody's friend. Every time I come to town I'm fabulous, well I'm moving here in October and I give myself six months to become, "Oh… HIM…" Because I do not dress right, neither do I follow the Word as laid down by God knows who but all (or so many of) the people I would like to call my peers and contemporaries sure do pick up on it. It's just exactly like those 50's half-parodies in the Village Voice of what's Hip and Square, In and Out. We are surrounded by nothing but nullnod passive beatniks and all I'm saying is that it's time for every individual close enough to this scene to get irate one way or another by what I'm saying here to come out of their cool and REACT. Like I said, like Lenny. Now, I love Lenny – he's one of the funniest people I've ever met for starters, and being a "rock star" hasn't changed him one iota, which demonstrates a certain strength at core integrity soul that so many others from Jagger on out (never say down) lacks… but. But. Lenny has for some time pulled off the not inconsiderable feat of remaining tight buddies with the let's say R. Meltzer faction and the R. & L. Robinson/D. Fields/etc. faction. Lenny should be respected for this by anybody that cares, because after a certain point in time, probably exactly the point that R. Meltzer was deigned no longer divinely destructo party favor but rather merely another obnoxious slob, ever since then them two factions have not been able to meet on any ground. Except, I guess, Lenny's, which I guess is very like mine, because we both like members of the two respective hostile media armies. Like I respect Danny Fields more than about 97% of the people I can think of, because know that if not for Danny Fields it is quite likely there never would have been any mass-released albums by people like the MC5, Stooges, Nico, or even David Peel. I wouldn't be surprised if Danny had something to do with getting the Velvet underground out to the shopping centers of America in early 1967, although I've never asked him about it. He just has a particular facility for picking up on people who are brilliant, juxtaposing them either with other brilliants or businesspeople who are in a position to help them, and the result is The Marble Index, Kick Out the Jams, the Stooges albums on Elektra, and now the Ramones.

But. But but but but. I heard this thing, which all have heard by now, about Manitoba vs. Wayne County at CBGB's. If you haven't heard it the story (a feeding floodwater of conventional wisdom) goes that Wayne County, the much print-celebrated though never recorded yet except one Bernard Stollman ripoff drag queen popstar was doing his schtick, which at least one critic has said makes him the new Lenny Bruce, from the stage at CBGB's one night, in March? February? I mean like who cares? I wasn't there, but soon as I got back from where I'd been while it happened it was the first gossip I heard, and then I heard things like "Don't know how Manitoba's gonna be able to show his face around here after this," that from "impartial" observers, and that witnesses were lining up to testify (solid reliable witnesses like Leee Black Childers who is a swell guy but also Wayne's roommate), Kathi Stein of Circus whose confidence I will break by saying that she has told me in the past that purely proximately she is so steeped in gay make culture that even she, now, reading this would think I admit that her viewpoint is a bit Yellow Booked up thru next year) that Manitoba got drunk and got up on the stage and got downright abusive towards Wayne, so abusive as to actually call him a "homo," throw ice cubes and spit at him, and generally act like an asshole in the middle of somebody else's (hopefully extensible) 15 minutes of fame. So, fighting back like any man or woman or new Age duplo-citizen would do right in the street, Wayne just hauled off and clubbed Handsome Dick Manitoba of the recently-dropped-from-Epic and hardly prospering in New York Tators over the head with the mikestand. Manitoba wound up in the hospital with stitches required that I don't remember but can be counted in teens, subsequently filed assault charges against Wayne County I mean you know which caused Wayne to spend a day in the Tombs, and as of this writing the outcome, if it matters, of the whole war is still pending in the courts.

Now, like I say, I wasn't there, I got no bones to pick or axes to grind. I'm not a townie, which somehow maybe makes me one of the few people who can comment on this whole freakout with any degree of objectivity. Yeah, Manitoba's a personal friend of mine, but that doesn't mean I think the gospel spins out every time he opens his mouth. And I've never seen Wayne County's act but I talked to him on the phone once and he was a real nice guy, especially in the light of I'd just written him a mildly fag-baiting ("You dumb cocksuckin' motherfuckin' drag queen, if you had the brains God gave armadillos you'd" etc.) letter, I mean to say he responded "Yeah, oh, I LOVED your letter, 'cause ah (this boy's a whole cracker – love to hook him up with Ronnie Van Zandt sometime) jes' love darty talk… bad language…" So one would assume that Wayne understands the value of positive negativism.

