Monday, July 6, 2015
Please Kill Me: The Uncensored History of Punk Rock by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain
I'm listening to the Richard Hell album Blank Generation while I'm writing this, but I'm not much of a punk fan. I like The Ramones, The Clash, and some embarrassing pop-punk which didn't come within a mile of the sort of stuff Please Kill Me covers, so in one sense, I might not be the best person to review this book. On the other hand, Sid Vicious didn't know how to play bass and they made a movie about him.
The nice thing about oral histories is that they're super fast reads. Please Kill Me is 600 pages but I read it in a few days. It's kind of like, I don't know, The Clash's Sandanista in some way because it's long but flies by or something. Ask someone else. Lou Reed definitely wouldn't spend his time sorting out this stupid analogy.
So instead of writing this review, I could be out copping, but thanks to the various punks, groupies, and disaffected elder statesmen--say hello again, Richard Hell--I know that drugs are a) awesome b) terrible c) everywhere d) completely necessary but you do have to be careful. If you're Iggy Pop you can do whatever the heck you want and you'll end up bloody and beaten but basically ok. If you're a member of the New York Dolls, you're probably already dead so this warning isn't helping. you much.
I don't think I'll talk much about the music itself because the book doesn't either. I think various groupies and drag queens got about as much ink as the musicians and journalists of the movement. Not that that's a bad thing--one could argue that there's not a whole lot about punk's raw aggression that can be captured in print anyway. Maybe the intensity is best captured in a whirlwind of eyewitness testimony to the debauchery and anger that drove the movement and if you want it to punch you in the gut, you can listen to the music itself while locked in a squalid bathroom somewhere, covered in blood, eyeliner, and sweat. Sex, drugs, and a little rock and roll--Just Kill Me does what it says on the tin.
Also, I really enjoyed how the Dead Boys apparently had no idea where swastikas came from. Would read again if I hadn't read it but condensed to 2 minutes it would be epic.