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Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk

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A Time Out and Daily News Top Ten Book of the Year upon its initial release, Please Kill Me is the first oral history of the most nihilist of all pop movements. Iggy Pop, Danny Fields, Dee Dee and Joey Ramone, Malcom McLaren, Jim Carroll, and scores of other famous and infamous punk figures lend their voices to this definitive account of that outrageous, explosive era. From its origins in the twilight years of Andy Warhol's New York reign to its last gasps as eighties corporate rock, the phenomenon known as punk is scrutinized, eulogized, and idealized by the people who were there and who made it happen.

488 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1996

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About the author

Legs McNeil

14 books170 followers
Roderick Edward "Legs" McNeil (b. 1956 in Cheshire, Connecticut), is the co-founder and a writer for Punk Magazine. He is also a former senior editor at Spin Magazine, and the founder and editor of Nerve magazine (print only; 1992).

At the age of 18, disgusted with the hippie movement that seemed to be going nowhere, McNeil gathered with two high school friends, John Holmstrom and Ged Dunn, and decided to create "some sort of media thing" for a living. They settled upon a magazine, assuming that people would "think [they were] cool and hang out with [them]" as well as "give [them] free drinks". The name "Punk" was decided upon because "it seemed to sum up...everything...obnoxious, smart but not pretentious, absurd, ironic, and things that appealed to the darker side". In Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk, McNeil said that the magazine was inspired by two chief influences: Harvey Kurtzman and The Dictators' debut album The Dictators Go Girl Crazy!, indicating that the magazine was started strictly so that its creators could "hang out with the Dictators".

Nicknamed "Resident Punk" in the magazine, he claims (to much dispute) that he was the first person (along with co-founder John Holmstrom) to have coined the term "punk" to describe a certain type of music, fashion, and attitude. He says he came up with the name punk because Telly Savalas used the line "You lousy punk!" on the show "Kojak." According to McNeil: "After four years of doing Punk magazine, and basically getting laughed at, suddenly everything was "punk," so I quit the magazine."

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,427 reviews
Profile Image for Jessica.
593 reviews3,365 followers
September 30, 2007
I read most of this one night while working the graveyard shift at a very institutional group home in the real methy part of SE Portland. I was the only person awake and not severely mentally-ill in the whole building, except for the parole guys, who I was pretty sure were faking it, or at least greatly exaggerating. There were these big sliding glass doors where of course the methhead psychos lurking in the dark could watch me mopping, all lit up, but I couldn't see out, and most nights I'd be really on edge and ready to run for the parole guys' room if any of the scary noises I heard outside turned out to be some twisted someone smashing through the glass and grabbing my spleen as an ingredient to use in his basement meth lab.

Anyway, that one night I didn't have time to worry about getting chopped into pieces by violent, spun-out hicks, because I was too busy drinking Vanilla Coke after Vanilla Coke in the office, not mopping the place and absorbing (naturally) this very absorbing oral history of the seminal New York City punk scene. The best part by far -- and I wish I had my copy still, so I could quote directly -- was this desciption of Richard Hell, who'd rip all those holes in his shirt and then go around all moony-eyed and moaning, "Oh, poor me, my life is so hard, here I am, with all these holes in my shirt!" You'll have to find the book to get the actual verbatim, which is better phrased, but if you don't have time for the whole book (though you should make the time), that's the passage that brilliantly sums up the gist of that whole glorious punk rock movement.

From an educational standpoint, this book really made me appreciate the ladies who intervened in the years after the era it described. Not that things ever got great, but reading this paints a pretty horrifying picture, from a female perspective. With the exception of Patti Smith, and to some extent Debbie Harry, the early punk scene was pretty damn limiting if you were a woman. Basically if you were amazingly gorgeous you were Bebe Buell, and you were considered a "muse," which meant you'd pick some hot rock star and be a highly coveted, specialized, and respected version of what most of the other girls around seem to have been considered during this time, which was interchangeable fuck-hole groupies. It might've been worth it to see these bands live in their heyday at CBGB's, but I don't think being a lady hanging around that scene sounds very fulfilling. This book makes for an interesting contrast with his newer porn oral history, from a feminist perspective. I mean, I'd rather be Marilyn Chambers any day of the week than most of these punk chicks. This is not to say it was bad for all of them, but that's one of the impressions this book left me with.

In any case, it's a great read, and anyone who cares at all about classic punk has doubtless read it already, or should have.
Profile Image for Noel.
11 reviews4 followers
January 12, 2008
I absolutely inhaled this. Legs' view is that punk was a strictly American phenomenon with its roots in The Doors, The Velvet Underground, The MC5, & The Stooges, and that the British got it completely wrong and basically killed the movement. And he presents that argument well.

Pretty much everyone in the book appears to be exactly what I already thought:
* Jim Morrison was often drunk and frequently terrible live, and wrote really bad high school-grade poetry.
* David Bowie was a rather uptight guy until he fell in with the New York crowd.
* The MC5 were phony revolutionaries, using it as a marketing gimmick.
* Lou Reed is not, as you will see constant reference to, a scat-munching asshole. No, Lou Reed is a scat-munching douche.
* Patti Smith was a truly creepy girl with a tenuous grip on reality, who stalked the stars of the underground scene until they invited her in. (OK, I didn't know that before, but FUUUUUUUUck!)
* Everybody was SO. FUCKED. UP. I can't BELIEVE that more of them did not die...
* Almost everyone in the NY punk scene turned tricks at one time or another to make ends meet.
* Musicians are assholes, or so goes the refrain from the label A&R guy that signed a lot of these bands.
* Of course, so are label execs.
* Despite being just as fucked up, selfish, and self-absorbed as everyone else in the book Iggy Pop is the only guy that comes out looking good. I'm not even that much of a fan, but it's hard to hate Iggy.

