Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk

Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk

A Time Out and Daily News Top Ten Book of the Year upon its initial release, Please Kill Me is the first oral history of the most nihilist of all pop movements. Iggy Pop, Danny Fields, Dee Dee and Joey Ramone, Malcom McLaren, Jim Carroll, and scores of other famous and infamous punk figures lend their voices to this definitive account of that outrageous, explosive era. Fro...

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Title:Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk
Author:Legs McNeil
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Edition Language:English

Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk Reviews

  • Mike DaRonco

    Man, Lou Reed is such a dick.

  • Noel

    I absolutely inhaled this. Legs' view is that punk was a strictly American phenomenon with its roots in The Doors, The Velvet Underground, The MC5, & The Stooges, and that the British got it completely wrong and basically killed the movement. And he presents that argument well.

    Pretty much everyone in the book appears to be exactly what I already thought:

    * Jim Morrison was often drunk and frequently terrible live, and wrote really bad high school-grade poetry.

    * David Bowie was a rather uptigh

    I absolutely inhaled this. Legs' view is that punk was a strictly American phenomenon with its roots in The Doors, The Velvet Underground, The MC5, & The Stooges, and that the British got it completely wrong and basically killed the movement. And he presents that argument well.

    Pretty much everyone in the book appears to be exactly what I already thought:

    * Jim Morrison was often drunk and frequently terrible live, and wrote really bad high school-grade poetry.

    * David Bowie was a rather uptight guy until he fell in with the New York crowd.

    * The MC5 were phony revolutionaries, using it as a marketing gimmick.

    * Lou Reed is not, as you will see constant reference to, a scat-munching asshole. No, Lou Reed is a scat-munching douche.

    * Patti Smith was a truly creepy girl with a tenuous grip on reality, who stalked the stars of the underground scene until they invited her in. (OK, I didn't know that before, but FUUUUUUUUck!)

    * Everybody was SO. FUCKED. UP. I can't BELIEVE that more of them did not die...

    * Almost everyone in the NY punk scene turned tricks at one time or another to make ends meet.

    * Musicians are assholes, or so goes the refrain from the label A&R guy that signed a lot of these bands.

    * Of course, so are label execs.

    * Despite being just as fucked up, selfish, and self-absorbed as everyone else in the book Iggy Pop is the only guy that comes out looking good. I'm not even that much of a fan, but it's hard to hate Iggy.

    So, highly recommended, is what I'm getting at here...

  • Dr. Detroit

    Along with Dave Marsh’s “Before I Get Old,” Ian Hunter’s ”Diary of a Rock N’ Roll Star,” and Tony Sanchez’s “Up and Down With the Rolling Stones,” “Please Kill Me” is right up there on the Mount Rushmore of Rawk Tales from the Naked City but if you come here in search of Malcolm McLaren, Sex Pistols, The Clash, Generation X, or The Stranglers, look away now.

    Although, inevitably, there is a bit of overlap with old-school Brit punk, just beginning to take seed across the pond somewhere along this

    Along with Dave Marsh’s “Before I Get Old,” Ian Hunter’s ”Diary of a Rock N’ Roll Star,” and Tony Sanchez’s “Up and Down With the Rolling Stones,” “Please Kill Me” is right up there on the Mount Rushmore of Rawk Tales from the Naked City but if you come here in search of Malcolm McLaren, Sex Pistols, The Clash, Generation X, or The Stranglers, look away now.

    Although, inevitably, there is a bit of overlap with old-school Brit punk, just beginning to take seed across the pond somewhere along this sordid timeline, Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain hit the ground running er, staggering, trying to explain out how two bands of proto-punks – MC5 and the Stooges - placed Detroit, a noisy nowhere land in mid-America, on the map forever.

    It must have been something in the water around here or the charm and comfort of living in a place where music biz marketing trends and gimmicks are met with a wizened, cynical roll of the eyes. When punk did finally break out, the Detroit faithful had reason to shrug and ask, “What took you guys so long?”

