Infomercials For Myself

Continued

My hand grazed against something in my pocket and an idea took quick shape. I wasn't dead enough to think this wasn't a rare opportunity - to be trading fours with one of my personal heroes, the man whose work inspired me to pen passionate paeans to my personally preferred platters and allusively abuse alliteration as apropos. (Of course, it was his example that eventually led me to this place, too, but never mind that.) And God (and his personal assistant) only knows whether I'd ever get the chance again. For all I knew, this was just a way station en route to the cloud designated for anxiety-ridden neurosis junkies with unruly hair. Gingerly, I fished my voice-activated microcassette recorder out of my pocket...
...which was immediately slapped out of my hand by Bangs' enormous mitt. "Don't even think about it, Chester," he growled (jovially, if that's possible). "That posthumous interview gambit was old chapeau when I did the Hendrix thing in '76. Whaddaya thinkin', you're gonna get an exclusive from beyond the grave with Deceased Rock Journo No. 1? How trite." Laughner snorted in assent. Even Jones seemed to stir a little grumpily. "Hell, knowing you kids, you're probably gonna write something that refers back to the process of writing the article itself, maybe throwing some dialogue about how ridiculous the whole hall-of-mirrors bullshit is in there to get people's heads spinning."

"Yeah," I said, "'Meta Machine Music!'"

They just stared at me. Somewhere, a dead cricket chirped.

Humbled, I bent down to pick up my tape recorder, which reminded me - "Hey, funny thing. Did you know that..."

"Yeah yeah yeah, you dropped that very same tape recorder while interviewing Lou Reed and he actually showed you sympathy for it. You've repeated that goddamn anecdote so many times we heard about it up here. The one half-interesting thing that happened to you in your whole abortive rock-crit career - how proud you must be."
If my heart were still beating the blood would have rushed to my face. "Well, geez, Lester, I'm sorry, I just - "

"Ah, don't sweat it, kiddo. Yer okay. You have to understand, this posthumous lionization I've hadda lug around with me really chaps my dorsals. That 'Saint Lester' bullshit - all that ever got me was dirty looks and nasty chuckles from Tommy Aquinas every time I see him. Lenny's sympathetic - he's had to deal with it much longer than I have, after all - but he's way too distracted to talk to most of the time. Still poring over those legal briefs and court transcripts, can you believe it? The only entertainment he seems to get is every other week when he and Lennon get together and hold Albert Goldman's arms while Elvis beats the crap outta him. About the only spark anyone up here has left."

"The only thing more boring than a rock star is a dead rock star," Laughner offered.

"Ain't that the sad truth," Lester assented. "But don't just take it from us - Brian could tell you. We get most of our info second-hand from him anyway." Lester kicked him gently. "Hey, Jonesy - we got company. Oh, and one of the Master Musicians Formerly of Joujouka came by hoping you could jam. That was six months ago, so if you hurry, you can prob'ly still jump in before the first song is over."
The Stone rolled, groaned, rummaged blearily through the bags under his eyes. "'Allo. Bloody hell, did Harrison borrow my sitar wi'out asking again? Such a northerner, that one."



"Kid here wants to know what became of all the rock stars up here. We filled him in some, but he should get the real dirt straight from the horse's corpse, y'know?"

"Aahh, you're better off not knowing, man. I thought I was getting closed off and over-insulated near the end. But all any of these tossers wants to do anymore is hang around with each other. They're the only ones wot can stand one another anyroad. And sometimes not even then - Ian Curtis moped around with that kid Cobain for a few months but even he couldn't take the whining after a while. 'Oooh, I'm dead and my stomach still hurts.' Entwistle's been trying to get something going with Moon since he showed up, but Keith can't be arsed - spends all his time with Bonham at these dreary old Posthumous Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Let's see - Dennis Wilson’s all right, but we haven't seen much of him since he started dating Sharon Tate, Lennon spends all his time with McCartney...”
What was left of my journalistic instinct perked up. “Wait a minute. Are you telling me that all those rumors were right? That Paul McCartney died in 1966?”