So, highly recommended, is what I'm getting at here...
Profile Image for matt.
159 reviews16 followers
December 31, 2012
As an avid reader (and subsequent loather) of "punk rock" history, I was excited to get into this. And although I didn't get exactly what I was looking for, it's certainly worth a read for those who can stomach it.

I can't claim to not like oral histories having only previously read the "People's Oral History" by Zinn which is a blood orange compared to Wayne Kramers' red delicious. That being said, I found this book far too gossipy and "sceney" making me think that cliques in music existed long before the internet came and quantified it for the world to see/read. You fucked Johnny thunders? Great! He vomited on your couch!!? NO WAY!

For those who want the shortened version, I'll sum it up. Patti Smith was a delusional bitch. Lou Reed had tons of gay sex and was mean to everyone. Dee Dee Ramone was a prostitute and hated the rest of his band. The Dead Boys and The Heartbreakers did a lot of drugs. Iggy Pop manipulated people for smack. The New York Dolls were popular for a year, tops. MC5 were sexist and full of shit. A few people OD'ed, and the Sex Pistols came along and ruined the fun for everyone.

Sound good? Kind of. But a few major gripes here. This book, first and foremost should be about the history of NEW YORK punk. Or "people Legs McNeil was friends with." It is embarrassing that the Talking Heads were completely excluded from this because the writers thought that they were "yuppies." How you can talk about Blondie, Television and Patti Smith and completely leave out David Byrne (for better or worse) to me seems ludicrous. It's the same with the British movement. Malcolm Mclaran is of course given his due here but the raging prejudice put against the UK bands ("The Damned were posers! The Clash didn't know what they were talking about!") seems more like territorial squabbling than actual criticism.

Perhaps this book serves as an interesting antidote to the idea that it was "better in the old days" although I'm sure that the author (and the few that survived) probably believes otherwise. It certainly doesn't seem that way. Too many knife fights and junkies shooting up in the bathroom, thanks. Yes, Iggy might have been electrifying rolling around in glass but nihilism, as it turns out, isn't all its cracked up to be.
Profile Image for Madeline.
781 reviews47.2k followers
April 30, 2021
The oral history of this book really shouldn't work - this book is literally just 400+ pages of interview segments, with no narrator or other third-person perspective to give us historical context or background information. This is, pure and simple, a story about the rise and fall of the punk movement told by the people who created it, witnessed it, and experienced the brutal destruction it wreaked on the lives of the ones who devoted their lives to it.

Real credit goes to Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain, who had the daunting task of cutting and pasting pieces from thousands of hours of interviews and crafting it into a narrative. This book is essentially one giant interview, but it flows like a novel.

The only thing preventing this from being a five-star book was entirely on me - you have to really know your stuff when it comes to this era of music in order to fully follow what's going on, and a lot of the names that pop up here didn't mean anything to me (and like I said, there's no narrator or anything to clue you in, so you're on your own if you don't know who somebody is or why they're important), so some of the important moments that get recounted were kind of lost on me - for example, after having Bebe Buell interviews interspersed throughout the entire book, at the very end she casually drops that she's Liv Tyler's mom and my mind was blown.

But at the same time, I don't want anyone to shy away from this book just because they're worried they won't recognize all of the famous names. In fact, it would almost be more fun to go into this knowing nothing about the punk movement in America, because the book is really that masterful - even if I started out not knowing who, say, Danny Fields was, the characters all drift in and out of the narrative that the editors weave, and everyone is so memorable it's not too hard to keep the huge cast of characters straight in your head.

And now, just because I liked it so much, here's my absolute favorite bit of the book, from Ari Delon (illegitimate son of model/groupie Nico and Alain Delon):

"When my mother died, Alan Wise took me to the probate registry in order to inherit the royalties, and the debts. When I got my mum's royalties for the firs time I spent the money on smack. I was hooked. I was taking a gram a day. So I called my psychiatrist doctor in Paris and I spent two weeks in the hospital. I got off heroin. Then I got a check from the Velvet Underground and bought a ticket for Raroia, Tahiti. I was taking Valium, pot, and beer and I got beaten up, then arrested, and someone tried to kill me with a harpoon.
Back in New York I went out of my mind. I spent winter out on the street; rescuers found me in the river Hudson. Then on Staten Island I fell down a chute, fifteen meters, into an old flour mill. I now have steel pins in my feet. Workmen found me and said, 'Are you crazy?!!' Maybe I was. I had no money, no passport, nothing. Someone told the cops, who took me to a psychiatric hospital. They gave me five brain electric shocks. A friend got me out and took me back to Paris. I had two months of treatment in psychiatric hospitals there and then in the south of France. Now I'm trying to get back into myself. I'm not yet strong enough, but one day, when I am, I will confront my father, and I will do it for the sake of my mother."

Holy shit! This is the first and last time we hear from Ari Delon in the entire book, and I am obsessed. Like, not to diminish any of the other people in this book and their equally crazy stories of drugs, misadventures, death, and (sometimes) redemption, but...where is this guy's book?!
Profile Image for Erika.
375 reviews45 followers
June 26, 2015
Things I learned from this book...

