The latest project of married couple Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen opens tonight at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Los Angeles’ Culver City district. How to Be a Rock Critic is a one-man show based on the writings of Lester Bangs, starring Jensen as the famed Rolling Stone and Creem gonzo journalist.
Jensen told Rolling Stone contributing editor Gavin Edwards that he has been a fan of Bangs ever since he discovered a stash of the journalist’s writings, underneath his cousin’s bed, at age ten. The process of putting together the play was extensive:
Jensen and Blank read the entire body of Bangs’ work, both published and unpublished, which they estimate at about 15,000 typed pages. “He was a savant and he did a lot of speed,” Blank noted. “Erik Xeroxed it all.” (Then they retyped it all as computer files, a process that took about two years.)
“It was on onionskin paper,” Jensen enthused. “Worms had eaten through some of the paper. You could smell Lester coming out of the box. It was fantastic.”
Edwards recalls one other comparable adaptation of rock criticism: Lipstick Traces, based on Greil Marcus‘ writings, staged in Austin, Texas in 1999. Jensen is also of course following in the footsteps of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, who played Bangs a year later in the 2000 Cameron Crowe film Almost Famous.
In a separate, LA Weekly write-up, Chaz Kangas notes another element framing the production:
It’s an interesting coincidence that How to Be a Rock Critic is opening a week after the death of jazz great Ornette Coleman, whom Bangs considered a huge early influence and staunchly defended at a time when most rock critics were dubious of jazz. Although today’s pop culture media have no shortage of voices allegedly “speaking their mind,” especially on the Internet, Blank and Jensen’s revisiting of Bangs shows how ahead of the curve he truly was.
How to Be a Rock Critic is scheduled to run through June 28. The play is being performed in the Kirk Douglas Theatre’s upstairs rehearsal space, Upstairs@KDT, and is a co-production with South Coast Repertory.