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Creem – America’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll Magazine, Reviewed Issue By Issue – April 1977 (Volume 8, Number 11)

The April 1977 issue of Creem magazine represented a seismic change in the history of the magazine. Lester Bangs, who had been the defining voice of Creem from the early 1970s, was no longer on the editorial staff. Feeling underappreciated and undercompensated, Lester had been harboring a long simmering resentment toward publisher Barry Kramer. During a 1976 assignment in New York, Bangs had amassed a huge room service bill, which did him no favors with management. In reality, after five years in Detroit, in was time for Lester to see if he could find a broader platform for his work.

Unfortunately, in some circles, Bangs has become somewhat of a cartoonish figure – a drunken or pharmaceutically fueled slob who slammed out a torrent of words that was as much about his self-aggrandizement as it was the artists he was covering. That opinion is often shared by writers who aren’t as talented or influential as Lester Bangs was. Bangs could be thoughtful, humorous, and moralizing, often in a single piece. He had that rare talent to take the reader on an emotional rollercoaster ride, while never ceding his ability to analyze popular culture in the most unpretentious and straightforward manner possible.

The cartoon version of Bangs also conflicts with the reality of his job at Creem. Being on a rock ‘n’ roll magazine staff may have been a hipper, less traditional job than most of us will ever have. Still, it had its mundane tasks – editing copy, attending meetings, mentoring junior employees. Bangs, by all accounts, was extremely good in his professional role. Although he certainly wasn’t a teetotaler in Detroit, it is possible that the discipline of his job and the long hours may have helped reign in some of his more self-destructive tendencies. After moving to New York, being a freelancer and, perhaps, feeling pressured to live up to a hard living reputation, may have hastened his passing in 1982 at the age of 33.

When I started this project, I had read the two anthologies of Lester’s work and I knew how talented he was. Reading even more of his work, the pieces not deemed suitable for inclusion in the anthologies, has reinforced to me that he was even better than I had previously thought. Lester could look at an artist, understand their place in current pop culture, and understand how they linked to the past and the future. Anyone who writes Bangs off as someone who practiced a personality-based style of writing that was disrespectful to the form or the artists he covered has a sadly myopic view of music journalism history. Simply put, he was as talented as anyone who has ever worked in the art of rock criticism.


“Leo Sayer: Could 1,000 Nurses Be Wrong?,” by Patrick Goldstein

“Is Ray Davies In Disgrace? Tales of Mad Dogs and Englishmen…,” by Patrick Goldstein

“Shy Rock Star Almost Unburdens Himself,” by Nick Kent (cover story on Jimmy Page)

“Bruce Springsteen’s Longest Season,” by Robert Duncan

“Journey to the Center of Funk: P-Funk Welcomes You Aboard,” by Ed Ward

In a photo taken by Bob Gruen and then illustrated by Gary Ciccarelli, Jimmy Page graced the April 1977 cover of Creem, looking like the preeminent guitar god of his era. However, in the accompanying piece, he sounded like he would have rather been at the dentist than being interviewed. The feature on Ray Davies is solid, if unspectacular. However, natural born cynics Robert Duncan and Ed Ward show untrammeled love in their pieces on Springsteen and P-Funks. The result – two excellent features on two of the most important acts of the 1970’s. Also, Billy Altman’s “The Beat Goes On” piece on the Sex Pistols demonstrated how the world was about to change.

Lynyrd Skynyrd appeared in the “Creem’s Profiles” as “Winners of the National Cirrhosis Society Liver of the Month Award.” I’m guessing that if they would have sent their roadies to play their live sets, only about 30% of the audience would have noticed the difference.

Quotable Quotes:

Bob Seger, “I don’t believe in inspiration. It’s a craft like anything else. Although it WON’T come when you want it to.”

Billy Altman on Johnny Rotten/the Sex Pistols, “Johnny, who almost hangs from the mike stand as he sings (gnarls, I guess is more like it) glares at his audience. His eyes bulging, his body tensed – a leper inviting you to feel his disease…Forget about CBGB’s and the New York ‘punk’ scene. Compared to the Sex Pistols, the stuff in the states is muzak for day care centers.”

Leo Sayer, “Keith Moon played on my first single. The one that sold 50 copies.”

Ray Davies, “Please don’t make me out to be a drunkard. I’ve barely succeeded in living down last year’s tales of dissipation.”

Jimmy Page on “The Song Remains the Same” movie, “It’s not a great film…just a reasonably honest statement of where we were at that particular time. That’s all it can be, really.”

Robert Duncan on Bruce Springsteen, “The last thing an honest-to-goodness true grit person wanted to appear on stage was an honest-to-goodness true grit person. When you come from a background as mundane as Springsteen does, you don’t celebrate it – you celebrate release from it.”

Ed Ward on Parliament’s live act, “My hair was standing on end, and my mouth was gaping open. If Alice Cooper could see this, I thought, he’d hang himself for real. And if Kiss could see it, they’d be spitting blood and fire out of frustration.”

George Clinton, “The only group I think that ever took it to the max was the Beatles.”

Robert A. Hull, “Blondie’s debut LP is perhaps the coolest respite within the oasis of the New York punk scene.”

Rick Johnson on the Runaways’ “Queens of Noise” album, “These bitches suck…They’re not any good, they’re not so bad they’re good, they’re not ANYTHING…On the whole, they just play too slow. You can almost hear ferns turning into coal in the background.”

Summary: The legendary Rick Johnson review of the Runaways is worth the price of admission by itself. You almost wonder if Rick thought, “Oh, Lester left. Time to jump in with both feet!”

Grade: A

Latest price on eBay: $15.00 to “Buy It Now.”

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