on January 21, 2014
If you love punk rock music or if you simply wished you'd gone to CBGBs in the 70s, or that you'd been alive at that time, you must read this book. It does much to demystify the drug culture at that time--as you see slowly destroy the lives of those who participate in it, but it also glorifies it. The glimpses it provides of those artists who went on to survive that time--Iggy Pop, Debbie Harry, Lou Reed, Patti Smith--are fascinating.
on May 17, 2004
"Please Kill Me" is a beautifully arranged oral history of punk music in America. Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain are heroes for clipping together hundreds of interviews and making it not only coherant (it reads like everyone is in the same room together), but visceral - when Stiv Bators gets in a knife fight on the street or the Ramones pee into Johnny Rotten's soda, you're right there with them. It's a great read, and totally entertaining.
And something else, too. McNeil and McCain have the benefit of hindsight - they didn't arrange this book until long after punk was no more. The writing during the glory years have a wonderful, kinetic urgency to them - but as the music started to get co-opted, and people started to die as a result of hard living, the book becomes genuinely moving and heartfelt. And the fact that so much time is spent on "forgotten" artists is totally heartwarming - and completely in the spirit of the music, and the movement.
You can skip around "Please Kill Me," but it's a much better read from cover to cover. Read it, and emit a deep, mournful sigh at the next Blink 182 song you hear.
on February 4, 2004
Most books on subjects such as this (the history of the punk rock scene) are fluff, or some lame writer's opinion. Here we have the major players talking (Lou Reed, Nico, Wayne Kramer, Iggy Pop, David Johanssen, Johnny Thunders, Patti Smith, Joey Ramone, Dee Dee Ramone, Tom Verlaine, Stiv Bators, John Lydon, Debbie Harry, etc etc.) Plus all their hangers-on and groupies and girlfriends and record suits (i.e. Danny Fields.) So this is about as close to the truth as you'll get about how it all evolved, and moved from Detroit to New York City to London. Iggy has a major role in it all, and I found him to be his usual truthful self. Iggy speaks of listening to the first Velvet Underground album in 1967 and not liking it at first (very honest there.) He also speaks of seeing Jim Morrison perform with the Doors in 1967 at some college concert, and being fascinated by the Lizard King's crazy stage performance. He formed the Stooges less than 6 months later, and Iggy ends up influencing his Detroit peers the MC5, and later hanging with the NY Dolls and then the Ramones in New York. The Ramones and to a lesser extent, Johnny Thunders from the Dolls travel to England and end up influencing the growing scene there, including John Lydon (who turns into Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols.) All in all, good behind the scene stories are included. I only wish the early heavy metal players could be as honest in a book like this, instead of protecting their own egos.
on May 31, 2003
You have to take the subtitle to "Please Kill Me" seriously. It's really an oral history in the sense that the book isn't so much written as assembled out of tape-recorded interviews. It isn't a Q/A format, it's a narrative stitched together from interviews with many of the principals of the New York Punk scene in the 70's. Despite this, it feels a lot like a coherent narrative. It almost feels like a television documentary, except they never had to resort to a narrator's voice-over to fill in the gaps. Having contributions from everyone from, uh, Lou Reed to Joey Ramone gives the book some immediacy (and legitimacy) that's probably essential to writing a decent history of punk.
There are things you might argue are missing -- for example, the book seems to devote more time to sex and drugs than it does to, say, music. And it basically draws the line at covering anything beyond the New York scene, a reasonable decision that isn't immediately obvious from the cover. One could imagine very different but equally valid punk histories. But it's long enough and interesting enough, and the authors readily admit to having much more interesting material than they could reasonably include.
Readers to whom all of this is old hat, or who get bored by tales of degenerate behavior, might find the book less engaging. But I found it engaging and readable, a fun way to learn more about punk's beginnings.
on April 6, 2003
Oral history is my favorite, the words a biographer usually draws upon, the source, and this book is an easy-as-pie, page-turning read, taking you from proto-punk Detroit and NYC beginnings (i.e. Iggy Pop, the MC5, the New York Dolls and the Velvet Underground/Andy Warhol's Factory) through to the many nerves that branched off to sickening endings. I love this book. It gets the stories from their source: quotes from those who were there when Punk happened. Introduced to many bands I'd never heard of, PLEASE KILL ME served as a guide through the later 70s lower Manhattan lore of CBGBs and Max's Kansas City, and -- of course -- the happenings across the Atlantic, where the Clash, the Damned and the Sex Pistols were among the first. I wanted more after I was finished. It's a good place to start and an excellent place to check if you already have a Punk background. In the back of the book there's a fitting picture of William Burroughs in front of big words, "Life's a Killer." I thought long and hard (beyond his circumstantial Bunker residency, which located him physically near the heart of the scene) about why his picture was at the back. You should too. Also, I really enjoyed meeting and learning about Lester Bangs' part in the story. Really enjoyed this one. I can think of no reason to give it any less than five stars.