    In the end, (MC)five knockaround guys from the downriver shot-and-a-beer enclave of Lincoln Park just weren’t cut out for the revolution, or at least not manager, guru, and counterculture cause celebre John Sinclair’s complicated, woefully misguided, and hopelessly naïve version of it, “dope, guns, and fucking in the streets” completely out of their wheelhouse. Well, the guns part of the equation at least. Their idea of liberation had more to do with smoking marijuana cigarettes, dropping acid, and playing on “10” as a means to an end: avoiding the path of least resistance to their birthrights as shop rats in the automobile factories which have sustained Detroit for most of the past century. The rest they just sort of fell into.

    The Stooges…well who knows what the hell they were thinking, their stock in trade a big-bang, primordial collision of monosyllabic angst and convulsing, tribal rhythm that staked out a section of real estate entirely its own, oscillating between grey areas of alienation, tedium, and outright dementia, Iggy yammering, grunting, and howling like a feral cat on methamphetamine and human growth hormone. Plain and simple: they weren’t fooling around.

    But by early 1974 the band was done like dinner, Iggy facing down a motorcycle gang at the Michigan Palace, finger on the self-destruct button while dodging eggs, light bulbs, paper cups and worse, taunting them with, "You nearly killed me but you missed again, so you have to keep tryin' next week" his final comment to close a seven-year run. Only problem was there wasn't a next week.

    From Detroit it’s onward but not necessarily upward to the New York Dolls and the reputation of the toxically-charming Johnny Thunders as a pharmaceutical repository, most of the band so high they had to call NASA to find their heads. Big Apple dreamers, the band went to the edge of teen-beat stardom and looked down, content to lift a few drinks, crank a few chicks, and wreck a couple of hotel rooms. Anything greater would have been just too much hassle.

    Thunders was monumentally talented, everything Keith Richards was supposed to be but often wasn’t; chaotic, lurching, and with nothing else besides rock and roll to live for except…um…a bump of heroin. After the Dolls went belly up in Florida (of all places), Thunders and drummer Jerry Nolan rebounded with the Heartbreakers (not the Tom Petty outfit), equal parts genius and myth and perhaps the most thrilling and self-destructively drug-addled group of bad influences to ever congeal in one place, once again stalling at second-level stardom by willfully mismanaging their career and never quite getting their collective shit together enough to even come close to a follow-up to their killer-but-woefully-mixed debut album “L.A.M.F.”

    By the time the Ramones stumble out of Forest Hills, into CBGBs, and then hit the road on a 20-year bus ride across the U.S. and beyond (over 2,200 gigs in all), much of America was ripe for the picking. They just didn’t know it yet. Their debut album, released when punk was overlapping disco, fell on deaf dimwit ears for the most part and for those of us who felt they may just change the world – if not the music biz – the failure of their sales to approximate the accolades or even get on the radio once in a while is still a stake through the heart of the 20-year-old that beats within my chest somewhere.

    Anyone who’s been following the plot knows things don’t end well here, the entire New York scene going down in flames faster than The Clash after releasing “Sandinista!” but it’s like rubber necking a multi-car pileup on I-75 North the Friday before Labor Day. It’s impossible to look away.

  • Jessica

    I read most of this one night while working the graveyard shift at a very institutional group home in the real methy part of SE Portland. I was the only person awake and not severely mentally-ill in the whole building, except for the parole guys, who I was pretty sure were faking it, or at least greatly exaggerating. There were these big sliding glass doors where of course the methhead psychos lurking in the dark could watch me mopping, all lit up, but I couldn't see out, and most nights I'd be

    I read most of this one night while working the graveyard shift at a very institutional group home in the real methy part of SE Portland. I was the only person awake and not severely mentally-ill in the whole building, except for the parole guys, who I was pretty sure were faking it, or at least greatly exaggerating. There were these big sliding glass doors where of course the methhead psychos lurking in the dark could watch me mopping, all lit up, but I couldn't see out, and most nights I'd be really on edge and ready to run for the parole guys' room if any of the scary noises I heard outside turned out to be some twisted someone smashing through the glass and grabbing my spleen as an ingredient to use in his basement meth lab.

