Gonzo journalist, America’s greatest rock critic and inventor of the word “punk,” legendary music writer Lester Bangs was an American icon. Outsized, manic chaotic, and impossibly creative, Bangs traveled with some of the most mythologized musical figures of the 20th century: The Clash, Bob Marley, Lou Reed—peeling away the veneer between star and audience and exposing the greats as flawed human beings. As the ragged, rebel ethos of the 70s gave way to the corporate pop of the 80s, Bangs lost the myth he’d built a life around and died of a drug overdose in 1982.
This solo play by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen (award-winning writers of The Exonerated and Aftermath) adapts Bangs’ writing to chart the life, work and death of one of the 20th century’s most ground-breaking, risk-taking, pioneering voices.
Lester Bangs, the iconic, diehard rock ’n roll music critic of the 1960s and ‘70s, is both the unwilling subject and the fast talking narrator of How to Be a Rock Critic, now playing at the Public Theater’s Under the Radar Festival. Bangs, most famously portrayed by the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman in the film Almost Famous, is revivified by documentary theater makers Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen, the husband and wife team who brought us The Exonerated. In this one-man show, Bangs is played by the roguish Jensen, whose high octane performance perfectly captures Bangs’ boundless obsession to teach people how to listen to Rock ’n Roll the way he did — intensely, indignantly, and rapturously. Blank, the director, masterfully weaves Bangs’ half-processed memories of past trauma and anxiety with the present day Bangs, one who dwells in a living room littered with empty cough syrup bottles and unsheathed records that he holds reverently and chucks unfeelingly to the floor in back-to-back breaths. Jensen, channeling Bangs’ fickle relationship with living, is addictively watchable. His need for something more than the pedestrian way of life is palpable and the audience leans in, convince …Read more