But apparently that understanding didn't extend to Handsome Dick Manitoba. Because, via mike stand, this drag queen brained the shit out of the head Dictator. When I first heard about it I put it down to something I don't like to talk about but privately have always called the Meltzer Syndrome, i.e. you don't get acceptance with the rock media honchos in N.Y.C., or maybe even as in Meltzer's case you do, but either failing to make a living or even a profile in this scene, and being silenced as an "anti-intellectual" every time you open your mouth, and coming to be regarded as pretty much of a creep by the blue law and ordered "intelligensia," and realizing how basically dumb most of those people shutting you out actually are, which is an open secret but nobody says it because politics ain't just a game but a lifestyle at the same time – realizing all that you rebel, go crazy, apeshit, explode, erupt and succeed in getting yourself even more on the Outs with the Arbiters than you were before you took this sideways lam out of career into "Oh… HIM…" neighborhood. Meltzer did it, among other accomplishments, by pissing in the fountain at the party commemorating the end of the Rolling Stones' 1972 tour of the Americas. Never mind that conceptually and historically it was a gesture totally in keeping with Stones myth if not reality – bunch of banal clerks, Jesus I mean you know – black and blue my ASS – the hard cold facts were that after that Meltzer was persona non grata at press parties etc. the length (ain't no breadth, really) of the Manhattan Rock Muzik Biz Scene. He'd been bringing it on himself for quite awhile, actually – every time MCA would send him a dogshit album by a Patti Dahlstrom he would review it in Fusion, throwing it in the record companys' faces that not only had he not listened to the album and sold the review copy unshrinkwraped – cherrybusted as soon as he got it in the mail, but that he had nothing but terminal disdain for all the rest of their product too. In effect, he made a declaration of independence: "I am not a rock record reviewer, I think all your records are shit and basically and finally FUCK YOU ALL." Which maybe have been one of the most admirable transactions any single individual ever had with the music business. But the mistake Meltzer made was to do that and then still expect them to invite him on/to all their parties, junkets, etc. You cannot spit in the face of anybody, even somebody as masochistic as many of the people working for record companies have proven themselves to be, and expect them to come back tomorrow and pet you and hand out more freebees and tell you what a groovy guy you are and invite you to California to do another interview with Kim Fowley.

So when I first heard of this Manitoba/County thing I got vibes much similar. Dropped by Epic, frustrated, gigs hard to come by, hanging out at CBGB's and other places, drunk, frustrated, frustrated frustrated, so you lash out. Sure. But what I want to say here is that EVEN IF ALL OF THAT IS TRUE IT DOESN'T MAKE ANY DIFFERENCE. Because this whole scene is up for grabs, the blank generation is just sitting around waiting for a good cosmetician SO GODDAM LONG ALL THEIR FACES ARE ROTTING, so fuck it all. So what. So what if, as I've heard, Manitoba regularly heckled other bands at CBGB's like the Heartbreakers for instance, featuring the fab Johnny Thunders who has been expert at macho-posturing his lips for three or four years now, and Jerry Nolan who in a recent issue of this magazine photographically resembled an extra in a gladiator movie as much as any rock hero I've ever seen (I mean, Jesus, doesn't he at least have some chick to do his hair right before he goes onstage out in front of the cameras), all reined in by Richard Hell, who better cut out the James Dean crap quick and set about his business of making rock 'n' roll which will define the generation he and we belong to which is not blank at all as he well knows… I mean, SO WHAT if Manitoba heckled the Heartbreakers, or any other band? History has infinitely more respect for hecklers than present N.Y, rock scene dicta – time was when hecklers were respected! Take Taylor Mead, a brilliant heckler.

(Short break in the manuscript)

A stage that's continually up for grabs. Pirandello long dead and not remembered because association with this shit would be as dumb as blaming snuff movies on Artaud. The whole scene is anti-intellectual, and predicated upon, in the parlance of Pink Flamingos (a flick worthless beyond belief, but still contributory to the general culture by default if nothing else, and in my worst moments I almost truly believe there is nothing else), "assholism." We are all assholes, therefore we exist or at least claw at fame in fashions often so anal aggressive it don't even matter. So when I hear people invoking stuff like the "sanctity of the stage" re Manitoba vs. Wayne County, I have to laugh, and would out loud if the whole thing wasn't so fucking pathetic. But when I tell Lenny Kaye about it and he says, "Yeah, well, there's a lot of people who have thought the Dictators were assholes for a long time…" and when I hear rumors about Danny Fields actively taking steps to prevent the Dictators from getting gigs (rumors I won't bother to verify because the last time I called Danny about something like this it was to ask him if I could say in Creem that he thought Barry Manilow's music was shit, which he did, but he said that he didn't like to spread "bad vibes" and suggested I use either Ed McCormack's or Ed Hood's name in his place, in other words like the rest of us I sometimes think, he's Jimmy Carter, which just may be the worst thing you can say about a person however much you like them), when I hear all this shit it just rings Joe McCarthy bells and those bells are tolling for everybody that ever played, listened to or cared about rock 'n' roll, because the industry slides on Vaseline to a certain extent I do believe, and the next time you groove out on your fave badass metal band you might consider that somebody else could have been in that identical spot if not for certain backroom and backside deals. But business is still and always only business, on Times Square or the top floor of take your pick world's largest media conglomerates. And you don't have to make way for anybody anymore just because they're gay, and shit, I'm not even telling you to like the Dictators, but my sister married one and they made me realize again that rock 'n' roll will stand in the face of all contrived scenes and withering glances which have been practiced so identically with such repetition in front of so many mirrors that they don't mean anything at all anymore, if they ever did, because they never will again.

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