Please Kill Me  

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk

By Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain
1997, Paperback

You should know

I’m not much of a punk fan. I had to read this book for class – and I’m glad I did, especially since the authors came to class to talk about the book. They signed my copy (Legs’s dedication was crude; Gillian’s was an act of verbal eye-rolling), and Legs asked me why the Amish are so angry (…yeah, I got nothing).

Oh, and Legs McNeil was one of the founders of Punk magazine, and thus was instrumental in naming the movement. That’s some good trivia, there.

Some of the links in this review are less than safe for work – but then, they concern a book about punk music. The people, the songs, and the book all use language and make references you probably don’t want your boss reading over your shoulder, so you shouldn’t expect the web sites to be any different.


I have no doubt it helps to know who 90% of these people are going in, rather than the maybe 15% I was familiar with. There’s no context provided that isn’t provided by a main character – the whole point of oral history is that it’s told by the people who were there, and those who heard about it.

There is an index of major players, though, which is immensely helpful if you don’t mind referring to it every half-dozen pages or so. Just make sure you have the most recent edition: apparently, the first edition has several errors, including but not limited to listing death dates for people still very much alive.

The book jumps in cold with an interview with Lou Reed. As I said, there’s no context provided, so you have to keep up – though most of the most confusing things in the narrative are explained within a few pages by someone else. You may have to force yourself through the first few pages to get yourself used to the format, but once you get into it, it’s actually a very interesting little book.

One point I found particularly interesting was the objective look at the lifestyle. Yes, the sex-and-drugs aspect was glorified, but the more horrifying consequences were not played down, either. It was awesome and it destroyed people, the book – or rather, its subjects, who ought to know – seems to say.


Read it if…
--You love punk.
--You enjoy nonfiction or history.
--You mourn CBGB, either having been there or having missed the chance.

I enjoyed this book, but I can tell not everyone will. Still, give it a chance even if you don’t fit into those three groups.

The rest of the Internet

A great review at NY
Helen Wilson at Glorious Noise wrote up a great interview with Legs McNeil.
Ika Johannesson at The Agenda has another great interview.
Chris Oliver at Psychedelicatessen writes a review that turns into some interesting commentary on Punk in general.
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