Friday, October 15, 2010

Please Kill Me – The Uncensored Oral History of Punk – Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain

After reading Legs’ work with Mickey Leigh on I Slept With Joey Ramone, I was still in a nostalgic mood for 70’s punk, so I decided to re-read this classic book from way back in 1996. It remains a classic, informative tome that truly gives you the feeling of the mood and the scene in NYC as what became known as punk rock was slowly created.

Starting with the Velvet Underground and Warhol’s Factory, the book winds through this art-y scene, into the infamous Detroit rock scene (with the immeasurable contributions of bands such as the MC5 and the Stooges), the glam rock scene and its stars, the New York Dolls, right through the beginnings of what we now call punk rock.

The gist of the story is well known to anyone with any interest in r’n’r but the real appeal of this book is its format – it is made up entirely of quotes from participants – no narrative at all. So, of course, this is very personal and informative, though peoples’ memories sometimes are not very clear and there are strong disagreements about some of the facts related here. But, that is the way history works – it is told by those who care enough to do so and those who have the best memories!

There is plenty of sex, drugs, alcohol and decadence throughout, which makes is less than surprising that many people did not make it through this scene alive and some who did probably should not have. Throughout it all, you do get the feeling that everyone is doing their best to be an honest as possible about their excesses and escapades, even at the cost of their own reputation.

The story unfolds well, with plenty of peaks and valleys, but lots of fun and optimism until the end of the book where it describes the end of the stalwarts of the scene and the descent into violence, overdoses and breakups. A lot was accomplished but plenty was lost, as well. Though you wonder if anyone would have done it any differently if they had it to do over.

This is another must-have for anyone who loves the real, original punk rock.

PS - Funnily, the "Cast of Characters" section at the back gets a number of obvious things wrong, especially instruments that people played. Wonder if these are just typos or this section was written by someone else, since this mistakes are not in the body of the book.