Monday, March 21, 2016

Pop Culture Books # 2 Please Kill Me

I've just finished re-reading this, Please Kill Me, by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain. Compiled from over 500 recorded hours of interviews with almost all of the key players of American Punk from 1965 to 1980, it's an incredible, historical document. But what really makes it great is that it's always before anything else, deeply entertaining. Focusing on the people that made and were drawn to the music rather than the music itself it's a wonderful description of life lived to the full during the course of these years, mostly in New York City but also in Ann Arbor, Cleveland, California and occasionally across the pond in England.

It's peopled by the most incredible cast of characters; Rock and Roll musicians, almost invariably gay band managers, hustlers, groupies, poets, photographers and fans. Many of them drug addicts and booze hounds. All the vast array of creative and desperate people who made the scene. Incredible characters leap out of its pages; Iggy Pop, Wayne Kramer, Danny Fields, Ron Asheton, Sylvain Sylvain, Jim Carroll, Richard Hell, Patti Smith, Leee Childers, Richard Lloyd, Debbie Harry, Dee Dee Ramone and so on.

McNeil particularly, is obviously keen that a particular slant on the narrative, a story of Punk that he favours, gets told. The lineage of artists that tell the story goes as follows: The Velvet Underground - The Doors- The MC5 - The Stooges - The New York Dolls - David Bowie - Patti Smith - Television - The Ramones - Blondie- The Dictators - The Heartbreakers - Dead Boys - The Sex Pistols. There's only one passing, sneering mention of Talking Heads, little about Suicide and nothing at all about The Modern Lovers or Pere Ubu. This doesn't really matter because the key factor of the narrative is to keep things lively and it does this in every respect.

The story itself takes a downturn in the last section, from about 1978 when it begins to document the human wreckage that the scene resulted in, with the deaths of Stiv Bators, Johnny Thunders and Jerry Nolan, the state that Dee Dee Ramone wound up in, the fact that Punk in its original state, was not built to last. In some respect it's a cautionary tale. Still, it's good to see, forty years on, probably its most iconic figure, Iggy himself, still with us and the times and music accorded a reverence that is odd to observe, but pleasing to witness. If you haven't read the book, I recommend it highly!

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