Book Review – Please Kill Me

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Please Kill Me – The Uncensored Oral History of Punk
Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain

With apologies to junkies past and present, fuck me, junkies are tiresome. Nevermind that the majority of the most creative talents of the punk generation were hooked on something, and that the junk might have had some bearing on the work that is their legacy, most of the people that made up the punk scene of New York in the 70s were strung out, misogynistic, assholes with a Nazi fetish. And I say that in the nicest way possible.

The origins of “punk” notwithstanding – we’ll hand the coining of the term to the Punk Magazine crew (channelling William Burroughs) although I love the story of Marlene Dietrich using the word to describe Johnny Thunders – and the argument about which side of the pond birthed the “movement” also being irrelevant, the scene back in the day was barely able to stand upright, let alone have their shit together enough to actually be rebelling against anything.

Please Kill Me, the 1996 oral history by Punk Magazine’s Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain documents the progression of the New York scene from The Velvet Underground and Andy Warhol to the deaths of Stiv Bators and Johnny Thunders, documenting, along the way, the creation and break-up of bands and relationships, all told via snippets of interviews, strung together both chronologically and by topic. Imagine a documentary with interview clips of people laced throughout and it makes more sense.

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The 2-Song Rule (aka. Turn Your Goddamned Phone Off and Watch the Show!)

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In 1991, I stood in the middle of the Guvernment nightclub, house lights blazing, the crowd so silent you could hear a pin drop, as Blixa Bargeld, lead singer of the German Industrial band Einturzende Neubauten screamed at an audience member for filming the performance. Back then, pre-Internet and pre-Smartphones, bands had a genuine fear of people filming and bootlegging their shows for profit.

The guy in question was technically filming the show “for profit”; he was John Dubiel, a local videographer and curator of the infamous Industrial Video Show, a monthly event that showed, well, industrial videos, from official band videos, to old Irving Klaw S&M footage, to blazing robot wars, to the concert footage that Dubiel would film himself as he travelled around North America to attend concerts.

In some cases, he was performing a public service, filming and showing bands that wouldn’t or couldn’t come to Canada. I once travelled with Dubiel to Detroit to see Foetus, an artist who refused to come to Canada because of Customs issues. Other than the few of us from Toronto, hunkered in the balcony of St. Andrew’s Hall in downtown Detroit, keeping Dubiel out of view of security, Toronto Foetus fans would have to make due with the footage Dubiel shot that night. It would be their only chance, in that era anyway, to see Foetus “live”.

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Yes… The New York Dolls… In Burlington!

The reaction was the same every time; “Burlington? The New York Dolls are playing in Burlington?? In the afternoon??” And then I’d go on to explain how, yes, they were playing a music festival in Burlington, along with The Diodes. No one was interested enough to come, though. They were saving their concert-going energy for Iggy Pop the same night, which was a great performance but was a too-crowded, too-hot mess in terms of actually trying to see the show.

But I’ve always been a bigger Dolls fan than a Stooges fan, so while, in retrospect, I’d have been happy to miss Iggy and the Stooges (not that I actually *saw* any of the stage during the show at all, so I sort of did miss it anyway), I was so not missing the Dolls. Even if it meant getting the GO train to Burlington and back.

And it was worth the effort. David Johansen was in fine form, as was Sylvain Sylvain. New(er) members Sami Yaffa (bass) and Steve Conte (guitar) were also sounding great.

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