-Everyone involved in the early American punk scene was one big incestuous relationship. Everyone had sex with everyone else at one point or another. Male, female, transsexuals, johns, etc.
-Everyone was on drugs. How did punk even get started? I mean really, it amazes me that punk even remotely got off it's feet, everyone was so messed up.
-Patti Smith still kind of freaks me out, but you have to respect her determination.
-Lou Reed is a douchebag.
-Even completely drugged out of his mind, I still love Iggy. He's so perfectly strange.
-They consider Jim Morrison to be a forerunner of punk because of his stumbling drunk performances seemed to be a fuck you to the buttoned up squares going to the shows to be "cool". I love the Doors and Jim to a fault, but let's get real. Those performances were less fuck you's and more I'm wasted out of my mind and don't know what is going on. But hey, it gave Iggy motivation too do the Stooges so I'll take it.
-Nancy Spungen went to England to clean herself up. Well that worked out well.
-to quote William S. Burroughs "I always thought punk was someone who took it up the ass". I find it interesting and a little amusing that this was the term that was used to coin this movement. I respect that they took a derogatory term and flipped it on it's head though. It's very punk of them.
-No one liked Steven Tyler. Well, that isn't really new, but it needs repeating.
-Malcolm McLaren is still one of the worst things that happened to punk.

I'm a little torn on my feelings on this book. It was incredibly interesting, but less an "oral history of punk" and more of an oral history of the absolute sex and drugged fueled insanity that was NY/Detroit punk. How the albums that came out were even remotely decent is shocking, much less as game changing as they were. It was interesting to see the NY scene's take on the origins of punk, obviously they lay claim to the title for themselves rather than the UK scene. I see it as more of feeding off each other, they both used the same nihilistic anarchy and general fuck off feeling put out through simple but heavy guitar riffs. They both brought music away from the heavily synthesized embellishment that came out of the late 60s/early 70s rock and took it back to the basic 50s rock with a twist. It was garage rock with a flair of fuck you. I guess a majority of the hate towards UK punk seems to come at the heels of the fashion statement that came along with them. Like so many other genres, people latched on to a fad to follow and then they lost their way with the music. It doesn't make [some of] those bands any less influential under all of that crap though.


I loathed to enjoy most of this book. While the antics of the scene had it's moments of enjoyment, the fact that the same scene played a part in destroying so many lives makes it hard to read about it. They did it to themselves, yes, but that doesn't make it any less sad to see how they ended up. They definitely lived the sex, drugs & rock n roll lifestyle full tilt though and created amazingness in their wake. No matter whether it was the NY or the UK scene who started punk, they created something amazing and in turn influenced so many others to create even more.

Now I need to find a book on the Cali punk scene to finish my journey of punk off.
Profile Image for Satyros Brucato.
86 reviews7 followers
October 5, 2014
There's a lot to like about this book. But is it a "definitive history of punk rock"? Fuck no. Not even close.

Although PLEASE KILL ME features tons of great material from the people who were there at Ground Zero during the Factory and CBGBs scenes, I wound up fucking pissed at this book's contention that punk began with the Velvets and ended with the deaths of Sid Vicious and Johnny Thunders.

Bull fucking shit.

There was zero mention of the West Coast scene (which had already birthed the Runaways, Dead Kennedys Black Flag, Christian Death and X - among others - by the time Sid Vicious kicked it), the Washington scene (home of Bad Brains and Minor Threat, among many others) or the Australian scene (where Radio Birdman sounded like Television crossed with the Ramones before either band had released an album to influence them). Not even a nod to the Plasmatics, who were part of the same NYC underground, much less to the No Wave scene that produced Swans, Sonic Youth, Suicide and so forth. No Devo, no B-52s, no Grace Jones, not even a breath about Motorhead, who combined punk and metal back before most "classic" punk bands even existed. No indeedy - the authors assert that punk lived and died with the original CBGBs crowd, and that everything that came afterward was either cheap trashy spectacle or "corporate rock."

Bonus irony points: The authors go on several rants about the "integrity" of old-school punk; the book, however, is one long chronicle of stupid kids who live like rock stars on massive amounts of money they essentially scam from their major-label record companies. They buy cars, houses, and tons of dope with that money and then bitch and moan about how no one understands the "purity of their art." Fucking bullshit. Ian McKaye has more "artistic integrity" in his little finger than the New York Dolls displayed in their entire career.

Like I said, there's a lot to appreciate in this first-hand account of punk's roots. But it's nowhere close to telling even THAT story, much less the story of where punk went from the late '70s onward. The contention that "punk died" with Sid and Johnny is as pathetic as it is inaccurate. Essentially, PLEASE KILL ME is Legs McNeil's chronicle of the scene he and his friends enjoyed - an aud lang syne for a bygone era and all that crap. The fact that the authors end their collection of memories with a snide backhand at Nirvana ("Nevermind") just underscores their dismissal of everything beyond Patti Smith's initial retirement from the scene. And that is VERY far from the end of punk's history.

So yeah, sure Legs - go ahead and tell me again how Stiv Bators somehow possessed more punk artistic integrity than Joan Jett or Ian McKaye. And then go fuck right off back to your precious memories and leave the history-writing to other people.
Profile Image for Laura.
385 reviews525 followers
December 1, 2015
If you love gossipy oral histories, this is the book for you. It's probably better if you're familiar with the music, but that's not a prerequisite. And it's often hysterically funny, depending on who's being interviewed -- Richard Lloyd and Richard Hell both made me laugh out loud a number of times.

