Monday, June 29, 2009

Please Kill Me Is The Essential Tome of Punk

Just finished Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk, written by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain. It's a down in the gutter, first person, from the front lines, oral history written by the people who were there. The book was composed from various interviews and other first hand accounts. By constantly changing the voice of the narrator, the book zips along at the breakneck speed of the music itself.


To wit: we start with a prologue in which Lou Reed, Nico, John Cale, and various members of Andy Warhol’s factory scene describe the rise and near-miss of the Velvets, who lost their novelty when the Doors stole a march on them. After a quick chapter of anecdotes that delightfully piss on the God Jim Morrison, we cutaway to Detroit, where the nitro that will fuel the movement was just then being distilled. We discover that the Motor City Five were five greasers who thought the hippies had a great idea, and that James “Iggy Pop” Osterberg was once a straight-laced kid in loafers with a passion for blues drumming. Like VU before them, the Five and the Stooges almost conquer the rock world but are simply too raw for the mainstream to handle. They’ve sown well, however, and when we return to New York in 1971 we run into Patti Smith and a handful of guys who come upon the clever gimmick of playing simple three-chord Fifties style rock while wearing lipstick and glitter, known as the New York Dolls. Hilarity ensues.

What’s great about “Please Kill Me” is the almost-offhand way McNeil uses his plethora of sources to remind us of old myths before using other sources to tear them down. For example, the title of the book comes from a legendary T-shirt worn by Richard Hell of Richard Hell and the Voidoids. Only it turns out Hell never wore the shirt, his erstwhile Television band-mate Richard Lloyd did. It’s also interesting to find out that the band who made the scene at CBGB’s wasn’t the Ramones but Television, who was there at least five months before and playing to decent crowds.

Another reason to pick the book up is its cast of characters. Alongside the band members, managers, and critics are a host of fans and other scene-makers. Thus, not only is the book able to simultaneously tell us about the music and musicians from both perspectives, but you generally get to feel like you know what the scene was about, who was actually in CBGB’s on a regular night, and what was going on there. And the stories are truly classic.

Couldn't have said it better myself.

The thing I really loved about reading about my heroes Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, David Bowie, Andy Warhol, Ron Asheton, Johnny Thunders, Wayne Kramer, Patti Smith, Tom Verlaine, etc. in Please Kill Me is that they speak in their own words. But Please Kill Me is essential reading for any music lover, not just punk fans. Even if you aren't a punk fan, or even a music fan, the anecdotes and stories are extremely engaging and entertaining. A classic.

The full review can be found here. Also, buy it from Amazon here.