Mainlines, Blood Feasts, and Bad Taste: A Lester Bangs Reader Edited by John Morthland (Anchor Books)

A ny rock critic worth his or her rate per word will tell you Lester Bangs is one of those writers you're supposed to worship. Bangs rigged an encyclopedic knowledge of popular music to a manic personality--and large quantities of narcotics--and blurted out sprawling, conversational essays. He was known to the music world, among other things, as a massive music geek perilously close to self-destructing under the weight of his addictions as he teetered between moments of genius, madness, and, at times, self-important irrelevance.

For all his greatness, Bangs--who wrote for publications like Creem, the Village Voice, and Rolling Stone from 1969 until his overdose/death in 1982--also slipped into being a dull, annoyingly verbose rock writer, and Mainlines, Blood Feasts, and Bad Taste (like his earlier reader, Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung) does little to dispel that fact. Getting through some of his more tedious tangents is a chore of monumental proportions, and editor John Morthland doesn't keep enough of Bangs' strokes of masturbatory nonsense out of this book, which can leave you wondering for a good first half of Mainlines why there needed to be another Bangs compilation in the first place. But if you're patient enough to skim through the long passages, there are moments where Bangs' obsessive passions and honest opinions clarify why he's become such an icon. (Take, for example, the following few lines from a chapter on metal: "Didn't the Velvets say it way back in 1970, just when heavy metal was peaking: 'Who Loves the Sun?' Damn right, i.e. nobody Jack, and that's why Black Sabbath.")

His more concise essays on topics like Hells Angels, hating California, punk's illusive "origins," Lou Reed, and Captain Beefheart are reason enough to plop down the 15 bucks to make these mini tomes your own. Despite his occasional penchant for the overblown analysis, Bangs is one of the few "critically acclaimed critics" actually worth the title, mostly because when he's on, the mainlines he taps into brim with the fresh blood of new sonic discoveries, crazy creativity, and limitless possibilities for pushing forward both the art of writing and the art of appreciating music on your own terms. JENNIFER MAERZ