Review of Please Kill Me

Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain
Grove Press 1996/20th Anniversary Edition
I remember the exact first time I saw this book.
It was 1996 and I had cut school and gone to Harvard Square. This filthy gutter punk girl was sitting outside the T station and reading it. I remember the contrast between the dirt on her skin to the pristine white cover of the hardcover edition. I asked her about it and she let me look at the book. She said she stole it from Newbury Comics. I found out years later that that girl died of a heroin OD.
Anyway, I ended up securing a copy – I think via the library. This book was a rabbit hole for me at 14 years old. Now, remember this was back when you still had to buy CDs and the book caused me to develop a really long list of music I wanted to check out……and behavior I wanted to emulate. I think I started with the Ramones.
Fuck, full disclosure, this being 1996, I ripped off Columbia House for a bunch of these albums.
PLEASE KILL ME is an oral history of American punk rock from 1967-1980, starting with the Velvet Underground to the Stooges to the New York Dolls to the Ramones and many others. It’s made up of interviews of all the surviving key players (I’m referring to those still alive at the original printing) like

Joey Ramone: Weightlifter.

Joey Ramone: Weightlifter.

Iggy Pop (The Godfather, I have an Iggy tattoo, Raw Power era), Joey Ramone, Wayne Kramer, Ron Asheton, John Cale, Cheetah Chrome, Patti Smith. It’s a long list. The interviews range from sidesplitting hilarious to the absolute depths of sadness. There is no better way to learn about a part of history other than the words of the actual participants.

In the past 20 years I’ve read the book 20+ times. I have found myself going back to learn more and look for areas I missed. Last year, I got really into the Dead Boys and PLEASE KILL ME was one of my first stops. Same thing happened when I discovered the New York Dolls/Johnny Thunders. Same as when I wanted to know about Iggy when he was rescued by David Bowie in the mid to late 70s.

Over 20 years, I’ve grown with the book. I can see how the Ramones were the first stop at age 14. I very much understand why I was listening to Johnny Thunders at 21. It makes sense realizing that the Dead Boys album Young, Loud and Snotty is a masterpiece at age 33. I know the MC5 were a powerhouse but Fred Sonic Smith’s The Sonic Rendezvous Band were amazing as well. Yeah, the Velvet Underground were historic but John Cale’s solo album Vintage Violence is a quintessential rainy day album.
This is a book you can grow with and learn from. You can go back over and over and still find new stuff to check out. When I heard there was a 20th Anniversary Edition coming out, it was all the excuse I needed to go and visit a book that has become an old friend. This new edition has an additional section of photos I’ve never seen before and a new afterword. Also, to celebrate the anniversary, on NPR there is a 2 hour documentary called Please Kill Me-Voices From the Archive. It consists of the audio interviews done to write the book originally.
It’s pretty fucking cool to hear the people speak after 20 years reading their words. Go check out The content on that website has made this reading of the book all the more special.
If you can’t tell that I have true love for this book, I don’t know what to tell you. You don’t have to worship at the alter of punk rock to dig it.