on February 23, 2003
Few books have captured my attention like "Please Kill Me." This book goes from Punk's early influences (The Velvet Underground, MC5) smoothly transitions into the hey-day of American Punk (The Stooges, The Dolls, Ramones) and then finally takes you down as the Punk movement lost its steam. (The death of Johnny Thunders/Sid Vicious)
The first hand accounts presented within will have you laughing so hard tears will be streaming down your face, while also giving gut-wrenching tales of the demise of so many of the stars of this era. The ups and downs of the Punk movement are shown throughout "Please Kill Me" so well that a reader couldn't ask for much more.
"Please Kill Me" is filled with just about all the information an American punk fan could be looking for. A great book for those that are just getting into that old-school Punk, or the vet who lived through it all. "Please Kill Me" has something for everyone, and it's impossible to leave this book without a plethora of historical facts regarding Punk rock.
on September 21, 2002
I am not sure who invented the oral biography, though I suspect the honors should go to Studs Terkel. This is one of the best representatives of the genre that I have ever read. Some have called the book revisionist, in that it asserts the primacy of the New York and American punk movement over that of the English Punk movement. Properly speaking, it isn't at all revisionist: it is a corrective. In fact, the point of the book is that the British Punk Movement, which made more of an impact in the public eye and the mass media, actually hit the scene as punk was more or less dying. Johnny Rotten and the Clash and all the others didn't come at the beginning of punk, but only after it had been around for years and was actually fading in NY. In other words, Punk wasn't an English invention, but an American one.
The book begins with the Velvet Underground and then proceeds to the founders of Punk, people like Iggy Pop and the MC5 and the New York Dolls. All the major figures on the New York scene are dealt with in detail, from Patti Smith and the Heartbreakers to the Ramones and, my favorite NYC band, Television (who I discovered after they broke up for the first time, but who I have since seen live twice in Chicago, first in 1993 and then in 2001). Not merely the great bands and performers are featured, but a lot of the people on the scene that music fans might not have been familiar with. In fact, so many people are quoted that you begin to get confused, but not to despair: there is a very helpful Cast of Characters near the end of the book.
A great book, and one that will have any fan of the New York underground music scene in the sixties and seventies rushing to pull out their old records, and perhaps to rush out and buy a few new ones.
on August 26, 2001
When I got this book, i just knew i'd be thrilled with it. of corse, i was right. it is such a great book. it's truthful, demanding, and leaves everthing at your feet. take it or leave it, because it holds nothing back. its written by the dreamers & artists; the raw ones who lived it. There is no writters, it was all interviews with people and then Legs and Gillian edited it. it skims over nothing important, because everything, in this book, is both important and unimportant. it is sure to change your outlook on life. pick it up if you want to read about punks, like punks, love the music, are a punk, are intersted in that lifestyle, crazy events, or just want a cool read. WARNING: Should not take everything so seriously, it may sometimes be intense and you may want to read it over and over again. COOL: It, at the very least, mentions every punk god from years past. Like iggy pop, nancy spungen / sid vicious, richard lloyd, patty smith and so many, many more!! Just buy it for the cool pictures, ok, it's in your face and cool. Besides you'll know so much more about the past.
on July 5, 2001
Over the years there have been so many people and bands who have claimed to carry the "punk" banner that it's essence and spirit has been diluted into marketing babble. This book sets the record straight on the origins, practitioners and locations that defined what punk was all about. The narrative here is unadulterated and incredibly engrossing.
While you may think about some of these icons differently after reading this book, you cannot deny the incendiary creativity and raw lust for life in these New York and Detroit punk pioneers. At times simultaneously hilarious, repulsive and depressing, this book is a fascinating historical trip through the '60's and '70's. Say what you will, but these folks walked the talk like no one else in rock and roll before or since.
