Sunday, February 20, 2011

Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History Of PUNK - Legs McNeil & Gillian McCain

I just finished this book this morning and thought I'd write a quick review. However, why not read one that really sums it all up, from NYROCK.COM (October 1996)

Please Kill Me, by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain, is aptly subtitled The Uncensored Oral History of Punk. That’s basically what it is, no less, no more. In fact, if the material were condensed into one single sentence it might read as follows: In the beginning there was the MC5; the MC5 begat Iggy Pop and the Stooges; the Stooges begat the Ramones; the Ramones begat the Sex Pistols, etc.

McNeil, as cofounder of the trailblazing publication Punk Magazine, serves well as a legitimate authority on the genre. His book consists of first-hand accounts from some of punk’s most influential players. The dizzying excesses of a parade of celebrities are all there for the taking, including Iggy Pop’s many tumbles on a stage full of broken glass; Jayne County’s bone-crushing lurch, with a stage microphone, at the Dictator’s Handsome Dick Manitoba; Stiv Bator’s famous performance at CBGB’s, during which he was fellated by an aspiring cocktail waitress.

It’s much to the authors’ credit that they choose the quasi-documentary style – otherwise one might have found it hard to believe the material contained within. The irony is that while the book is quite obviously a labor of love, it often reveals an indulgent, at times downright pathetic, squadron of characters. At key moments, you don’t know whether to laugh or get your stomach pumped. Dee Dee Ramone’s account of Sid Vicious using soiled water from a public toilet bowl to shoot up with is one such occasion. "I’d seen it all by then," says Dee Dee.

Of course, Dee Dee’s closet rattles pretty heavily with his own collection of skeletons. During an aborted attempt at forging a new band with Stiv Bators in Paris, Dee Dee grew ever more disenchanted with Johnny Thunders, who was slated to be included in the lineup. Upon discovering his overcoat in Thunders’ suitcase, Dee Dee became enraged and subsequently smashed Thunders’ guitar to pieces and destroyed his entire wardrobe with a little help from Drano and a few other household corrosives.
Obliging Fans

The book borrows its title from a T-shirt designed by Richard Hell, who was then the bass player for Television. Hell is perhaps one of the most unsung heroes of the punk movement. His groundbreaking work with the Voidiods – and his debut album, containing the cut "Blank Generation" – clearly paved the way for others to follow. In fact, it’s widely speculated that Malcom Maclaren exported Hell’s entire image, spiked hair and ripped clothing, to England for use on his favorite clients, the Sex Pistols.

Hell had written the words "Please Kill Me" on a shirt and included a graphic of a bulls-eye below it. He then decided it was against his better judgment to actually wear it – the duty was somehow assumed by Television guitarist Richard Lloyd. According to Lloyd, "Richard... wouldn’t wear it. So I [did]. These fans gave me this really psychotic look... Then they said, ‘If that’s what you want, we’ll be glad to oblige because we’re such big fans!’... and I thought, I’m not wearing this shirt again."
The History of Rock & Roll

Some of the more outlandish behavior in the book comes by way of Iggy Pop. Among other things, Iggy was fond of wearing women’s evening gowns or nothing at all in public. His love for substances is well documented, including his tendency to consume enough Quaaludes to kill a horse and then crawl around uselessly on-stage before thousands of adoring fans. On one occasion, Iggy nearly got runover while sprawled out on the parking lot outside a local truck stop. According to James Grauerholz, Iggy leapt to his feet and screamed, "You asshole, you almost killed me... you could’ve stopped the history of rock & roll."

As mentioned, the book’s use of straight quotes work well. Not only does it lend authenticity to the material but it allows its characters to display some of their more positive sides. For example, it’s no surprise that as the author of some of the greatest rock & roll material ever, such as "Lust For Life," Iggy Pop proves to be an intelligent, eloquent fellow. However, it’s nice to read his words verbatim to confirm the fact. Otherwise we could walk away with nothing but the picture of him crawling around in a stupor, covered with blood, bare-assed naked – or clad in the latest evening wear from the Gloria Vanderbilt collection.

" was about advocating kids to not wait to be told what to do, but make life up for themselves, it was about trying to get people to use their imaginations again, it was about not being perfect, it was about saying it was okay to be amateurish and funny, that real creativity came out of making a mess, it was about working with what you got in front of you and turning everything embarrassing, awful, and stupid in your life to your advantage." Legs McNeil.
"...the story of a bunch of losers and misfits, junkies and whores, geniuses and idiots, poets and illiterates who banded together for a brief moment in history, to make great rock & roll, and to have a real cool time doing it."
- Legs & Gillian
Start reading
Please Kill Me @ Google Books
Please Kill Me! Interview with Legs McNeil - Glorious Noise

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