One of the best parts: several people are talking about how Jim Morrison was an 18-carat prick, and Ray Manzarek comes along saying, "Jim was a shaman." I'll let Danny Fields have the last word on Mr. Mojo Risin', as he said it far better than I ever could:

"Patti Smith was a poet. I think she elevated rock & roll to literature. Bob Dylan elevated it. Morrison's wasn't poetry. It was garbage disguised as teenybopper. It was good rock & roll for thirteen-year-olds. Or eleven-year-olds . . . . There has got to be a reason why women like Nico and Gloria Stavers, the editor of 16 Magazine, fell so deeply in love with him, because he was essentially an abusive man to women. But it sure wasn't his poetry. I've got to tell you, it wasn't his poetry. He had a big dick. That was probably it."
Profile Image for Baal Of.
1,243 reviews43 followers
May 25, 2022
This was a fascinating book giving an uncompromising view of the nasty underbelly that spawned punk rock. There were some unbelievably horrible people, for example Lou Reed who was an utterly despicable asshole (and yet I still like a good chunk of the Velvet Underground's music), and the New York Dolls who were pretty much just sexist jerks who wanted access to lots of women. There were a lot of deaths, which isn't surprising considering the vast amounts of drug and alcohol abuse that was going on. And the sheer amount of destructive and self-destructive behavior was pretty over-whelming, but it makes for fascinating reading. One note I should make, this book again goes against the claims of that arrogant, obnoxious professor of the history of rock and roll class I took at UT, who said that punk rock was an anti-gay movement. Nothing could be farther from the truth given the substantial representation of gay, lesbian, and bi-sexual people who were formative of the events in this book. A subset of punk later became co-opted and turned into racist/sexist/homophobic crap, but that was not the key identifier for punk.

The authors should be commended for being able to take all these interviews and build a cohesive, if occasionally contradictory, narrative with an actual arc. In the end section they actually go over the process of creating an oral history, and I found that section illuminating.
82 reviews3 followers
September 8, 2009
Punk rockers would make terrible dinner party guests. They will break your good china and roll around in the shards. They will defacate on the dessert. They will shoot up in your bathroom. They will hit on your grandmother. They also should make for interesting reading and, for the most part, the book delivered. I learned:
*Nico drank good wine.
*Phil Spector drank bad wine.
*Nancy Spungen was advised to go to England to clean up and kick her serious drug habit. That's where she met Sid Vicious.
*Even though Nancy was very disliked, everyone thought it was terrible that the police stopped investigating her murder after Sid died. Many people thought their drug dealer actually did it.
*The Stooges got the IRS to stop bothering them about back taxes by explaining they were drug addicts and, therefore, bad with money.
*The Sex Pistols were afraid to meet the Ramones after their show in England because they thought they would beat them up.
*Debbie Harry thought the record companies gave them lots of drugs, not because they liked them, but to keep them compliant.
*And, best of all, Iggy Pop, known for his terrible habit and dangerous excess had an ephiphany. He realized he "was the product". He cleaned up and he started saving his money. That's right. One of the most famous punks of all time, saved his life, by replacing nihilism with captalism. Isn't that fantstic?

Overall, interesting. I was disappointed that this book is billed the history of punk rock and really only covered New York punk and English punk as it pertained to the New York scene. They barely touched on the key differences between the two. (New York being a prodcut of the art scene and England being a product of working class hopelessness.) The LA scene wasn't touched and other East Coast punk bands of great importance, such as Black Flag, didn't get a mention.
Profile Image for BAM the enigma.
1,898 reviews378 followers
May 15, 2017
4.5 stars just not a 5 because I don't think a reread will affect me the same way

Little did I realize that the punk movement started as early as 1968 with the Velvet Underground and amphetamine usage. Thus begins Please Kill Me, a compilation of interviews with some of the most influential talent in the industry and on the streets through the early 90s. Photos throughout

The book is broken into chapters that follow a timeline that flow through music progression and drug prevalence. I'm seriously surprised more of these people didn't die during the early years, although many were dead by the re authorization.
The focus is on American punk, which, unbeknownst to me, is where the movement began, about fifteen years before England. There is a similar book on England's movement, and it is on my to-read list if anyone is interested. In this book only the Sex Pistols are discussed. I am ashamed to say that I've had to create a list of bands with whom I'm not familiar so I can Spotify the music.
These bands, except Patti Smith, were men, and were self-destructive. Their behavior was off the charts, but most were extremely artistic. How they attracted so many women in such a decrepit state is beyond me. I guess like attracts like.
This read was an absolute revelation. I'll never listen to music the same way.
Profile Image for Marie-Therese.
412 reviews172 followers
May 28, 2020
Drugs, drugs, drugs. Sex, sex, sex. Violence and vomit and just a little bit of music. Virtually no analysis and not much beyond "first we did this, and then we did this, and then we went there, and we were so stoned, man."

What might have had punch and charm if embedded in an historically-informed narrative just drags interminably here, as one after the other rather sad, sordid character races to a tragic and untimely end. The actual oral documentation is valuable and worthy of being recorded somewhere but it does not make a very cohesive or illuminating book. Having just read Arlette Farge's magisterial The Allure of the Archives', a book dealing with 18th century criminal interviews and judicial records which cautions against taking oral sources at face value, not because they're unreliable, but because we are as we "listen" to them without context or a broader sense of how they fit into individual's entire lives and their place in the world, I wondered what a careful historian might make of all this material. Certainly something deeper and more engaging than this.
Profile Image for courtney.
19 reviews7 followers
March 16, 2007
i learned not to leave a member of the dead boys alone with a guinea pig.
Profile Image for Thomas.
15 reviews3 followers
December 27, 2008
when i was a kid and i would whine about not getting new shoes or some stupid shit my mom would sing that old Rolling Stones song, "You can't always get what you want" only she wouldn't sing it she would talk it like it was some ancient wisdom from the lips of Plato inserting pauses to let the complicated cadence of his words sink in, "but if you try some time...you just might find... you get what you need." It always pissed me off and made me embarrassed that my mom thought she was being cool quoting some stupid ass song by some guy with a drippy face. Guess what mom...that song was about heroin.

bad music often good sometimes great noise made by terrible people.

