“Lester Bangs was the great gonzo journalist, gutter poet, and romantic visionary of rock writing—its Hunter S. Thompson, Charles Bukowski, and Jack Kerouac all rolled into one… Where others idealized the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle or presented a distant academic version of it, he lived it, reveling in its excesses, drawing energy from its din, and matching its passion in his prose.”
So I wrote in the first paragraph of Let It Blurt, my biography of my literary hero. But I am far from the only one who thinks this way about Bangs: There also is Cameron Crowe, who tapped Philip Seymour Hoffman to play the writer in his 2000 film Almost Famous. And now there is actor-writer Erik Jensen and writer-director Jessica Blank, the acclaimed New York-based husband-and-wife documentary theater team who bring their production of How to Be a Rock Critic: Based on the Writings of Lester Bangs to the vaunted Steppenwolf Theatre for a three-week run starting Thursday.
Obviously, I am not an objective voice in touting this play for every lover of great writing and great rock ’n’ roll: Not only did I write the book, but I helped Greta Honold at Steppenwolf curate a musical component for this run.
As a second act following intermission during the evening performances, local musicians will play some of the music Bangs loved most: Bethany Thomas performs on July 6, 7, and 8; my own band Vortis makes an awful racket on July 13, 14, and 15, and David Singer and the Sweet Science plays on July 20, 21, and 22. I’ll also lead post-show discussions after the Saturday matinees on July 15 and 22, while rock journalist Althea Legaspi will do the same on July 8.
In any event, nobody can really do a better job talking about the show’s merits than Blank and Jensen, and there’s probably nobody better suited to talk Bangs with them than me. So with the help of WBEZ’s Andrew Gill, I did a video chat for this blog. Take a look, come on out to the show, and bring your rotten vegetables to throw—because really, what would be more in the spirit of Lester?
Tickets for How to Be a Rock Critic Based are on sale online here or through Audiences Services at Steppenwolf, 1650 N. Halsted, 312-335-1650.