January 24, 2008 by s woods
Final installment of Bill Holdship’s Creem history/memoir/book review here, at Metro Times. A much deeper dig than the first installment into the story, the in-fighting, the book, etc.
A few disagreements along the way, the most major one being in regards to this:
“Of course, revisionism has been going on for a long time now. In 2000, music critic Simon Reynolds took potshots at Bangs (and me) on his blog, writing that he’d read Bangs’ stuff in CREEM just recently, and while a lot of it was very good, a great deal of it wasn’t all that. But Reynolds obviously couldn’t read it in full context. So that’s sort of like me saying ‘I listened to Elvis in the ’80s,’ or ‘I listened to the Sex Pistols in the ’00s, and I just don’t know what all the outrage was about.’ Take it from someone who was there reading him at the time: Lester Bangs was great, even if it’s harder these days to accept, as Greil Marcus once put it, ‘that the best writer in America could write almost nothing but record reviews.’”
That’s a bit damning to Bangs, no? (Not to mention Elvis and the Sex Pistols.) I mean, the idea that he needs to be read “in context” to fully appreciate him — I have a hard time with that one. Simon Reynolds not being wowed by Bangs should be taken as just that — one guy not being wowed by Lester Bangs. There’s of course something to the idea that certain pieces by Bangs, especially from his Creem days, are probably more thoroughly enjoyed in context, but I don’t think that’s what Holdship is saying (or if he is, I wish he’d been more specific — who the hell needs “context” to enjoy “Let Us Now Praise Famous Death Dwarves” or Bangs’s review of Station to Station?).
(Come to think of it, though, the ”in context” issue does point to a major problem with the Matheu book or any future Creem volumes we see. As funny as all those captions and headlines and such were, I think it’s inevitable that something will get lost in the translation from one medium to another, however “faithful” said translation is. That’s not to say, necessarily, you “had to be there,” but each issue of the mag is like a self-contained world, in a way, and short of perusing through the issues themselves, it’s likely impossible to capture an accurate snapshot in any other form. Not that I don’t believe someone should try.)
On the other hand, I’m really glad Holdship doesn’t scrimp on his very specific criticisms of the book — criticisms that go beyond the bickering and deal with the evidence that every reader will have to face — which, in the end, is what actually matters. His list of the evidence is damning enough (the lack of reviews, the emphasis on photos, photo captions written by the editors but never noted as such, endless typos, etc.), but for me, he gets to the core of the book’s problems in something that reads more like an aside: “the book was obviously sold to HarperCollins based on the rock stars featured within, not the writers.” That pretty much nails it, I think. The point of Creem was never just Iggy or Kiss or Bowie or whoever; it was Marsh on Iggy, Uhelszki on Kiss, Bangs on Bowie, etc. That’s not to say the book should’ve been compiled as one huge orgy of celebrate-the-writers, but rather, that the pieces included should’ve been chosen first and foremost for the strength of the writing, not the cachet of the artists.
Anyway, when’s that new Zoo World collection coming out already? I think I need something new to bang on about myself.