kick out the jams
Profile Image for Ben Winch.
Author 4 books358 followers
May 26, 2023
Am I the only one who thinks Legs McNeill is a pretentious tosser and the omnipresence of the so-called 'blank generation' is the next-worst thing to the previous media-takeover by the boomers? The amount of marketing/repackaging that's gone into this shit has just about reached utter absurdity, accelerated by the internet beyond anything anyone could have dreamed of. And yeah, some of it was good. But I'm supposed to care about who sucked Stiv Bators' dick when his band is maybe 50% the intensity of its obvious primary influence The Stooges and I'm just not big on dick-sucking stories in the first place? Added to which, this squabbling over what's 'real' punk and what isn't is just not seemly in a guy who must be pushing 60. Yeah, I agree, the Pistols and The Clash are overrated, just like all the bands you're eulogising, dickhead. You ask me, Raw Power shits all over anything from NYC in the 70s except Suicide, and The Saints' I'm Stranded is the equal of most of it. Besides which, me, I'm a believer in the punk spirit, which can't be confined to one place or time. Legs, even if you and your buddies did discover it (and personally I'd say Iggy got there before you did), that's all you did. Planted your flag at the summit. Named it (where Iggy just danced around on top of it). But you want that name to last, you can't confine it to a few years in some shithole in the Bowery in the 70s. Yeah, it's been misappropriated, annexed by alien forces, but you gotta live with it, let it evolve. Me, I like the word. I hope it lasts. But it might just be that even you and your drug-fucked cronies don't know exactly what it's all about. Let it go, Legs. Move on.
Profile Image for Lynx.
198 reviews83 followers
October 24, 2017
I've read this book many times before and will often pick it up and reread chunks here and there. It is simply the best book you will ever find on the birth of punk rock. Everyone who was in the scene adds fascinating, fun and often outrageous stories you won't find elsewhere. From musicians, poets, artists, groupies, friends, management.... Legs McNeil & Gillian McCain knew where to go to get the goods. Super informative and so much fun. Very highly recommend!
Profile Image for Troy.
300 reviews139 followers
March 2, 2015
After the horrendous disappointment that was American Hardcore, I decided to pick up this book, an old favorite, to see if my younger self was delusional. Maybe this book, which I loved so much, was a steaming pile of dog shit?

So I picked it up, trepidatious, and started randomly. And I was hooked. After careening through many chapters and completely losing myself in the crazy panoply of deranged and contradictory voices, I stopped reading and started from the beginning. And read the book straight through, except for work, food, and sleep. It was better than I remembered. This is oral history done right. Several different voices will sketch out the same story, and the stories are always great, and the various characters nearly always disagree about what happened and how it happened and sometimes even who it happened to. The book is catty and funny, and full of great freaks who are out of their mind, but in a way that makes you want to emulate them; in a way that made me want to throw my desk through the window and go start a band and go shoot dope, but then comes the end of the book, which is extremely sad, and switches gears, as we now follow a large chunk of the endlessly fascinating and destructive people spiral into death.

So then I went and listened to several of the bands mentioned in the book, from Nico to The Dead Boys to Television to The Stooges. And they were fucking great. And still are.
Profile Image for Michael Jandrok.
189 reviews344 followers
April 5, 2019
Sometime in the late 1960s, a bad mojo was beginning to well up within the ranks of the flower power movement. There were quite a few disaffected outsiders that seemed to have figured out that the revolution was not destined to last, that it was in fact quickly becoming a sham. As corporate America began to swallow and repackage the '60s, some of the folks left behind by the peace and love generation began to vent their anger and shape a new vision. Proto-punk bands like the MC5 and The Stooges started to build upon the foundation that had been laid by the Velvet Underground. Their music was raw and violent in its presentation, sonically threadbare and unpretentious. By the mid-1970s, a true scene began to happen in New York City that would serve to galvanize and give a true voice to this disaffected generation, a scene that would take its cues directly from the violent and sleazy underground that it dwelled in.

Co-author Legs McNeil was a founding member of the seminal fanzine that helped give the nascent scene its name and identity. "Punk" magazine was truly a groundbreaker, giving vital press to bands who would have otherwise gotten precious little exposure in the mainstream rock fanzines.

"Please Kill Me" covers New York punk from its birth in the mid-60s at Andy Warhol's Factory all the way to its eventual death in the late '70s, as corporate America once again begins to catch the wave and numerous members of the original first wave of punk begin to burn out from the excessive and dangerous lifestyles that they embraced. McNeil and co-author Gillian McCain present their material in the form of interviews with a vast number of the people who were there on the front lines, experiencing and inventing the punk scene as it developed. Johnny Thunders, Iggy Pop, Debbie Harry, The Ramones, Richard Hell, Danny Fields....they are all heard from here along with a host of groupies, drug dealers, hookers, agents and managers, club owners, and other scene hangers-on.

Overall, it's a great book, and the interview format really works well. The book is worth its price just on the strength of the Iggy stories alone, but there is a ton of great source material here covering a lot of ground. it's a weighty tome at 500+ pages, but it reads fast and the stories never drag. I might have wished for a slightly larger photo section, but that's a minor gripe at best.

Readers must make note that this book covers primarily the development of 1970s-era New York punk, with a side detour to England to witness the birth of the Sex Pistols and British punk. Punk did indeed die at the end of the '70s, and it has of course been resurrected and reinvented by succeeding generations. But if you want to know where the whole thing began, you have to get this book.

