Title: Please Kill Me
Rating: 5 Stars
This is a fantastic oral history of punk rock, as told to Legs McNeil, who was there pretty much from the beginning. He was arguably the person who named the movement when he co-founded and named the seminal magazine Punk.
The book starts before most people’s conventional idea of when punk rock starts (mid to late 1970’s).
It starts with Velvet Underground. They in turn inspired MC5 and, at least according to this, Jim Morrison and the Doors. The Doors and MC5 begat Iggy Pop and Stooges (MC5 called The Stooges their little brother band). The Stooges inspired everyone else.
Andy Warhol was at the center of all of this. I had no idea how ubiquitous he was in the proto-punk stage of music. He was associated with The Velvet Underground and Nico. He fronted them money to produce their album. He met with MC5. He met The Stooges (although The Stooges, Les Enfants Terrible, predictably were not impressed and Iggy basically carried off Nico).
Even later, with Patti Smith and the rise of bands like The New York Dolls, Warhol and his entourage were always hanging around at the edges.
Lou Reed pretty much comes across as an asshole. He’s self absorbed and wants to become a star when everyone else is all about art. He arbitrarily fires a member of the band. He breaks up a management contract with Warhol. He is cutting and mean to all. He meets up with a young gay male and tries to seduce by offering to let him shit on his face.
Iggy Pop is simply a freak. He has replaced, in my mind, Keith Richards as the person least likely to collect social security. We first encounter him when he’s actually pretty straight edge and working at a record store. He goes to a Doors concert. At the time, The Doors have a number one hit in the country with Light My Fire. One of the most famous bands in the country, and at the performance, Morrison can barely stand, insults the audience, sings the same line over and over, and finishes early. Iggy, astounded at the pure rebellious nature of the concert, decides that he can do that as well.
He forms The Stooges. For concerts, he wears bizarre outfits, spray paints his entire body silver, exposes himself, vomits on stage and breaks glass and rolls around in it, all the while with the band playing at maximum volume. It is a poke in the eye at all music before it.
Iggy is the ultimate star. He beds multiple women every night. He consumes massive amounts of drugs. He and the Stooges live at The Madhouse, a place that ultimately is torn down and condemned, but where there are massive parties, drugs are sold openly, and there are gunshot holes in the floor and ceiling.
He’s also representative of the punk rock community in that, despite being the Godfather of it all, there are extended periods of time where he is broke and literally passed out in a gutter. His Raw Power album, one of the all time greats, is initiated when David Bowie literally flags Iggy down as he’s stumbling down Sunset Boulevard.
Although his music and persona are legends, his contempt of success and of adopting the trapping of whatever passes for normal leads him to a self destructive life.
This holds true for most of the bands. The Ramones travel in basically a van for about fifteen years, never making any money. What money they make is wasted almost immediately on drugs. One of the Ramones’ fairly long term girlfriends ends up a prostitute and dies of a drug overdose in an alley. Johnny Thunders is a member of the proto-punk band New York Dolls and later forms Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers. He goes to London and essentially introduces England to punk. He later becomes so addicted to drugs that he is horribly discolored and his entire body is covered with scabs and injection scars. He later dies of an overdose. Of course, most people know the story of Sid Vicious, accused (probably falsely) of murdering his girlfriend and ultimately dying at the age of 21 from an overdose of heroin that was supplied by his mother.
In the year 2016, when we think punk, we think of leather, spiky hair, and a sneering attitude. The punks described here are truly violent, marginalized, alienated, and seemingly destined to an early death. This book makes real their pain and their struggle, made even more so by using their very words.
There is so much more that I can write about this. If you have an interest in this part of rock history, I highly recommend it.