Please Kill Me is the punk-history Bible, and poet Gillian McCain is the woman behind it. McCain co-authored the influential book, which was published in 1996, with music critic Legs McNeil. The first time I read the oral history compilation, which includes testimony from Iggy Pop, the Ramones, Jim Carroll, and many more, I felt like I was actually a part of the original punk scene.
Gillian and Legs met through a coffee house reading series called The Poetry Project and their shared interest in the souls of punk pioneers became the basis for their friendship. While Gillian and Legs worked on the book fifty-fifty, Gillian was often erased from its media narrative. Sure, Legs was older and had been a staple in the punk scene (he is a renowned music critic and one of the people responsible for giving “punk” its name). But despite the genre’s anti-establishment roots, punk has a well-documented women problem. While Legs was seen as a celebrity and almost a hero, Gillian often fell into the background. As the twentieth anniversary of Please Kill Me approaches, we spoke with Gillian about her enduring friendship with Legs, how she became part of the punk scene, and the punk-icon story that intrigued her the most.
Ilana Kaplan: How did you and Legs meet?
Gillian McCain: We met through the late poet Maggie Estep. I had just started working at the Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church. She was like, “Do you want to go watch a movie with Legs?” I had known his writing from Spin. We became fast friends.
IK: How did you first become interested in punk?
GM: I grew up in New Brunswick, Canada, right across the border from Maine in a really rural place. I had four older brothers and sisters who went away to college in Europe and all over. They’d come back and bring punk records. I went from listening to the Kinks to Led Zeppelin. They brought back the Velvet Underground’s Live at Max’s Kansas City, and I remember thinking, Why did they have such a cool club in Kansas City? I didn’t listen to Patti Smith until college. I thought she was a hippie because of the Easter cover.
IK: Recently Joseph Corré, the son of Sex Pistols’ manager and punk impresario Malcolm McLaren, wanted to burn a bunch of punk memorabilia for the 40th anniversary of the Sex Pistols’ first album, saying that punk was lame now in comparison to what it used to be. Do you think that the punk scene now has become lame and tame?
GM: No, I think it’s a publicity stunt for himself. It’s just rude. If he had any respect for his parents, he’d give it to a museum or a college. That sounds so bourgeois, but it’s history, how can you burn that stuff? It’s just kind of pathetic.