Coda: I pulled this out to reread it after I had recently made my way through Mickey Leigh’s “I Slept With Joey Ramone.” The distillation of New York punk rock is made crystal clear in these interviews. That so many subcultures could coalesce to create the movement was a small miracle in and of itself. The music itself was almost secondary to the boiling vat of street poets and posers and prostitutes and junk dealers (and users) that populate these pages. Add to that stew the burgeoning LGBT movement and it was the perfect setup for raw, uncompromising, real music made at ground level. The stuff that came later, like hardcore and crossover and grunge…...all of that owes a debt to these misfits that dared to compose a musical statement of what their lives were really like. Don’t get me wrong, I love a ton of the music and artists that came after….but this was the true genesis, the bedrock foundation from which sprang all manner of wayward spawn. This is one of the few truly essential books on punk rock that you should own if you have any interest at all in the subject. Tell ‘em that Iggy sent ya.
Profile Image for Caleb.
86 reviews2 followers
March 31, 2019
The title kinda speaks to how I feel after reading this book.

I know, I know. It's not really fair to go there, but man is this book a real piece of work. I mean, it starts off pretty cool, and has some interesting stories from time to time. It just gets old and depressing when well over half the book is just variations on how trashed so and so was and what stupid thing they did because of it. It's like reliving every inane conversation I've ever had with my old college roommates or the people I hung out with in my early to mid twenties. There is a reason I don't have those conversations anymore.

I can't say the book is all bad though. I mean, you have some moments that are kinda interesting if you like a particular band. The stuff at the beginning about the Velvet Underground was cool. Iggy Pop had his moments too and I do like Television and Patti Smith enough to find some moments of interest in their stories. And there were some talks with and about Jerry Nolan near the end that just about had me in tears.

At the same time though, I hate how much respect I've lost for groups and people I do like. So many of them come across as total assholes or so pretentious it's sickening in this book. Lou Reed and most of the Ramones for sure. Richard Hell to an extent. And Patti Smith just sounds like every teenage girl who wants to be edgy and different that I've ever met. And that hurts when you like a band but find you have no respect for the people in it.

To be fair though, the vast majority of this book is based on interviews and recollections from groupies, photographers and other hangers on around the bands. A few members did make some time for actual interviews for the book, though I get the impression that those are the ones that didn't have much going on at the time. The ones that do just so happen to be represented in the book with snippets of interviews they gave in other places, all of which is credited in the back of the book. I understand that these other people have a story to tell too, but I just don't feel like there is enough told from the side of the bands to make this a totally fair look at the history (arguments could be made for how much of the English scene is glossed over here too, but then I'd never stop).

I dunno, I really wanted to enjoy this book, but now I feel like I should have seen this disappointment coming. I mean, I'm not oblivious to what the scene was like. I just thought there would be more than sex and drugs and rock and roll. There really isn't though. Just a lot of sad and sometimes pathetic people that gained a bit more notoriety than they probably expected before self-destructing.

Oh, and also, a final gripe. That cast of characters section in the back is kinda annoying. It turns into a bit of name dropping rather than acknowledging those who are seen or mentioned regularly. There are big name people that only get the briefest of mentions in the book getting nice, big descriptions while lesser people that actually gave interviews for the book are left out completely. There are also a couple cause of death notes that totally contradict what was said earlier in the book. Get your facts straight if you're going to do this kind of thing, guys.
Profile Image for Meredith.
6 reviews9 followers
May 15, 2007
i loved this book. i picked it up on a whim, thinking "hm, i don't really know enough about punk," and i couldn't put it down. (which became amusing: what's LESS punk than opting out of a crazy fun party on a friday night to stay in and read a book about punk?)

the book is compiled entirely of excerpts from interviews with all the people who were involved in the New York punk scene. Leggs McNeil, the author, was one of the founders of Punk! magazine, and was actually the person who came up with the term 'punk' to begin with. the structure of the book is the best part; there isn't a single word added in by the authors. they took interviews over the years and then from them pieced together a chronological account of the evolution of punk from its origins in the mid-60s in the andy warhol scene with the velvet underground, up through the heyday of new york punk at CBGBs, and finally through to its meltdown as the music went corporate and everyone started dropping left and right from herion addictions (on a side note, if you want a reason not to do smack, read this book and you'll be convinced).

it's like one long chat over coffee the night after an amazing show: just stories from everyone involved. gossip, sex, drugs, music, love, prostitution (dee dee ramone hustled guys! a fun fact for your next dinner party), fights, record deals... the whole 9. the interviewees include iggy pop, angie bowie, william burroughs, all the ramones, danny fields, bebe buell, patti smith, richard hell, and everyone you never knew was involved. you'll end up knowing all kinds of crap about punk, but mostly having loved the book.
Profile Image for Rafał Hetman.
Author 2 books936 followers
March 7, 2020
"Please kill me” to książka o historii punka, w której hasło „sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll” odarte jest całkowicie z jakiegokolwiek romantyzmu - kuszący mit staje się w niej rozczarowującą, bezideową rzeczywistością, a idole śmiesznymi ludźmi. Najbardziej szkoda mi Patti Smith.

Autorzy książki, McNeil i McCain, zrezygnowali ze zwyczajnego pisania o punku, nie mamy w książce narracji, autorskich komentarzy, jest natomiast wielogłosowa opowie��ć, której autorami są członkowie punkowych kapel, producenci i osoby, które były częścią punkowego środowiska – książka składa się wyłącznie z ich wypowiedzi (McNeil pojawia się w książce, ale nie jako autor, bardziej jako bohater wydarzeń).

A więc jest prawie jak u Swietłany Aleksijewicz – otrzymujemy polifoniczy obraz wydarzeń. Co jest niezwykle ciekawe, bo to oznacza, że jedną historię, jedno wydarzenie opisuje kilku bohaterów, którzy widzą daną sceną z kilku różnych perspektyw.

