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Book Review: Please Kill Me – The Uncensored Oral History of Punk

So you want to know who started it all, huh? Who the fuck started PUNK ROCK? Well, let me tell you something: It doesn’t fucking matter. The fact is that it came into existence somehow and for that itself we should be thankful. On the other hand, if you want to know HOW it came about then I recommend letting your curious and greedy hands flip their way through this piece of work. It is a great storybook, a bedtime story if you will. Taking you through the wicked, hopeless, and warped paths traveled by a many influential, well known, and even obscure musicians from way back when.

Some say it started with the Ramones, others say the Sex Pistols. Then there are others who say that it started with the glamorous and femme New York Dolls. The great thing about this book is that it proves them all wrong. Ok, so “proves” is not that greatest verb to use because this IS an account of people’s lives as recorded through interviews. Extremely subjective and easy to manipulate are accounts given by anyone…or so I imagine. Back to the great thing about this book: Its “Once upon a time” is in a place called New York (though there are brief stints in London, Detroit, and Los Angeles) with the soon to be Velvet Underground, Nico tagging along, and Andy Warhol funding the whole lot. The book eventually takes you through the history of the Ramones, Malcolm McLaren and his Sex Pistols, Richard Hell and the Voidoids, The Dead Boys, MC5, Blondie, Iggy Pop and the Stooges, Patti Smith, Television, The Heartbreakers and a handful of other bands.

The villain … the horrid circumstances those mentioned in the book had to overcome or decided not to overcome. The disco music with songs that lasted for what seems like ages, the heroin sold around the corner from the alternative castle known as CBGB’s and the record companies trying to keep their acts doped up to avoid conflict. These along with other setbacks make up the antagonist and the emerging heroes: anyone able to survive and contribute to the surroundings. The collaboration of their efforts resulting in an extremely volatile, emotional, and twisted genre: Punk. 

The book name-drops like no other with an arrogant, “you had to be there”, “let me throw it in your face” tone, making you feel like you missed out. Then again with all the rage, drugs, sex, and sketchy living environments described, I for one am comfortable with my role as a reader. Even with a sense of the author’s attempt to claim superiority as well as ownership of the term “punk” the reader is not alienated. Perhaps the reader feels like a tiny mouse in the corner seemingly watching everything go down but not entirely shunned.

Essentially the book is a collection of interviews. How Legs and Gillian were able to construct such a work with numerous spoken tales is not only commendable but admirable. The interviews are broken into shorter versions, each person giving his/her account of a specific time or situation as well as the more general atmosphere of the time. Different sides of one story are put out into the open and left for the reader to put together. For the parts of the interviews that could not be tightly tied into the core of the book there is a section in the back for your reading pleasure. 

Personally, I found this book amazing in its structure and ability to include the reader in the circle of obscure and famous figures as they reminisce (even if the reader feels nothing to add to the circle or even that she/he should hide in a corner and listen). To top it off, it is also quite amusing. Although, the glow around some of the legends does seem to fade as one gets more acquainted with antics associated with their past; the flow of the book is amazing and undisrupted. Accept no imitations. One of my favorite parts of the book is about Sid Vicious (who actually seemed like a goofy kid not some insane, nihilistic, and sadistic rebel) and his mistaken identification of a vacuum cleaner for dope. I guess you have to read it to understand. 

Please Kill Me – The Uncensored Oral History of Punk

by Legs McNeil & Gillian McCain
(Penguin Books)

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