Lester Bangs once said that he would suck Lou Reed’s cock, which I suppose is as good an offer as anything to spark a creative act, though he also said White Witch, the 70s prog rock acid head band sounded “great”, and considered comparing them to Black Oak Arkansas a compliment, thus proving that you can’t always take Lester too seriously. I never heard “grunge noise and mystikal studio abstractions” in White Witch, not even when I was in more altered states. It just never did it for me: it is a case of beauty being in the ear of the beholder, and the cat’s strange tastes in audio pleasures. It was not the act, but the recipient that struck me oddly – Lou always seemed so sexless. Junkie hot, perhaps. Methy-smokin’ possibly, but what he really had that was attractive was opposing creative energy, he had that spark, and that was what was rocking Lester’s hetero boat, I suspect. I used to idolize Lou, I wanted to be him, I looked to him for advice, hip inspiration, and a roadmap to streetwise sardonic cool. Not having an imposing physical presence, my sharp tongue was my best weapon, and Lou Reed honed it. He was the Sensei and I was the grasshopper. I never could pull it off quite as stylishly as he did, but then again, what’s new. There could only ever be one Lou Reed. I used to study Jim Morrison, Jimmy Carroll and even Iggy Pop. Iggy used to do it for me artistically speaking, but then again, everyone male, female or in between wanted a piece of the ‘Pop, philosophically, physically or some punk inspired combination of the two. Horses for courses I suppose. Or reporters for popping art-weasels.
Reading Lester Bangs on Lou Reed is one of those guilty pleasures that the more sensible soul doesn’t admit to in more rarified circles – you might not want to tell your parents you indulge in such perverted pleasures, but like Lou said, “you can’t always trust your mother” to do what’s expected of her. Lester was Lou’s bard, his biggest fan, his eulogizer and his most ardent cocksucker. Even when Lester was christening Lou Reed a Death Dwarf, and pretending to be disgusted at Lou acting out shooting up on stage and throwing the rig into the audience as the cherry on top of the disgust and shock show, Lester clearly admired Lou greatly. The ability to engender intense emotion is what draws people to rock and roll, that ‘psychotic reaction’ that Lester craved. It is this reaction that every artist wants, and artistic provocation is not a cheap bauble: it comes at a great cost. It sometimes costs everything the artist has, it costs life itself. At the very least to produce, the artist must suffer. How do you know freedom if you have never been oppressed? Who can talk of beauty without kissing the gutter? Who can speak of euphoria without knowing it’s back-alleys and shooting galleries? At the very least it is bad knowledge, it is the alchemist’s trap fall. What can turn common lead into pure shining gold, and what happens when the artist fails, and that golden goose lays a plasticine egg full of nothing alive or vital at all?
Lester offering homage in a suitable manner was just one of the boys offering a reaction in a way Lou would admire, it was Lester’s spike into the audience. I hope Lou at least threw it out there loaded. Lester liked to shock just as much as Lou ever did. This Oedipal relationship between the two, Lester “killing the father” as he put it, resulted in some of the most cutting music journalism ever hacked into shape and sewn together, no matter the cough syrup junk drug methadrine haze Lester was operating in at the time, it is all fuel to the art factory mills.
“Any numbskull can be a degenerate, but not everybody realizes that even now, like Jim Morrison, Lou realized the implicit absurdity of the rock and roll bete noire badass pose and parodied, deglamorized it. Though that may be giving him too much credit.” wrote Bangs in Let Us Now Praise Famous Death Dwarves. I wish that was true. I wish Lou was the knowing jester, I wish he was coming at it all from left of center from a position above the mess and tangled webs he wrote about, I fear Lester is indeed being too kind, or not kind enough.
Lou wrote existing within the maelstrom. He wrote from the center of the road, the heart of the matter. He was not always a sympathetic character, but he was always real, which is far more important anyway. So the two of them battled and jousted, exchanging barbs and regretful interactions. Lou thrived on the conflict, it fueling his flux generator, and no doubt added to the list of daily kicks that kept him truckin’ and writin’.
Isn’t that where all good art comes from? From the push and pull, the gap between desire and realization of desire, between stagnation and action? Lou and Lester. Shakespeare and the Dark Lady, Albert and Costello. Butch Cassady and…the Sundance kid…, heck I would even throw Jagger and Keef in there: the great double acts, the opposing magnetic poles that spark off the creative juices. Andy said work, but then Andy was the spark for an entire scene, a mass-catalyst of a man.
And where does that leave me? I look for my creative spark in books and the world around me, I search for it in gutters and on rooftops. I hunt it down in Mission and cast around a butterfly net on Russian Hill. I come up wanting something other, something else, but still come up wanting more. It is the addict in me. Where does that leave art? Not in the hands of the content, or at the feet of the comfortable, nor in the barrooms and backrooms of the drunkenly careless – they never try too hard to do much except find the next bag or bottle, and then bitch that they too could have been someone, whilst Lou Reed tells them to Walk on the Wild Side. They walk and stagger and piss their pants, but they don’t write or record.
The creative spark is in every act of destruction that smashes the old system that only benefits the few while the rest sing ‘no more pint o’ salt for me’, or destroy the patriarchy, or Lou whooping for joy at the freedom of announcing that nobody needs no racist preacher and that spitting in the wind can only do you harm. It is in the song on the lips of every soul that fights for justice and light and freedom and everything that is good, and strong and decent and principled in this opening day show that we all get up and participate in day after broken day.
It is this creative spark in others that draws me to these souls. I see it in their words, and I hear it in their songs, it exhilarates me as I watch them fight and succeed, or fight and fail and get back up again. It is this creative spark that feels better than rushing down the highway in Montana, big sky country, Chris Whitley playing loud, window open, hair blowing in the wind, and a scream on my lips. It is this spark which is the only thing left in life that intrigues me. It is what has kept me alive.
It kept me alive while I spent so long defeating myself, numbing myself with opiates and booze, with benzos and blood, because I needed people to see my pain. I needed to exhibit the damage, otherwise these insensitive souls that haven’t been in the fight so far tell me how I don’t seem to be damaged, and wonder at my functioning at all, and so take away the decades of pain and the seriousness of the abuse, and rob me of my validation: it says they either don’t believe, or if they do, they don’t see how it was that bad really, and that as a young woman, when I would black out and drop back into a movie reel sequence of scenes from the abuse of my body, freezing in public, unable to function or breathe, just crying or shaking, quite quite lost, that I had no recourse to the only medicine that worked. Like every other person, I am driven by self justification and self protection, and at this point in life.
I could waste my time with apologies, I could offer reassurances, I could retreat into self doubt, but what is the point? It would only take away time chasing that spark in others that creates, and my own spark that refused to die, despite my better efforts. Tonight Im left hanging with that Cat from Creem, and Lou growling in my ear about Dime Store Mysteries and last temptations, and shouting out into the ether, wondering how many are out there who can understand, who hears, and if those of us who are left are quite outnumbered. There are worse things to do on a Friday night, trust me, and I suppose I could find them out here if I tried.