[4 November 2013]
The ghost of Lester Bangs is whispering in my ear that he really digs AHJ, Albert Hammond Jr’s EP, and that of course the Strokes are his kind of band, with the black leather jackets, the guitars, the cigarettes, the girls, the attitude, the music. He thinks AHJ is pretty, pretty good considering how everything else seems to be going in these last bloated days watching the rotting corpse of capitalism decompose. Lester says ultimately they’ll be some big winners and big losers but as long as there’s still someone putting out some gritty rock and roll music as a soundtrack to the times it doesn’t really matter, and that if he was still alive he’d almost certainly be the sixth member of the Strokes, although he worries he may fall out with Casablancas from time to time. He recognizes Hammond Jr., however, as almost certainly a brother in crime. I remind Lester that this article is not meant to be about the Strokes but about AHJ, and I ask him is it really any wonder that rock stars end up a little contrary when you talk about past glories instead of what’s right in front of us now?
Yeah, Lester says, I get that, the past is a dead country, but man the world these days has become so boringly safe and emotionally neutral through all this stupid political correctness that everyone forces on everyone else whether you like it or not. Surely rock and roll, and by extension the writing about it, is the last place left where you can shoot your mouth off without having to worry too much about who you offend? He urges me to free my inner love god immediately, I just shrug my shoulders. Yeah, whatever Lester, and he starts telling me about how he practically lived in his black leather jacket when he was out on tour with bands like the Clash and started to explain about New York cool, hadn’t I read all those articles he wrote about Lou Reed back in the ‘70s? Surely in context I’d understand his enthusiasm, and how Hammond Jr. and the Strokes had kept that particularly niche thing alive when it was on the verge of being long forgotten?
Before I get a chance to get a word in, Lester says okay, AHJ is not the Strokes, but like a closely connected sexy blonde cousin who he’d like to take up to a loft apartment in the Meatpacking District and do bad things to. You’ll gather that Lester’s Ghost is probably not politically correct, but he makes me laugh out loud and I tell him so in abbreviated terms. There follows a ten-minute conversation (not included here) in which I explain what LOL means and where the term came from, what texting and instant messaging is, etc. It seems being ghostly does not entail keeping up with all the latest technology although Lester insists he is more than aware of all the latest music and yeah in particular the Strokes.
He tells me that Hammond Jr.’s AHJ is almost like an add-on to Comedown Machine because it’s similar lo-fi music with a dance tinge (not disco, he insists), and he starts muttering something about how it would sound even better with Quaaludes. Shut-up Lester, I tell him, most readers will simply not get what you’re talking about and those days are long gone, dead and buried. At a push you could make a reference to Adderall, but is it really necessary? There follows a five-minute conversation (not included here) in which I explain about ADHD. Lester looks slightly bewildered, bedraggled by the 21st century, so I tell him to imagine the new world like the electronic undercurrent constantly looping in “St. Justice”. Everything and everyone is weirdly connected to everything and everybody else because the world has gotten smaller through technology. I illustrate this by trying to appeal to his ego, suggesting that there must be some Lester Bangs fan site communities out there on the internet. He asks me what the internet is and I change the subject back to AHJ, and the second track, “Strange Tidings”. He must like the buzzy guitar on this one, right? It’s darkly Lou Reed-ish and the lyrics deal with being guilty and mention bathrooms. Yup, Lester agrees, it’s his kind of thing.
We’re listening to “Carnal Cruise” now which seems to be about incoherence, having something on your mind you can’t explain, and Lester says the song seems kind of punk, angry, and is that where everyone is still at these days? Probably, I say, we haven’t really moved on that much, don’t assume when you died things got any better (or worse). We may have smaller technological devices and the internet, but the really big important problems still haven’t been solved, and a lot of us still fight amongst each other on very basic levels. Oh, Lester says, that’s kind of disappointing. Can I have a cigarette?
I tell him cigarettes will kill us but then I remember he’s already dead so it seems like kind of a stupid comment, and oh yeah, we’re in a public place so we can’t smoke now. He stares me down and “Rude Customer” comes on, perfect timing really as it deals with a rude customer in a restaurant or bar maybe and gives Lester an instant update on modern urban exchanges. Hey, this is catchy, Lester says as he lights up, but how come there’s no clicks or hiss?
Explaining how a download works to the ghost of Lester Bangs turns out to be quite difficult. The cool guitar riff of “Cooker Ship” echoes round the room. Lester says the song reminds him of all the jams he got himself into. Damn, this music is hip, he says as he rocks backwards and forwards to the beat over-enthusiastically, then falls off his stool. Before he vaporizes he curses under his breath, well thank God for the Strokes and thank God for Albert Hammond Jr., then bang he’s gone and I’m left in a fine mist of what tastes something like a cross between Cherry Coke and cigarette smoke.