Legs McNeil & Gillian McCain | Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk (Grove Press)

Stars like Debbie Harry, Patti Smith, and Iggy Pop tell tales of debauchery, filth, and fantasies come to life.


20th Anniversary Edition

In its 20th year on bookshelves, Please Kill Me is the definitive book on the punk scene, its growth, and eventual decline. Written from interviews of the greats of the time, stars like Debbie Harry, Patti Smith, and Iggy Pop tell tales of debauchery, filth, and fantasies come to life. Now comes the 20th anniversary edition of the groundbreaking book we’ve come to love.

In the few short years that punk held its ground, it made more than a general splash. It was more akin to a brutal storm, for the fans—and, more importantly, the artists themselves. While most fans felt that Iggy Pop rolling around in broken glass was art, it was brutal for Pop, who was severely injured several times. CBGB’s nightclub we all knew and loved was just getting off the ground, and a hodgepodge of people was starting to flow in its doors. Hippies, soon-to-be punks, glam rockers, and pioneering artists like the Ramones came into the club, transforming it into the place for punks to be.

Other night spots like Max’s Kansas City were also growing in popularity. As this new sound stared to come together, many of rock’s most famous (and infamous) characters got their start in clubs like these. Acts like Blondie, the Ramones, Television, and others were starting to find themselves, their sound, and their audience. And though few of these bands would see superstardom, their influences are still deeply felt.

The tales told in the book are related by the ones who were there; living the life of a rock star is never easy—and, for most of the bands in the punk scene, unattainable. With the exception of very few bands, most did not see stardom on a high level. Exceptions like Blondie, with their gorgeous lead singer Debbie Harry, and the Ramones, with their heavy rock sound, were among the few to break through to the mainstream.

In London, however, this was far from the truth. The term “punk,” which got its moniker from an underground magazine out of New York City, took on a political connotation .Disgruntled, jobless youth found a sound all their own in punk. The nihilistic lyrics and feel resonated with kids who had a bleak future ahead of them: This music would be their voice. Interviews with Sid Vicious, along with girlfriend/murder victim Nancy Spungeon, show the growth of violence involved in British Punk.

Yet underneath the violence and shocking look of the genre, talent started to bloom. Bands like the Clash, the Damned, and ultimate punk fellows the Sex Pistols were coming into their own. While the Sex Pistols are not known for musical prowess, their debut album Never Mind the Bollocks paved the way for some of the great names to come. While in New York, the scene was more of a glam rock thing, with bands like the New York Dolls and KISS; in comparison, Britain’s punk was “anti-image,” a defiant fist into the face of politics, image, and what was known as fashion. Everything lower class was coming to the brim.

Going through the careers of the MC5, the Velvet Underground—which birthed Lou Reed and singer Nico—and Iggy and the Stooges, Please Kill Me showcases more than music. It’s a movement that affected every genre of rock music and some film, and was even touched by the Art Movement, particularity Andy Warhol and his Factory.

This book is a must for every hard rock/punk fan… It brings together memories of those left behind, those left lost, as well as those who continue to enjoy success. Unfortunately, talent doesn’t necessarily always come out on top, and many punk bands died out like so many bands do. | Marc Farr

About Marc Farr 244 Articles
Marc Farr is the Live Music & Assignments Editor of PLAYBACK:stl. He's so invaluable to us, we've nicknamed him Mr. Music. Reach out if you have coverage ideas! "I know it's only rock and roll...but I like it!"
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