Book review: Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk
Gillian McCain and Legs McNeil, Grove Press, 448 pages
It’s time for a music test.
Name your top-five rock bands. Here are mine:
- The Rolling Stones
- The Velvet Underground
- Jonathan Richman/The Modern Lovers
- Joy Division/New Order
- The Clash
Notice: My bands were rocking before 1980.
Now compare my list to yours.
If your bands were also rocking before 1980, congratulations! You have an important quality we Gen-Xers call soul.
If your list was tripped up by post-1980 performers like Michael Jackson, Nine Inch Nails, The Beastie Boys, or Jay-Z, it’s understandable, even possible, hope for you is not lost and your musical proclivities might still be intact.
After all, we Gen-Xers who grew up relatively un-parented riding around construction sites on BMX bikes aren’t too judgmental, at least when it comes to those born after us who were ‘overly-loved,’ coddled and nurtured, and yet were still somehow raised by electronic devices with the world at their fingertips that made them suffer a lack of taste.
How could we be judgmental? My generation had to learn everything by ourselves, through trial and error — including the value of digging up old dusty albums at record stores, as well as discovering there are exceptions to every rule.
So, although artists like Michael Jackson or Nine Inch Nails or The Beastie Boyz of Jay-Z do not qualify as rock bands, per se, the King of Pop and others of his kind that followed after him in the 1980s have a unique sound – even groove, I dare say – that makes them outstanding and in a league of their own, perhaps, even if they technically do not qualify to be on your top-five rock list.
However, if most of your top-five bands were not performing at their peak prior to 1980, then I am here to tell you that you still have serious living, and learning, to do; and if they included names like New Kids on the Block, One Direction or Nickelback, then forget it: I’m afraid there’s nothing I can do to redeem your soul.
But for the majority of you who failed to prove cool you are with your band picks and simply need an adjustment to your education, I have a solution. Please Kill Me: The Uncensored History of Punk, is an amazing assortment of interviews from the most talented musicians to emerge from the post-hippy, fuck-you scene of New York and London in the 1960s and ’70s.
If you read this book, I you’ll get up to speed in a heartbeat on the greatest angst-ridden tunes of my (therefore your) generation — even if it might be true that your poor, sad self – tragically born in the wrong century — still doesn’t know who or what the hell I’m talking about…yet.
As for me and my fellow Gen-Xers already resigned to a broader and more historical view of American culture, my only regret reading Please Kill Me was that it felt too nostalgic, too close to home.
The insanity of these bands, their rise and fall, fueled by their volatile youth, battered egos, and staggering capacity for excess was just a little too reminiscent of being in my twenties again, traipsing around Hollywood, again, and hanging out with my buddies at their shows…again…except, of course, those featured in this collection managed to get paid for their awfully wonderful music they made.
Not so for my friends or the vast majority of artists I know, and why many choose to stop playing once the passion fades. Life and its demands get in the way.
Still, it’s like Please Kill Me author Legs McNeil said, “What was great about the scene was that people’s curiosity seemed stronger than their fear.”
You only live once, so get off the couch and keep rocking, peeps.
Ryan Hyatt, Jan. 29. 2021
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