They traded smirking looks, then burst into spittle-shooting laughter. “No, not Paul," Lester crowed. "Linda. John’s been following her around like a drowned puppy ever since she got here.”

“It’s those Sarah Lawrence girls,” Laughner said. “He can’t get enough of ‘em. Whatta fruit. And that Plastic Eastman Band album he's been working on. 'Oh, There You Are, Mother.' Primal sigh therapy. Nauseating.”

"We could go on," Lester offered. "We haven't even touched on the real depressing stuff yet - how Phil Hartman's spent his entire death so far hiding from Sinatra, why Burroughs, Algren & DeQuincey can't stop talking about what a fascinating guy this Sid Vicious is, the mess that Belushi and Stiv Bators made last week in the cherubim lounge..."
"I think I'll pass. To be honest, I'm more interested in you. There's so much I've always wanted to ask you..."

It was that goddamned Human League album I was listening to at the time. Didn't even make it past the first song - as soon as they hit that 'Johnny, Joey, Dee Dee, good times!' line at the end, my mind started reeling.

"Sure, sure. I'm an easy mark, even now. More'n happy to prattle on to every potato-faced kid with a misplaced hero fixation who knocks on my door. As long as you promise not to make me the geek chorus in some cinematic exercise in whitewashed nostalgia, g'ahead."

"So... ah... pretty ironic that you died from something as commonplace as an overdose of Darvon, huh?"

"Now, see, that's not really what happened at all. It was that goddamned Human League album I was listening to at the time. Didn't even make it past the first song - as soon as they hit that 'Johnny, Joey, Dee Dee, good times!' line at the end, my mind started reeling. Was this an ironic grafting of the punk ethos onto a thin, synthetic Limey-pop template, or did this represent where the simplicity and directness of punk was leading to? Was this something I could despise and vilify, like Kick Out the Jams and On the Corner, or was this something I could exalt and praise, like Kick Out the Jams and On the Corner? How could I fit the word 'solipsism' in there somewhere? It was all too much for my flu-addled brain, and I expired. Death by critical conundrum."

"Wow. I had no idea..."

"It's ridiculously underreported, that's why. At least five 'zine writers and columnists for mid-sized arts freebies die of it every year. It's America's hidden epidemic, mostly because nobody's looking for it."
"What a shame. Really. Who knows what might have been if..."
"Oh, I know. We all do. They give you a printout of exactly which way your life would have gone if you'd stayed tangled up in that mortal coil. Cuts down on the regret factor, 'cause nine out of ten times, it's completely merciful."

"What was it, then? Let me guess - nobody liked your novel and it destroyed you. You never wrote again."

"Oh, I woulda kept writing, but not music criticism and certainly not that fucking novel. Nope. After another six or seven more months of futzing around at the Voice, I woulda found that I was completely saturated with music. Literally couldn't stand to hear a single note of it. So I sold my stereo and my record collection and composed a career suicide note - 'Duran Duran, Meet Sirhan Sirhan' - consisting entirely of disconnected gerunds, meaningless abbreviations, and every variation on the term 'stumpfucker' I could think of, lashed together with random punctuation. Enough to get me run out of town on a wobbly rail, right? Wrong. Christgau printed it on the front page, Meltzer accused me of plagiarism, and it wound up getting shortlisted for a Pulitzer. I was suddenly the hottest property in town, which was really the last straw - I went into seclusion, ruminated on my place in the world, threw the I Ching, played solitaire with Oblique Strategies cards, and re-emerged six weeks later, reborn as... a food critic."
"Guh?"

"Well, ever since I gave up shooting speed I'd gotten my appetite back, y'know? And it was perfect - the new frontier of gastro-gonzo journalism." His eyes rolled back in his head and he spoke as if taking dictation from his spirit guide.

