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Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk Paperback – April 13, 2006
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Though Britain's notorious Sex Pistols shoved punk rock into the face of mainstream America, the movement was already brewing in the U.S. in the 1960s with bands like the Velvet Underground and Iggy and the Stooges. Through hundreds of interviews with forgotten bands as well as the ones that made names for themselves--including Blondie and the Ramones--Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain chronicle punk rock history through the people who really lived it. Please Kill Me is a thrash down memory lane for those hip to punk's early years and an enlightening history lesson for youngsters interested in the origins of modern "alternative" music. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From Publishers Weekly
As its sensationalist title suggests, this stresses the sex, drugs, morbidity and celebrity culture of punk at the expense of the music. Starting out with the electroshock therapy Lou Reed received as a teenager, working through such watersheds as the untimely deaths by overdose or mishap of Sid Vicious, Johnny Thunders and Nico, as well as the complicated sexual escapades of the likes of Dee Dee Ramone, the portrayal here of the birth of an alternative culture is intermittently entertaining and often depressing. McNeil, one of the founding writers of the original 'zine, Punk, in 1975 , is certainly qualified to tell this tale. But the book's take on punk rock as "doing anything that's gonna offend a grown-up" overemphasizes the self-destructive side of the movement. Details of Iggy Pop's drug abuse and seedy sex with groupies receive more attention than important bands such as Television and Blondie, which had comparatively puritan lifestyles. Constructed as an oral history, the book weaves together personal accounts by the crucial players in the scene, many of whom seem to have been so drugged out most of the time that their reliability is questionable. McNeil and McCain (Tilt) provide a vivid look at the volatile and needy personalities who created punk, if they do not offer perceptive musical or cultural analysis. Photos.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
Please Kill Me is not meant to be uplifting. It's a book about a bunch of mostly messed-up, at best semi-stable people of limited talent, who nonetheless came together to create something great. It's the story of those people, not the specific chords they played or the amplifiers they used. It's unusual in that it goes into great depth explaining the genesis of punk; this book makes it clear that the foundation was laid long before the Ramones ever played a note.
It's also a fantastic read. I started reading it on a cross-country flight and stayed up all night finishing it. It's especially compelling when you contrast it with the sanitized, glorified shopping mall that now calls itself New York City.
I wrote this review after seeing too many denigrate the book because it presented a different picture of the people and the music than they expected. This guy was right in the middle of it all, and earned his knowledge through personal experience. There are only a few other people who can match his depth of understanding on this topic, or his passion for it.
The book is entirely made up of interviews from everyone who could possibly have anything to say about the seedy history of Punk music. There is no descriptive content other than these interviews which are carefully and cleverly woven together to provide a dynamic timeline of this ugly step child sub-genre of rock and roll. Everyone is interviewed, from musicians to producers to journalists to drug dealers to drag queens to groupies. This complete cast of characters from both sides of the Atlantic creates a narrative so seedy that sometimes you feel you have to bathe after reading it.
And that is as it should be because the story in its decadence is completely mesmerizing.
Everybody is here, The New York Dolls, MC5, The Dictators, The Dead Boys, The Ramones, The Sex Pistols, Andy Warhol, Lou Reed, Patti Smith and that only gets you half way through the book. I am also happy to report that as a huge fan I was gratified to learn that the number one degenerate from which all Punk sprang (or, more appropriately, seeped) is the king himself, Mr. Iggy Pop; a man pretty much at the center of this descent into musical madness.
For me this is the definitive story, and by far the best overview, of the insane world of Punk music I've ever read.