As seminal punk saga ‘Please Kill Me’ gets a 20th anniversary rerelease, we speak to co-author Gillian McCain about why the antiestablishment genre deserves to be preserved just like any other piece of history.
As punk music celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, many people are questioning whether the antiestablishment subculture should really be commemorated with museum exhibitions and Grade II historical listing statuses. Recently, Joseph Corré, son of punk pioneers Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren, announced that he would instead be celebrating the anniversary by burning his $7 million collection of punk memorabilia in protest. Voting “yes” for preserving punk as a historical relic is the seminal “uncensored oral history” of the genre’s roots titled Please Kill Me. The book was written by Punk magazine co-founder Legs McNeil and poet/historian Gillian McCain, nearly 20 years after the first Ramones album dropped. Please Kill Me is objectively the best book on punk ever written. It’s compiled from decades of interviews with the legendary figures who took punk from a dingy back room of CBGB in the last years of Andy Warhol’s NYC reign, all the way to the other side of the Atlantic.
While Legs was physically present for the wild ride, Gillian’s contribution to the book is often ignored. Whatever the reason (Gillian puts it down to Legs being more famous rather than punk’s history of ignoring women, though it’s arguably a bit of both) the co-authors are still close friends and collaborators. Recently, they compiled a book patchworked together from the raw diaries of troubled teenager Mary Rose, which Legs found in a closet at a friend’s house in Pennsylvania. After a Please Kill Me reading at NYC’s Ace Hotel last week, i-D talked to Gillian about the book’s lasting impact, the complex clockwork of teen girls’ minds, and her insane collection of found paparazzi photos. The photos used in this story are previously unpublished images from the new 20th anniversary edition of Please Kill Me.
How did you and Legs first meet?
We met through the late poet Maggie Estep and just became fast friends. He had started working on what would have been the biography of Dee Dee Ramone, because he liked the book Edie so much he decided to do it in oral history form. He was going to interview Danny Fields and the interviews were getting transcribed and I was getting up early for work to read them because it was so fascinating. Danny was not just the Ramones, he was MC5, he was the Stooges, he was Warhol. So I kept going, “That’s so sad, you don’t know any of these stories because it’s just about the Ramones.” Then Dee Dee started to get really difficult and so I said to Legs, “I think the book has always been a lot bigger than just the Ramones.” He said, “Okay, you want to do it with me?” He had already been working on the book for a fair amount of time before I jumped on board.