Entertainment » Reviews

How To Be A Rock Critic

by Clinton Campbell
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday May 16, 2017
Erik Jensen in "How To Be A Rock Critic."
Erik Jensen in "How To Be A Rock Critic."  

We have all been there. In a filthy apartment or dorm room, getting drunk and/or high on your substance of choice. And with that ONE friend that just knows their opinion on certain topics is the only correct one. And as they get more inebriated, they get more condescending. And then they begin to pontificate on the meaning of life and art. Until one of you passes out. And if you're lucky, you are the first one.

Such is that relatively mind-numbing experience of "How To Be A Rock Critic" currently playing at ArtsEmerson.

The critic in question is the controversial Lester Bangs. Bangs became famous through his reviews for "Rolling Stone" and the now defunct "Creem." He threw intellectualism out the window and reviewed based on how the music made him feel - which was entirely unique at the time - and has influenced numerous critics in multiple disciplines since.

He died at 33 of a drug overdose; just like so many of the rock stars he covered. Adding to the mythos for those that adored his unique voice.

The one actor show developed by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen centers on guests (the audience) interrupting Bangs at home after he has been up for 30+ hours attempting to write a review. Bangs, played by Jensen, eventually gives up and decides to host. So, he starts an evening of stories and music that becomes a mini biography.

Mr. Jensen' performance is totally convincing in the role, save for the distracting rectangular stomach padding. Even the couple of times the manic pace of the ramblings caused him to become tongue-tied was handled with great skill. The problem is that Bangs is just not that interesting or sympathetic of a character.

The intent is obviously to paint Bangs as one of those rare and oft-misunderstood geniuses. The apartment set is a total shambles with only the odor of rotten food and stale beer missing. Bangs jumps from topic to topic only pausing occasionally as he obsesses with locating his copy of Van Morrison's "Astral Weeks."

He spends much of the approximately 80 minutes trying to justify his critical voice. But in the end, he just comes off as a rather pathetic individual with mommy issues; one that authors temper tantrums in an effort to feel relevant and self-medicates to numb his own self-loathing.

Some may view this as an insightful character study of a complex man. Others will probably be glad that they have moved on from that period of their life as well as that one friend.

"How To Be A Rock Critic" continues through May 21 at the Emerson Paramount Center/Jackie Liebergott Black Box Theatre, 559 Washington Street, Boston, MA. For more information, visit the ArtsEmerson website.

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