ROCK n ROLL
Among his many obsessions
(rock n roll and Romilar being simply the two best-known), Lester Bangs was
gripped throughout his creative career by the burning desire to pen a novel.
Not just any novel,
mind you. Not even the fabled Great American Novel. Lester wanted to write the
Great American Rock n Roll Novel.
for the most part, fiction and rock n roll have made for the lousiest of
bedfellows. But before we get into that, I should note that, like Bangs, I define both of
those terms rather broadly.
me, rock n roll encompasses everything from Hank Williams to Public Enemy,
Parliament-Funkadelic to the Orb, and Bangss beloved Count Five to the indie hipster
Califone album that Im playing as I type these thoughts. It is only marginally a
music, much more a soulful, rebellious, and passionate attitudethe always inspiring
(if sometimes abused or misdirected) Middle Finger in the Face of Conformity. I feel
qualified to say this because, like Bangs, I have been a professional rock
critic for going on 10 years now, and a fanatical fan with fanatical opinions to inflict
on people for much, much longer.
well, fiction is, like, the creative recounting of made-up stuff, right?
Whether its invented out of whole cloth or a thinly veiled take on ones own
experiences; William Gibson or Tom Wolfe, William S. Burroughs or Jack Kerouac.
for any special qualifications I have to judge the quality of this stuff as, you know, litteracha,
I make no claims whatsoeverI just know what I like. Its the editor of this
august journal, the fair opera maiden Amber Dorko Stopper, who is under the delusion that
I might have something to add to the proceedings that follow, this ambitious compilation
of a half-dozen tales that, if not the first tentative steps down the bumpy roads toward
actual rock n roll novels, are at least bonafide not-bad-at-all,
pretty-darn-good-in-fact attempts at great rock n roll short stories.
Which brings us back to this bidness of rock n
roll fiction and the undeniable fact that most of it has sucked. Or as Lester might say:
BAD! No good! It all sucks little doggies equally!! Bleeaacchh!!! Forget about
great; a plain ol good or even just acceptably readable Rock
n Roll Novel has yet to be writ, despite the music being some four and a half
decades old at this point, and serious writing about the same being only about ten years
there have been plenty of attempts, some failed but gameIm thinking of Twisted
Kicks by the young Tom Carson, before he was a highly-paid Esquire scribe, or
of Paperback Writer, Mark Shippers entirely invented history of
the Beatlesand the rest just failed, period. (The list of stinkers is absolutely
endless, though it might be topped by Danny Sugermans stench-o-riffic Wonderland
Avenue, which gets extra demerits for its authors hubris; when I interviewed him
for Bangss biography, he actually told me that everyone always thought that Lester
would write the Great American Rock N Roll Novelor maybe Cameron Crowebut
no, it had fallen to him, Doors toady turned Fawn Hall spouse Danny Sugerman, to
successfully shoulder this grandiose burden. Feh!)
there has been fiction that accurately references the world of rock n
roll. Examples here range from the sublime (Bruce Sterlings Dori Bangs,
for one, a short story that imagines an afterlife for St. Lester; Mick Farrens Jim
Morrisons Adventures in the Afterlife: A Novel for anotherand aint
it inneresting that both are about dead people?), to the guilty-pleasure ridiculous
(Stephen Kings gratuitous rock-roll name n dropping, fer instance, or
rarer and hence more inspiring is fiction that crackles with the energy of the best
rock n roll. Cases in point: Trinities by Nick Tosches and The Night
(Alone: A Novel) by Richard Meltzer. Peers and pals o Bangs and reformed rock
critics both, neither could entirely purge the Noise from their souls, even if theyve
effectively banished it from their turntables. The rock-roll attitude rings through loud
and clear in their prose, even when these street punks-turned-venerated authors are
ostensibly writing about the mob (Tosches) or Richard Meltzer (Richard Meltzer).
are now two-thirds of the way through this essay and I have yet to say anything about the
actual submissions that follow, which are ostensibly the subject of this preface. Sorry,
but like I said, I just know what I like, and I like them all just fine, more or
less. My favorite contributors follow in the footsteps of the Meltzer and Tosches school
of rock n roll fiction by embodying the spirit of the songs that
inspired themthat gleeful Middle Finger, the most obvious embodiment of what another
punk sage once called the lust for liferather than working like literal
sculptors with the actual clay of musical minutiae.
the end, maybe that is the lesson we can take away from this endeavor: Good writing can be
rock n roll without having to be about rock n roll.
what it is worth, my favorite sentences are as follows, in no particular order: Hot hot
hot hot hot hot hot hot hot hot hot
And then the curtain parted and Joe
looked up and there was Minnie, kickin the gong around.
cleansing, a drink or not?
The ever-engaging plastic anchorperson feeds the
insatiable drama: Chuck, there isnt going to be a potato sack race this year,
They knew more about transsexuals than they seemed to know about
people from Finland; about the Finnish, they seemed to know little more than Marimekko
sheets and placemats, or the Lasse Viren blood-doping scandal.
My nose worked fine.
Read on, and enjoy them all in context. And remember, should
the mania of pursuing the Great American Rock n Roll Novel ever infect you
like those unfortunate British bovines stricken with hoof and mouth: It has so far eluded
bigger talents than you, boyo, but that dont mean it aint worth trying.
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