"'In case you got here after the appetizers or think Mayonnaise Mustard Mélange refers to something in the vicinity of the soup aisle at Safeway, let me briefly explain that what we have here is a thirty-seven-dollar entree consisting of nothing, absolutely nothing but thick layers of condiments slathered over various other garnishes, split down the middle of the plate into two totally separate troughs of utterly inedible relishes and chutneys, and sold to a dining clientele who were, to put it as mildly as possible, unprepared for it. Because sentient diners simply find it impossible not to vacate any table where it is served. It is the greatest dish in the history of the human tastebud.'" He broke from his trance, looking at me with a lopsided grin. "'How to Succeed in Indigestion Without Really Trying,' Créme magazine, August, 1984. Made me a sensation all over again. Suddenly, nouvelle vague cuisine was all the rage! I praised the work of cooks who couldn't turn on a burner without singeing their aprons! Culinary ineptitude! Power tartare! 'Every dish is an act of love towards the human race with an optional side of garlic mashed potatoes!' Rum cake-fueled fistfights with Paul Prudhomme! 'The White Sauce Supremacists!' 'Psychotic Risotto and Carbonara Dung!' That's right...I'd run out of ideas. Without amphetamines and booze to bolster me, I had nothin', so I resorted to cannibalizing myself."
"Yeah, a lot of that stuff seems refashioned from your older stuff."
"No, I mean literally cannibalizing myself - the final solution to the food problem. Got a pretty decent article out of it, at least up to the point that I ate the fingers on my typing hand, but obviously, there was nowhere left to go after that." He sighed. "And that would have been that. I'm lucky to be dead today."

"Cripes, Les," Laughner said, "at least that's a decent story. If it weren't for that damned pancreatitis, I'da been reduced to refashioning all my songs into jingles for local merchants. 'Take the guitar player for a ride/ Down to Mullnax Lincoln-Mercury/ 1700 Pearl Road/ Brunswick, Ohio...'"

"And what about you, Brian?"

"Me?" He pondered briefly. "They'd've offered to let me back in the band and I would've really killed myself then."

"The man has his dignity," Lester said admiringly. "When I think of all the ink I spilled trying to figure that clutch of norks out..."

"Hey, that's right," I said, pulling a set of fingerprint-smeared galleys - one of the last things I weighed myself down with before my final leap of faithlessness - from my pocket, "there are some pieces on the Stones in the new book you have coming out - Blood Feasts, Mainlines and Bad Taste - A Lester Bangs Reader (Anchor). Good thing I remembered; this piece was starting to need some narrative propulsion."

"Ah, yes, (John) Morthland's collection of canon fodder," Bangs chuckled as he plucked it from my grasp and began pawing through its contents. "Best I can hope for is that this winds up as some kind of corrective."

"To what, the first book (Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung, also available in paperback from Anchor)? God, that book made me a writer."

"Made me one, too - stitched together a monster with quadrophonic bolts in his goddamned neck is what it did. But that's (Greil) Marcus for you. I hardly knew the guy."

(Brian nudged Peter. "Pretty impressive how they can talk in parentheses like that, innit?")

"But I always thought you considered him something of a mentor," I offered.

"I don't mean him. I mean me. Or at least that noble, heroic version of me he lashed together. You know how the guy is - everything has to be either an political/intellectual powderkeg or some piece of all-American mythological hoohah to even appear on his radar screen. And hey, I was guilty of chasing the holy Greil sometimes - sometimes, you just can't help but search for something greater, especially when you've just come home from a Uriah Heep concert - but you can't graft a high-culture/low-culture frame onto rock 'n' roll. It's not all gold or gob, goddammit. It's a fun exercise to pretend that everything in rock 'n' roll stems either from some obscure sect of conical-hat-wearin', gibberish-spraying band of Frog vandals or the grooves of a blues 78 you found at a Cambridge yard sale that nobody you know has heard of, but it ain't so. You aim too high or too low, you'll never make the kill shot. Which is right smack dab in the lower-middlebrow."

"Uh-oh," smirked Peter, "rant time. Settle in, kid, you're about to get a taste of why eternity seems so long."

Continued on page 3: "If you needed any evidence that speed cranks up the libido at the expense of your common sense, well, check out how even Anne Murray and Helen Reddy could get my crotch-motor revving in that state " >>

 


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