Bangs was born in Escondido, California, USA. His mother was a devout Jehovah's Witness; his father died when Bangs was young. In 1969, Bangs began writing freelance after reading an ad in Rolling Stone soliciting readers' reviews. His first piece was a negative review of the MC5album Kick Out The Jams, which he sent to Rolling Stone with a note detailing that should the magazine decide not to publish the review, then they would have to contact Lester and tell him why. Instead, they published it. (He later became a big fan and friend of the MC5 after moving to Detroit.) In 1973, Jann Wenner fired Bangs from Rolling Stone over a negative review of Canned Heat. Wenner contended that Bangs was "disrespectful to musicians". He moved to Detroit to edit and write for Creem, which is where his legendary stature as a rock critic really began to grow. After leaving Creem, he wrote for The Village Voice, Penthouse, Playboy, New Musical Express, and many other publications.
Bangs claimed his influences were not so much predecessors in journalism as they were beat authors, in particular William S. Burroughs. His ranting style, similar to Hunter S. Thompson's gonzo journalism, and his tendency to insult and confront his interviewees earned him distinction.
|Well basically I just started out to lead [an interview] with the most insulting question I could think of. Because it seemed to me that the whole thing of interviewing as far as rock stars and that was just such a suck-up. It was groveling obeisance to people who weren't that special, really. It's just a guy, just another person, so what?"|
Bangs idolized the noise music of Lou Reed, but he had a complex journalistic relationship with Lou the performing artist, writing several legendary articles for Creem which depicted hilarious confrontational interviews, often reflecting aspects of Bangs own personality against his difficult interview subject. The essay/interview Let Us Now Praise Famous Death Dwarvesfrom 1975 is a distinctive example.
Bangs was not only involved as a critic of music but as a musician in his own right. He teamed up with Joey Ramone's brother, Mickey Leigh to put together a New York group namedBirdland. In 1980 he traveled to Austin, Texas and met a punk rock group named the Delinquents. During his stay in Austin he recorded an album as Lester Bangs and the Delinquents entitled Jook Savages on the Brazos. It was quoted that, "Lester's album with the Delinquents was the predecessor of so-called alternative-country bands such as Wilco and Son Volt".