My favorite relationship in music history is between Lester Bangs and Lou Reed. It’s hard to think of any other relationship that matched in terms of venom, cruelty and mutual admiration. It’s also unusual because Lester was a rock critic and Lou Reed was a rock god (using was on both of those people is also insanely upsetting) — not to mention Lester’s widely publicized and self-admitted love and obsession with Lou Reed (“I would suck Lou Reed’s cock”).
Their first interaction (or sparring) was for the cover interview of the first issue of Punk Magazine, which is amazing and will live forever. Lester Bangs finds a post-Velvet Underground Lou Reed at CBGB’s. He’s hostile, aggressive and emblematic of the general mean spirited sarcasm he became increasingly associated with.
When the interview starts out Lester seems to be somewhat cautious but eventually ditches the in-admiration-fan thing and meets Lou on his own level (at some point you have to not only kill, but brutally dismember your heroes —even if it’s Lou Reed). At one point Lester asks Lou if he likes Bruce Springsteen.
Oh, I love him.
He’s one of us
He’s a shit—what are you talking about what kind of stupid question is that?! … I mean, do I ask you what you like? Why does anyone give a fuck what I like! I don’t give a fuck what I like!
Part two comes when Lester interviews Lou Reed for the second time, after the confusing and universally hated (at the time, although the further we get from it’s initial debut the more hip and applauded the album becomes) release of Metal Machine Music. The interview is an antagonistic dick-measuring contest. Lester and Lou Reed are incredibly hostile towards each other starting with one of Lou’s first remarks.
You know that I basically like you in spite of myself. Common sense leads me to believe that you’re an idiot, but somehow the epistemological things that you come out with sometimes betray the fact that you’re kind of onomatopoetic in a subterranean reptilian way.
From there the interview descends into petty bickering and belligerence between two people who both loved, admired and, on some level, viciously hated each other. The interview ends with Lester leaving after Lou Reed tries forcing him to listen to George Benson for eternity.
Despite all of this, Lester Bangs still wrote an amazing 5,000 word review on Metal Machine Music. He was one of the only critics (and people) at the time to actually praise it. Even now it’s considered somewhat of a vanity project, white noise not meant for actual listening. Even after his review his position must have been mind boggling because Lester was prodded to defend his claim that Metal Machine Music was one of the greatest albums ever made. So he did the reasonable thing and wrote a 17 bullet point article for Creem titled “The Greatest Album Ever Made.” At bullet point number 2 Lester manages to summarize his position and relationship with Lou Reed.
I realize that any idiot with the equipment could have made this album, including me, you, or Lou. That’s one of the man reasons I like it so much… not only does it bring you closer to the artist, but someday, god willing, I may get to do my own Metal Machine Music.
The rest of the article is even more reflective and poetic— appreciative of Lou Reed in spite of, and sometimes in large part because of, his arguable treachery, disinterest and lifelong ambivalence. Despite his desire to spar with Lester, Lou Reed seems to have admired him as well.
If you want to actually read the interviews beyond the secondhand ramblings of yours truly I would suggest the compilation of Lester’s work “Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung” or the Best of Punk Magazine book (which I highly recommend — John Holmstrom’s illustration of the first interview is half of the interview itself).