Wartość takiej metody prowadzenia opowieści ujawnia się najlepiej wtedy, kiedy wersje wydarzeń poszczególnych bohaterów różnią się od siebie lub kiedy to samo wydarzenie jest oceniane przez bohaterów w odmienny sposób. Czytelnik ma wtedy okazję sam wyrobić sobie zdanie na temat opisywanego wydarzenia – służą mu do tego bezpośrednie relacje bohaterów książki, a nie tak jak w przypadku tradycyjnej narracji, jedna, najbardziej prawdopodobna wersja, zlepiona przez autora.

Z tego względu ta książka mogłaby być świetnym materiałem dla studentów dziennikarstwa lub przyszłych reporterów, na podstawie którego można byłoby zorganizować zajęcia z prawdy w reportażu.

Forma tej książki, czyli zbiór wypowiedzi bohaterów, sprawia, że czytelnik dostaje do ręki opowieść bez retuszu (w tradycyjnym reportażu autor może wygładzić kanty opowieści, okrzesać słowa, nadać wypowiedziom szerszy kontekst), być może bliższą prawdzie. Ale jest to prawda, która mnie osobiście rozczarowała.

„Please kill me” to bardziej opowieść o ćpaniu i ruchaniu, a mniej o muzyce. Przeciekawa, bo w rolach ćpunów i kochanków są Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, Joey Ramone i inni, ale rozczarowująca, bo oto okazuje się, że treścią ich życia nie była wcale muzyka, a dawanie sobie w żyłę. Że życie na krawędzi, które badacze kultury opisują jako kontestację rzeczywistości, bunt młodych, było zwykłą łobuzerką na haju. Że może i chodziło o muzykę, ale w równym stopniu, co o zaliczenie nowych kobiet i mężczyzn, w równym stopniu, co o zdobycie nowej działki.

Nawet Patti Smith, poetka w gronie zaćpanych prymitywów, jest w oczach jej znajomych i przyjaciół arogancką, zadufaną karierowiczką. Zupełnie niepodobną do tej, którą znamy z autobiograficznej książki „Poniedziałkowe dzieci”. Ale to też jest prawda o Patti Smith.

Porównanie tych dwóch prawd – prawdy, którą Patti Smith napisała o sobie w „Poniedziałkowych dzieciach” i prawdy opowiedzianej o niej przez jej znajomych – jest szczególnie interesujące. Jakbyśmy oglądali dwie zupełnie inne osoby. Jakbyśmy czytali o dwóch różnych światach.

Ale to jest w „Please kill me” najlepsze, że konfrontuje czytelnika z zupełnie inną wizją niż ta, do której był przyzwyczajony. Piszę tutaj o sobie. I że te wszystkie muzyczno-towarzyskie anegdotki znane z innych publikacji o muzyce tamtego czasu, zyskują w książce McNeil i McCain kantów, zaczyna w nich tętnić krew prawdziwych (zaćpanych) ludzi, przestają być tylko anegdotkami, stają się prawdziwym życiem.

Jeśli interesujecie się punk rockiem, to koniecznie.
Profile Image for Ⓐnna.
29 reviews5 followers
July 25, 2021
i’m glad I read this cuz now I at least know the names of every single drug and it’s effect and all the things not to do when you overdose. But other than that this was just annoying to read. I fucking hate the narrative that americans invented punk and the british only copied it and completely ruined it in the process. i’m sorry but american punk bands literally look, sound and act like any other lame american rock’n’roll band before them. the Velvets and Iggy and Patti Smith were definitely an influence on punk music but I still wouldn’t consider them punk.
What pissed me off even more was that they didn’t mentioned any punk girls that weren’t just groupies or girlfriends aside from Patti Smith and Debbie Harris. They literally only name dropped the Runaways ONCE and didn’t even say anything about them or the members even tho they were 100 x more punk than the rest of the bunch.
They also didn’t mention the Slits which was literally THE best punk band ever and Viv Albertine even went out with Johnny Thunders (of whom they literally documented every single fucking trip) but then again they only mentioned two british punk bands in total, the sex pistols and the clash (and they didn’t even bother to even name all the members of the clash).
That’s what you get for only interviewing americans and fucking malcom mclaren ffs.
I don’t give a shit about all this relationship drama and all the drugs and all these annoying spoiled jerks who think they’re the most important people on earth and proclaim themselves to be the only true punks ever to exist. I wanna know about the attitude, the DIY ethos, the politics and the cool bands and their philosophy. I wanna know more about how they produced the music and what influenced them etc. I don’t care about the fucking ramones and MC5 and all these pretentious boy bands talking trash about each other. I care about X-ray Spex and the Slits and the Clash and Siouxsie and the raincoats and the specials and all the punk bands who really had something to say and wanted to create something new and interesting.
Anyways, Imma go listen to “I’m so bored with the U.S.A.” now.
Profile Image for Nate.
483 reviews20 followers
September 12, 2015
One of the most purely entertaining books I've ever read. I can't count how many times I've read this book, whether it's cover to cover or just skimming through for particularly hilarious/bizarre/noteworthy parts. I love all of the 70s New York bands and artists that get covered in this book, so this definitely fulfills the role of the historical retrospective and sated all of the curiosity I had about the era. The other awesome facet of this book is the pure lurid and gross realism of the stories held within. The oral history format basically makes it one long interview with all of the luminaries, bystanders, groupies, industry people, etc. that were around at the time. Some of the stories and scenes in this book are just stunning. Also, a funny thing I started to realize as I read this book is that I would have fucking hated most if not all of the people whose records I worship. Iggy, Bowie, Reed, the New York Dolls...these people were sleazy, self-obsessed, egomaniacal, pretentious drug addicted fucking assholes. I'm seriously struggling to remember a person interviewed in this book that comes out looking good...maybe Danny Fields? Even the people who weren't outright horrible human beings in this book still come off douchey (I love her records, but Patti Smith comes off as a pretty intolerably pretentious person). This isn't really relevant to the quality of the book, just more of a funny revelation of the kind of people that great artists can be and an example of the uncolored light this shines on the whole era. This book is everything you could want.
Profile Image for Rod.
102 reviews58 followers
May 1, 2016
Goodreads defines the five-star rating as "It was amazing." I've given books five-star ratings before, then asked myself, "Was it amazing?", and then had to admit to myself that the answer was "no" and changed my rating accordingly. In the case of Please Kill Me I don't even have to think about it. It was amazing. I've read it three times and I'm sure before long I'll probably make it four. Greatest rock 'n' roll book ever and one of the greatest oral histories ever.
Profile Image for Alvin.
Author 7 books125 followers
July 16, 2019
A few weeks ago I was in a crowded thrift store when the Ramones came over the sound system. I glanced around and saw every teenager in the place (and there were nearly a dozen) start bopping their heads in time with the music. I was reminded of the first time I heard them, back in 1977. Two-and-a-half minutes of Sheena is A Punk Rocker completely rewired my brain, unleashing enough of my inner brattiness that I began pushing back against the world and all of its unreasonable demands. Since then I've always credited the Ramones, and punk, for my existential liberation.

