Saturday, February 11, 2012

2-11-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians – Starter Job #39 (Spring Break 1975 -- Remembering Lester Bangs)

Before taking off for a life in London, England in 1981 -- a foreign county where they “sort of “ spoke recognizable English -- Canada was the first “foreign” country I visited. To be specific, I visited Canada with a handsome escort. Well, maybe not the Canada of one’s dreams, like Lake Louise or the Canadian Rockies or the gardens of Vancouver Island -- but Windsor is still Canada, even if it’s not a visual treat for the eyes. And maybe not a classically handsome but goofy-handsome companion who talked a good spiel escorted me.

All right, so how’s this: a day trip to Windsor, Ontario, Canada -- with my then-editor, Creem’s own Lester Bangs? It happened one spring afternoon in 1975, when we were at the offices of Boy Howdy’s keepers, Creem Magazine.

Lester looked up from what he was doing, a plan hatching in his ever-active cranium: “Trixie, ever been to Canada?”

“Nah, not really. I mean, not yet.”

“Let’s go have a beer in Canada -- Windsor’s just over the border.”

Oh, goody, I thought: an adventure! And if Lester Bangs wanted to drive to Canada just for a beer with me in tow, I was SO ready to go. I’d somehow finagled a ride from somebody to Birmingham, Michigan, with Lester Bangs putting me up in his house. He had a really nice girlfriend whose name was Nancy, and she was a dark-featured, Greco-American beauty. They were both great hosts for the young, bubbly Trixie A. Balm who felt she needed to make a pilgrimage to the offices of Creem Magazine, the coolest place to write about music & pop culture for back in the seventies. (Georgia Christgau drove back to NYC with me in tow -- that much I do remember, even if who drove or how I got there originally escapes me.)

Lester had a loping step, a large, shambling frame with a plus-sized head (size-wise) to match, and the look of a loopy second cousin to the Frito Bandito. His longish, wavy, dark hair and bushy dark mustache would have been well complemented by a Mexican sombrero -- but then, I’m being a little silly and irreverent. How apropos! Lester and the whole Creem gang was, in principle, irreverent, silly, and even loopy.

I also remember, somewhere on his large head, a bulbous knob or a cyst that stuck out. At least, I was very aware of it. Appearances aside, I thought he was kindhearted, sweet, humorous, possibly bipolar, and insecure. Intelligence? That’s a given! Manipulative? Not with me. . . to this day, I’ll never know why he was so nice to lil’ ol’ me (just a writerly chick from Queens who changed her name and felt like having fun in print, along with the other misfits and brilliant wordsmiths at Creem).

For those of you unfamiliar with Lester Bangs and his work, he is known as the “America’s Greatest Rock Critic” (J. Derogatis). His writing was a combination of gonzo and erudite, both highfalutin’ and raunchy. He did the kind of writing that feels like he was staring at the stars from the vomit-strewn gutters, Rabelaisian in extremis. He died an untimely death, overdosing accidentally on a combination of Darvon, Valium, and Nyquil at the age of 33, in 1982.

So, that day in Windsor, Lester drove us to a bar he knew and liked, and ordered a Molson’s. He expected me to order beer, too, but I asked for a water. I was terrified of consuming beverages with caloric content, and didn’t like the taste of beer and so, I fear, I was a disappointment to him, but hey: thanks anyway, Lester, for treating me with respect and giving me the work I needed to keep going as a young writer.

R.I.P., dear Lester B!!

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