    Anyway, that one night I didn't have time to worry about getting chopped into pieces by violent, spun-out hicks, because I was too busy drinking Vanilla Coke after Vanilla Coke in the office, not mopping the place and absorbing (naturally) this very absorbing oral history of the seminal New York City punk scene. The best part by far -- and I wish I had my copy still, so I could quote directly -- was this desciption of Richard Hell, who'd rip all those holes in his shirt and then go around all moony-eyed and moaning, "Oh, poor me, my life is so hard, here I am, with all these holes in my shirt!" You'll have to find the book to get the actual verbatim, which is better phrased, but if you don't have time for the whole book (though you should make the time), that's the passage that brilliantly sums up the gist of that whole glorious punk rock movement.

    From an educational standpoint, this book really made me appreciate the ladies who intervened in the years after the era it described. Not that things ever got great, but reading this paints a pretty horrifying picture, from a female perspective. With the exception of Patti Smith, and to some extent Debbie Harry, the early punk scene was pretty damn limiting if you were a woman. Basically if you were amazingly gorgeous you were Bebe Buell, and you were considered a "muse," which meant you'd pick some hot rock star and be a highly coveted, specialized, and respected version of what most of the other girls around seem to have been considered during this time, which was interchangeable fuck-hole groupies. It might've been worth it to see these bands live in their heyday at CBGB's, but I don't think being a lady hanging around that scene sounds very fulfilling. This book makes for an interesting contrast with his newer porn oral history, from a feminist perspective. I mean, I'd rather be Marilyn Chambers any day of the week than most of these punk chicks. This is not to say it was bad for all of them, but that's one of the impressions this book left me with.

    In any case, it's a great read, and anyone who cares at all about classic punk has doubtless read it already, or should have.

  • matt

    As an avid reader (and subsequent loather) of "punk rock" history, I was excited to get into this. And although I didn't get exactly what I was looking for, it's certainly worth a read for those who can stomach it.

    I can't claim to not like oral histories having only previously read the "People's Oral History" by Zinn which is a blood orange compared to Wayne Kramers' red delicious. That being said, I found this book far too gossipy and "sceney" making me think that cliques in music existed long

    As an avid reader (and subsequent loather) of "punk rock" history, I was excited to get into this. And although I didn't get exactly what I was looking for, it's certainly worth a read for those who can stomach it.

    I can't claim to not like oral histories having only previously read the "People's Oral History" by Zinn which is a blood orange compared to Wayne Kramers' red delicious. That being said, I found this book far too gossipy and "sceney" making me think that cliques in music existed long before the internet came and quantified it for the world to see/read. You fucked Johnny thunders? Great! He vomited on your couch!!? NO WAY!

    For those who want the shortened version, I'll sum it up. Patti Smith was a delusional bitch. Lou Reed had tons of gay sex and was mean to everyone. Dee Dee Ramone was a prostitute and hated the rest of his band. The Dead Boys and The Heartbreakers did a lot of drugs. Iggy Pop manipulated people for smack. The New York Dolls were popular for a year, tops. MC5 were sexist and full of shit. A few people OD'ed, and the Sex Pistols came along and ruined the fun for everyone.

    Sound good? Kind of. But a few major gripes here. This book, first and foremost should be about the history of NEW YORK punk. Or "people Legs McNeil was friends with." It is embarrassing that the Talking Heads were completely excluded from this because the writers thought that they were "yuppies." How you can talk about Blondie, Television and Patti Smith and completely leave out David Byrne (for better or worse) to me seems ludicrous. It's the same with the British movement. Malcolm Mclaran is of course given his due here but the raging prejudice put against the UK bands ("The Damned were posers! The Clash didn't know what they were talking about!") seems more like territorial squabbling than actual criticism.

    Perhaps this book serves as an interesting antidote to the idea that it was "better in the old days" although I'm sure that the author (and the few that survived) probably believes otherwise. It certainly doesn't seem that way. Too many knife fights and junkies shooting up in the bathroom, thanks. Yes, Iggy might have been electrifying rolling around in glass but nihilism, as it turns out, isn't all its cracked up to be.

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