So of course I had to read PKM, a fast-paced saga (yes, really!) about the wild cohort of young people who lived out their fever dream of rock 'n' roll glamor by creating punk. The giant cast of characters includes groupies, hangers-on, enablers, exploiters, and of course musicians, a horrific number of whom were felled by drugs. It's anyone's guess whether the hyper-dramatic private lives of so many musicians is more of an asset or a liability to their talent, but reading about their often painful chaos is quite enthralling and affecting.
Profile Image for Erik.
238 reviews25 followers
March 8, 2010
At times I can't help but think that Legs McNeil gives himself a little too much credit in terms of defining what came to be known as "punk" or "punk rock." However, one thing you could never take away from Legs is this amazing book. Out of all the same old rehashed books on the history of rock music, "Please Kill Me" is not only refreshing, but it may be the definitive source on the underground rock and roll culture from the '60s onward. It was wise for the stories to be told in an oral history format. Everything unfolds from interview segments straight from the mouths of the musicians themselves. From the days of the Velvet Underground and Warhol's factory, to Michigan revolutionaries like the MC5 and the Stooges, to the wild child figures like Johnny Thunders and Sid Vicious, all of their debauched rock and roll moments are well chronicled and they never shy away from the glory nor the glum. "Please Kill Me" is required reading for anyone with a remote interest in rock and roll.
Profile Image for Tess Taylor.
192 reviews14 followers
March 29, 2020
3- Me reading Please Kill Me:

This book is an intriguing look into the punk movement, from its inception to death. The story is told from a collection of first-hand narration by the people who were there (a la Daisy Jones and the Six). The key players and narrators are too numerous to list, which leads to its aura of credibility as much as it does its extremely messy structure. I didn't mind the confusion of the narration so much since that chaotic energy in itself makes the book very "punk." How meta.

However, I was bothered by how catty everyone was. That's really the only word for it. When it was all said and done, Debbie Harry was the only likable person in the book. So much shade is thrown that it puts every reality tv show I've ever seen to shame. I pretty much walked away feeling like I just read a drawn-out, punk-themed Burn Book. It was just bad people dragging other bad people's names through the dirt.
Profile Image for Rachel.
20 reviews5 followers
January 19, 2009
It is an inside look into the New York punk scene during the late seventies. It's foul so don't read it!
Profile Image for Courtney.
713 reviews42 followers
September 29, 2021
Whew boy is the title of this one misleading as hell. The Uncensored Oral History of Punk? More like the Uncensored Oral History of this really niche section of punk that happened in New York oh! and a little bit of Detroit.

There's a raging aura of pretension that weaves its way through this novel which is a treat considering it's an oral history. It's all very "we are so very ~cool~ and ~unusual~ and ~special~ look at how we subvert the expectations placed on us etc" and honestly it's just a bit too much. Thumbs up to you. I knew nothing about Patti Smith going into this book and have come out deeply disliking her. I know the context of the time is probably important but so many of these people are deeply unlikeable... except Debbie Harry.

And for all the title being the "Uncensored Oral History of Punk" there was entirely to much of a casual reaction of the amount of statutory rape that was engaged in. Thirteen and fourteen year old girls were being raped by these grown arse men and it was brushed off with a very "Ohhh I was being so naughty. Just the once though." No. Fuck you. It should then go without saying that a book that engaged in such casual talk of statutory rape was also neck deep in super casual misogyny, racism, antisemitism, homophobia... It was non stop. And that's not even going into the edge lord obsession with Nazism and swastikas. Yeah no fucking SHIT the jewish doctor refused to perform surgery on the dude with a fucking swastika tattooed on him.

But let's roll into how damn narrow this book is. It's not the oral history of punk. It's not. It's the oral history of a particular scene from New York. And only what intersects with that. And it's on its fucking bullshit about it too. Oh there's mentions of the England scene but only in the sense of how manufactured it was and how The Clash were emulating so and so and how they didn't know what they were doing. And how that whole thing was about violence and whatever. It's just... *fart noises*.

There is no mention of The Slits, X-Ray Spex, The Saints, Black Flag or even Bad Religion. I heard more about Iggy Pops dick, where it has been and who has seen it then any actual interesting take on the music. Oh. And the drugs. Who was taking what, where and how it fucked them up. And everybody having sex with everybody. Abusive relationships everywhere. Ugh.

No. This was disappointing af. It's one dude (Legs McNeil) aggressively masturbating over a scene he was involved in.
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