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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One of the toughest things for the still weird is explaining to their kids (or grandkids) about punk or the other sub-cultures that remain a big part of our lives. This gets easier with books written specifically for kids, and there are a small handful that do a great job of explaining different aspects of the scene in different ways.
Happy Punks 1 2 3 by John Seven & Jana Christy ** is a bright and colourful introduction to punk. Geared to younger readers, the book’s purpose is to teach counting, but does a great job of celebrating the punk scene and its original diversity and openness with a number of colourful characters and situations. The punks go thrifting, hang posters for a show, and go to a concert. The text is simple, yet captures the punk attitude, and Christy’s vibrantly-coloured images evoke the fun and excitement of the scene.
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Chris Stein /Negative: Me, Blondie, and the Advent of Punk
Rizzoli, 2014, 208 pages
Chris love Debbie.
If you got to spend your youth with the most beautiful woman in the world, wouldn’t you take a lot of pictures of her?
While Chris Stein is well known as the driving musical force behind Blondie, most people don’t know that his artistic CV is quite varied and that, since the late 60s, he’s never been far from a camera. Working and living with someone as photogenic as Deborah Harry, it only seems right that most of the photos are of her.
In his recent book Chris Stein/Negative – Me, Blondie and the Advent of Punk, Stein not only chronicles the ascent of Blondie but the New York punk scene of the 70s.
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Okay, well, technically they do, eventually.
Last night, Greg and I attended a photo exhibit called Toronto Calling, of photos of concerts that took place in the early 80s in Toronto featuring bands like the Clash and the Ramones. We didn’t actually stick around to see the photos, though, as the gallery space was packed solid with old punk rockers, so much so that we couldn’t get in to see the photos.
The era in question took place before my time in Toronto, with most of the gigs featured taking place between 1979 -1981. I arrived in Toronto in late ’87, so this was not my scene per se, although I was listening to all of these bands back home in Halifax, a no-man’s land when it came to international tours. Hats off to Billy Idol for not forgetting about us in 1984.
But the remarkable thing was that here was a group of people in their late 40s – early 50s… and there was a still a solid punk vibe going on. Piercings, tattoos, oddly-coloured hair. These folks were still flying the freak flag.
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