Additional August Reading: Please Kill Me

Image via punkbookreview.comPLEASE KILL ME
LEGS MCNEIL AND GILLIAN MCCAIN
GROVE, 1996

Then they counted off a song – “ONE, TWO, THREE, FOUR!” – and we were hit with this balst of noise, you physically recoiled from the shock of it, like this huge wind, and before I could even get into it, they stopped.

Apparently, they were all playing a different song.

Every band generates a whole bunch of stories, from creation myths to tales of their tales of their tragic demise. And, since a lot of bands are just friends fighting and drinking and fucking and making music, these stories are both dramatic, comic, and wildly contradictory.

Legs McNeil was around for a lot of the early punk movement. Being one of the founders of Punk is enough cred to coast on for a lifetime. So, he could have easily done a memoir and it would’ve been interesting.

Please Kill Me is a serious accomplishment, not just in that McNeil and his coauthor manage to convey a sense of what the scene like, but also because, through the use of the oral history form, they can acknowledge contradicting views. The title of the book, in fact, comes from an anecdote where three different people can’t agree on who came up with a t-shirt with that phrase on it.

The bands covered in Please Kill Me, from the Ramones to Television to the Stooges to MC5 to many more, are important to the history of music, and they couldn’t ask for a more honest and entertaining treatment than this book. By acknowledging the faults and innovations of these acts, while including plenty of hilarious stories, McNeil paints a full picture of these acts.

Take the Stooges, for example: their early albums stand up to this day, but a little something is lost. It’s hard to fully understand the attitude they brought to live shows and their music in general just through isolated accounts. In Please Kill Me, we’re given it all, from Iggy Pop eating his own snot in front of a group of adoring girls, to him flailing around on broken glass, to the band’s internal dynamic. For that reason, I can read this book a million times, find it wildly entertaining, and still take something away from it.

Author: James Brotheridge

Contributing Editor with Prairie Dog.

6 thoughts on “Additional August Reading: Please Kill Me”

  1. I just picked this book up last week. It’s pretty good so far. Having it start back in the Warhol days surprised me a little bit, but I guess that’s why I bought the book, to learn more about punk’s origins.

  2. For additional reading do not miss the recent Patti Smith memoir “Just Kids”- it’s in stock at the RPL, 3 of 5 copies just sitting there.

  3. I was actually a little disappointed by this book. The 1st-person background is valuable, obviously, but I has hoped there would be more about the actual music. You get a minimal amount of information on the songs, albums, and recording process and a maximum amount of information on who fucked who and who was messed up on what. Somewhat interesting, but I was hoping to find out more about the songs.

  4. Because it is an oral history, there are many different voices in this book, and sometimes they’re not all singing “the same song”. I’m not sure this review made clear that the form of the book is unusual, beacsue Legs doesn’t step in and try to figure out a definitive history of anything, just lets people say what they want.

  5. @3

    That is true, though undeniably a big part of the appeal for some for these acts wasn’t their sonic innovation so much as the ethos they seemed to represent.

    I also just have a weakness for rock debauchery books, of which this is one of the finest. Typically, these don’t go into the music too much, or these aren’t the parts of the books that people find memorable.

    Case in point: The Dirt, by Motley Crue and Neil Strauss. I have never, ever been a fan of the Crue, but I’ve read this twice. It’s a seriously entertaining read, well structured by Strauss to showcase four gentlemen who hardly have enough foresight to recognize their own noses and with no hindsight whatsoever.

    The Dirt is definitely a book that benefits from the exclusion of music talk. When it does delve into their process for their ’90s album Generation Swine, it’s borderline painful.

    @5

    That’s really the strength of the oral history – when you have a hotly contested period or scene, you can give a fairer treatment to everyone while avoiding some of the author’s biases.

    Not to say that McNeil doesn’t favor some of the bands – he clearly does, and the inclusion of an act like the Doors in a book on punk is a statement onto itself.

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