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About Jessica Blank & Erik Jensen

Jessica Blank & Erik Jensen

How To Be A Rock Critic, a play about Lester Bangs - Steppenwolf Theatre Company

"How to Be a Rock Critic" is based on the writings of real Rock and Jazz Critic, Lester Bangs, acted by Erick Jensen who also co-wrote the script.

Erick Jensen did a remarkable job inhabiting the real person and critic, Lester Bangs wrote for Rolling Stone and Creem magazine; coined or invented the word "punk" while editor of Creem from 1971  1976. Bangs died in 1982 at the age of 33.

The scene opens in a disheveled apartment, strewn with empty beer cans, cough syrup bottles, and tons of books and magazines, and albums and bric-a brac. Many of the albums are ones that Lester reviewed in real life and in the play.

The play begins with "Lester" interacting with the audience about his love and hate for various albums and stars, who he takes on and off the turntable and actually plays for the audience. He talks to himself and the audience about his tastes and asks the audience members for their feelings about certain artists as well, in improvised format. He hands actual albums and magazines to the audience, just like they would be his friends in his apartment.

Immediately, I was drawn into this tortured, lonely character, whose whole world was discovering favorite or not so favorite songs from past albums during his career as a rock critic.

He goes on to tell his life story between songs played on the turntable, as the play progresses, he shouts, drunks, dances jumps, to each selection he plays.

Raised as a Jehovah Witness, the real Lester Bangs, in his own words, brilliantly portrayed by Erick Jensen, speaks of his past and how he strayed from it and how he even became a very controversial critic as well since he told exactly what he thought about the musicians and their music both good and bad, and getting fired for being so outspoken.

I feel the play speaks to today more than ever, in that society has finally caught up with Lester Bangs, with, tweets, Facebook, opinions controversial by even everyday folks.

Lester Bangs character reminds me of past existential writers like Sartre and Albee, whose plays searched for meaning, with lonely isolated characters, that are society outsiders and do not reflect the status quo. Lester frequently speaks of rock stars as mere myths, "they are just like the rest of us" he says. And he searches for beauty through music, that he feels in only found in certain recordings that resonate with him, like Astral Weeks, by Van Morrison, Charles Mingus tunes, and a few others the play ends with Erick passed out on his apartment couch.

Real Rock Critic, of the present day, Jim De Rogatis, is called up to a question and Answer session with the audience along with Erick Jensen since he apparently knew the real Lester Bangs and wrote a biography of him.

Great Monologue, which I feel is one of the hardest genres to make interesting! Great time had by all!

The performance ran at Steppenwolf Theatre Company (Chicago, IL) from July 6 - Saturday, July 29, 2017.

Story by Maja Rios, July 2017.

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