IF YOU’VE READ it, you probably remember exactly where you were when you first encountered Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain’s Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk. I first came across the book as a 16-year-old kid in a small town in southwestern Colorado. I’d recently discovered punk, and went about putting safety pins in my clothes and calling myself a punk, but for all I knew, punk rock began and ended with the Sex Pistols. When I found Please Kill Me on the shelf of the local bookstore, I bought it without question, expecting mohawks and mosh pits. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Please Kill Me begins in 1965 with the Velvet Underground, then continues through such unsung punk luminaries as MC5, the Stooges, Television, and Dead Boys, among others. As advertised, the book is a collection of direct quotations from musicians, managers, club owners, record executives, lovers, groupies, and anyone else who was around the scene and lived long enough to tell their story. The culmination of hundreds of interviews conducted by authors Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain, Please Kill Me isn’t your typical rock history book, but an extended conversation with some of the most influential (and depraved) characters in rock ’n’ roll.
“I love the immediacy of it, that you’re right there with the guy, right in the room,” McNeil tells me on the phone from Pennsylvania. “It’s like him telling you the story, and they’re great stories, you know? They’re really funny, and they’re really human.”
Please Kill Me was first published in 1996, when most people’s experiences of punk were limited to Green Day and whatever else we saw on MTV. It was a shock and a thrill to read about Lou Reed’s lady-chasing, the cross-dressing New York Dolls, Jim Carroll and Dee Dee Ramone’s street hustling, and excessive drug use by all and sundry. Much more than a book about lowlifes behaving badly, Please Kill Me is a document of a unique and important era in American rock history.