Finally, the bare bones, tell-it-in-their-own-words style here is refreshing and free of over-interpretation. Like punk itself, it avoids hyperbole and reflection and just tells it like it was, warts and all. Thanks to McNeil & McCain for such a terrific read. Some recent artists who claim to be punk should read this and just be ashamed of themselves...
on May 16, 2001
This is one of those books that I loved so much it's actually kind of hard for me to put into words and write a review for. My husband had it on order... months before it came out, and after he brought it home, we practically fought over who got to read it first. We eventually had to work something out where we took turns and read it in shifts. Either that or one of us would sneak out and read it when the other fell asleep. If you like punk rock, it's hard to put down.
I love "oral history" style books, and this is one of the best I've ever read. At first I planned just to read everything about The Ramones (which was a lot)and not the rest. But I had so much fun reading everything else I just read it straight through. I wasn't around for the New York punk scene in the mid-late 70's, but this book gives you such a vivid idea of what it was like that I felt like I was there. I'm partial to any of the Ramones-related sections, but Dee Dee Ramone's voice really stood out. He tells enough in PKM that it could almost fill another book. He's definitely just as good of a storyteller as he is a song writer, has a good sense of humor, and his prose was definitely different. He talks about meeting his girlfriend from hell, Connie (I never thought I'd get to see a picture of the woman who inspired the Ramones song "Glad to See You Go"): "She was a hooker, I was a Ramone, and we were both junkies."
If you want gossip and dirt about the NY scene, there's plenty of good stuff. Who slept with who, who wanted to sleep with who, who back-stabbed who (sometimes literally), who didn't get along, who did what drug and how much, and much more. Even if you thought you'd read everything there was about the NY scene, or your favorite band from that time, there's stories you never heard before. This back doesn't try to glamorize anything, in fact the scene was sleazier than I thought (I remember wondering about halfway through if there was anyone that WASN'T doing heroin or sleeping with everybody else at some point). You still, however, get an idea of how fun it must have been. I went back and forth between being glad I was reading about it instead of being there and wishing that I really had been there. It really covers just about everything, and continues on to the present day. The last 1/5 or so of the book has many of the people involved in the scene getting ill and/or dying (mostly caused directly or indirectly from drugs) so it does get pretty sad and even depressing, but that's what happened, and they don't try to gloss it over. I'm just glad the book came out before Joey Ramone passed away or even got sick, because there's enough heart-breaking stuff in there as it is.
I actually prefer the first edition. True, there are some stories in the updated edition that are pretty funny, in particular one someone told about running into Sid Vicious and saying they had to go pick up their vacuum cleaner, and Sid assuming "vacuum cleaner" was some kind of drug lingo and wanting to come along. It does end on a positive note with a mostly re-united MC-5. However, I thought that the ending to the first edition was stronger. The original ending, with Jerry Nolan in the hospital remembering seeing Elvis as a kid, was so vivid and haunting that it actually choked me up, and still does a little every time I read it. I wasn't expecting such a poignant ending, and it really caught me off guard. Since the last part of the book has so many deaths in it, I guess I shouldn't have been surprised, but I was. Anyway, in my opinion, ending the book the way it was the first time was much more effective.
I'd recommend this book to anyone who likes a good music-related oral history, or to anyone whose favorite bands were the early punk scene. I'd also recommend it for kids not even born when most of the book happened that think punk rock was started by Green Day (or the Sex Pistols). Recently, I heard someone at work complaining that they heard an interview where Joey Ramone had the nerve to say that the Ramones helped start punk rock. I shut them up with 5 words: "Name one punk band before 1975". I think those were also the last 5 words I ever spoke to that guy, but it just goes to show how this book should be required reading for people who have misconceptions about how punk really began. Anyone interested in music history from the 1970's on would probably also enjoy the book. I guess the only people I wouldn't recommend it to are those who have an idealized picture of that time and place (like I did before I read it) and don't want it shattered because they would rather leave things to their imagination.
However, a review --or my review, at least--just can't do this book justice. Whether you're reading about Dee Dee Ramone turning tricks for dope money (along with doing heroin, another common activity most people seemed to share back was sleeping with Dee Dee Ramone) and later getting stabbed in the butt by his jealous girlfriend, or finding out which bathroom at CBGBs had the best graffiti, or Legs McNeil painting such a vivid portrait of what the neighborhood outside the 'office' for Punk Magazine looked like that you can almost smell it, you'll definitely be entertained. The book is also worth a few re-reads, because there's so much interesting stuff and it's so smoothly and brilliantly put together. This is one amazing book, and I doubt that a more definitive or passionate book about the punk scene in NYC will ever be written. I don't see how it could get any better.