Bangs was born in Escondido, California, the son of Norma Belle (née Clifton) and Conway Leslie Bangs, a truck driver. Both of his parents were from Texas; his father from Enloe, and his mother from Pecos County. Norma Belle was a devout Jehovah’s Witness. Conway died in a fire when his son was young. When Bangs was 11, he moved with his mother to El Cajon, California. His interests and influences growing up were as wide-ranging as the Beats (particularly William S. Burroughs), jazz musicians like John Coltrane and Miles Davis, comic books, and science fiction. In 1969 Bangs became a freelance writer after reading an ad in Rolling Stone soliciting readers’ reviews. His first piece was a negative review of the MC5 album Kick Out The Jams, which he sent to Rolling Stone with a note requesting that if the magazine were to pass on publishing the review, that he receive a reason for their decision; however, no reply was forthcoming as the magazine did indeed publish the review. Bangs wrote about Janis Joplin’s 1970 death by drug overdose, “It’s not just that this kind of early death has become a fact of life that has become disturbing, but that it’s been accepted as a given so quickly.” In 1973, Jann Wenner fired Bangs from Rolling Stone for “disrespecting musicians” after a particularly harsh review of the group Canned Heat.
Bangs began freelancing for Detroit-based Creem in 1970. In 1971, he had written a feature for Creem on Alice Cooper, and soon afterward he moved to the Motor City. Named Creem’s editor in 1971, Bangs fell in love with Detroit, calling it “rock’s only hope,” and remained there for five years. Under Bangs’ editorship, Creem picked up on the punk rock (which many claim the magazine, and especially Bangs, helped to conceptualize, if not invent) and new wave movements early on. Bangs was enamored of the noise music of Lou Reed, and Creem gave massive exposure to artists like Reed, David Bowie, Roxy Music, Blondie, and The New York Dolls years before the mainstream press. (Bangs wrote the essay/interview “Let Us Now Praise Famous Death Dwarves” about Reed in 1975.) Creem was also among the first to sing the praises of hard rock and metal acts like Motörhead, Kiss, Judas Priest, and Van Halen. After leaving Creem in 1976, he wrote for The Village Voice, Penthouse, Playboy, New Musical Express, and many other publications. Bangs died in New York City on April 30, 1982, of an accidental overdose of Darvon, Valium, and NyQuil. He was 33 years old at the time of his death.
- December, 14, 1948
- Escondido, California
- April, 30, 1982
- New York, New York
Cause of Death
- accidental overdose of Darvon, Valium, and NyQuil