Rock critic Lester Bangs made his name as one of the most contentious journalists out there. The master of hot takes and barbs, often Bangs’ opinion markedly differed from the norm, gaining him legions of fans and haters in the process. A clip has recently resurfaced that contains what is perhaps Bangs’ hottest take, and it’s controversial, to say the least.
In it, he takes a stab at consumerism in general and that Beatlemania was alive and well in 1981, which he views as a side effect of consumerism. Whilst many of his assertions are true, the last point he makes is a polarising one, particularly when you note that John Lennon was murdered by the fanatic Mark David Chapman only a year prior, in 1980. For fans to hear such a bold opinion was shocking.
This spirited notion came from a TV series called FM-TV, and for that episode, they were exploring the concept of Beatlemania. Duly, Bangs delivered one of his most cutting insights. It would be a disservice to totally dismiss all of what he said as he touched on some fascinating points when it comes to consumerism and music, akin to what Mark Fisher would label ‘Hauntology’.
However, his argument that The Beatles were in the past and should be left alone, although they only split 11 years prior, is a bit much. He views them as if they were ancient, and not a vital part of culture’s recent history.
Even though there’s a vast gulf in their status, if were to try and make a contemporary comparison, that’s like being told to leave Arctic Monkeys in the past, and it’s just ridiculous. That’s the beauty of music. It has a timeless essence, allowing it to find a place in the hearts of countless generations. That’s why The Beatles have remained so influential 52 years after their split.
Of course, it is easy to understand what he’s saying, though. We should be looking forward, not backwards, in terms of creativity and culture. It’s just sometimes, the past has vital lessons to tell us, and I think the moment we forget that we’re in trouble.
Bangs opined: “If it hadn’t have been The Beatles, it would have been someone else. I think that it was a great moment. It should just be left at that, and I think that the nostalgia for it, and this obsessive living in the past and Beatlemania in 1981 is sick. It’s basically that nothing is going on right now, and people are desperate… there’s a giant nostalgia industry, as we all know. As far as I’m concerned, Beatlemania is just like Happy Days, it’s a rip-off, and guess who pays? The consumer and John Lennon.”
Bangs continued: “He (Lennon) said the same thing over and over again, and nobody would listen to him. He said, ‘Please, look, I’m just a guy, I’m not John Lennon ‘Beatle’, or John Lennon ‘guru’ or John Lennon ‘great leader’, I’m just a guy that writes songs, and please accept me that way’, and people absolutely refused to. I think Mark David Chapman is the ultimate Beatlemaniac.”
Mark David Chapman is the ultimate Beatlemaniac; that’s some take. In many ways, relating to Bangs’ point about unrelenting consumerism, he’s right. However, it’s hard to get past the point that his assertion was crass, given just how fresh in common memory Chapman’s murder of Lennon was. We’ll leave you to make your own mind up about Bangs’ thoughts, but one thing is clear. There’s a lot of food for thought for such a brief statement.
Watch the clip below.