Thursday, March 13, 2008

please kill me

I've been meaning to post on Please Kill Me for a while now - it was one of my favorite reads of last summer. I should start by saying that unlike Aili, I wasn't into punk right away as a teenager. Up until around 9th grade, I was very much a nerdy kid raised on NPR and Beethoven sonatas and about the only rock & roll I liked was Corey Hart's "I Wear My Sunglasses at Night." Sad, but true. Then in high school I joined the X-country and track teams and the seniors used to control the boomboxes on roadtrips and that's when I was introduced to LL Cool J's "Bad", AC/DC's "Back in Black," along with plenty of Guns N' Roses. Angus Young was my primary introduction to guitar rock and I really wouldn't have it any other way. You can see that, in general, my taste in music was fairly immature. But over the years, I have quickly learned to absorb good music and open my ears whenever I'm around other people who care intensely about particular genres.

In this sense, I really feel like I've "borged" my musical taste from the various friends, roommates, and girlfriends I've had. Later in high school, RAW gave me Faith No More, The Sisters of Mercy, The Dead Kennedy's, Ministry, The Cure, Danzig, and A Tribe Called Quest; AK/NR gave me Neil Young, The Doors, Pink Floyd, the Beatles. My college roommate, VD, gave me Nirvana, Tool, NIN, My Life with the Thrill Kill Cult, Tad, Siouxsie, Alice in Chains, and even Sinead O'Conner (not to mention an appreciation for Batman). BD in grad school gave me The Rolling Stones, Velvet Underground, & T. Rex; AF gave me The Pixies & Cake; and EJS gave me OutKast & Miles Davis. Most recently, I have MC to thank for Mos Def, Gang Starr, Ol' Dirty Bastard, & The Pharcyde. This list could obviously go on and on, and I won't bore you with everything I've borged from Aili, but you get my point.

So I really didn't start listening to The Stooges and The Ramones until I was well into my 20's - a little late perhaps. However, because of this my reaction to them wasn't an adoration born of teenage angst/rebellion but rather one based on actual appreciation (historical and visceral) for the music they created. Fun House is just a sick album, from "Down on the Street" to "1970," even (if I'm the right mood) the seizure-inducing noise of "LA Blues." And so perhaps it's apropos that I didn't read a definitive history of punk until my 30's.

Please Kill Me is the story of punk told by the people who did it. It's all just quotes from interviews, brilliantly woven into a chronological stream by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain. You won't get any journalistic bombast, kissing up and cowing down, or snide critique. It's just Iggy and Dee Dee and Patti and Wayne talking about what it was like in the trenches, and since these interviews all come from that era, you feel like you're going through it all as you read.

On the Ramones at CBGB's...

"Legs McNeil: Just as we were talking to Lou Reed the Ramones hit the stage and it was an amazing sight. Four really pissed-off guys in black leather jackets. It was like the Gestapo had just walked into the room. These guys were definitely not hippies. Then they counted off - 'ONE, TWO, THREE, FOUR!' - and we were hit with this blast of noise, you physically recoiled from the shock of it, like this huge wind, and before I could even get into it, they stopped. Apparently, they were all playing a different song. The Ramones had a mini-fight onstage. They were just so thoroughly disgusted with each other that they threw down their guitars and stomped off the stage. It was amazing. It was like actually seeing something come together. Lou Reed was sitting at the table laughing."

One thing that that really comes through while reading this book is that Lou Reed, while brilliant, was also a complete asshole. Please Kill Me explains how Bowie fit into the whole scene and the artistic roots of glam (adopted by bands like The New York Dolls), which always confused me. After reading it you'll have a pretty good feel for the evolution of punk, of the whole New York versus London thing, and even how it fed into the Grunge of the early 90's. But above all else, you'll just get a lot of crazy rock & roll stories. Here's one of my favorites, on the origins of The Stooges song, "TV Eye":

"Kathy Asheton: About a month after the Stooges and the MC5 got signed to Elektra, Iggy got married. I remember the day of his wedding because that was the day that Iggy and I started our romantic relationship. You see, I never wore skirts or dresses, I hated all that, but the day of the wedding I decided to wear this real skimpy halter dress. That was the first time anybody saw my legs. And I guess you could say that Iggy was much more attentive to me than a man should be on his wedding day. He had a TV Eye on me... 'TV Eye' was my term. It was girl stuff. My girlfriends and I developed a code. It was a way for us to communicate with each other if we thought some guy was staring at us. It meant 'Twat Vibe Eye.' Like, 'He's got a TV Eye on you.' And if we had it, then of course we'd use, 'I have...' Iggy overheard us and thought it was really funny. That's when he wrote the song 'TV Eye'."

Regardless of whether these stories are 100% true, they're damn entertaining. And it's fairly common in the book to get two very different versions of the same event from different people. I especially liked the strong, diverse opinions put forth about Sid and Nancy, and the Sex Pistols in general. That's the beauty and joy of an interview-based history.

On a final note, there are many bands you won't find in here: Black Flag, The Minutemen, Minor Threat, Husker Du, Sonic Youth, etc. For those stories, you might try Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground (1981-1991). My friend, FP, just lent it to me and I'm slowly working my way through. I suspect that it will provide an interesting contrast and parallel journey to the one fantastically outlined in Please Kill Me.

1 comment:

  1. Lester Bangs' Psychotic reactions and carburetor dung is similarly good and covers much of the same subject matter.