Ambitious Reading List: Please Kill Me By Legs McNeil & Gillian McCain

A while back I asked some of my pals what books I should check out to learn more about New York’s punk scene in the 70s. I don’t remember what nudged me to ask the question, but the resounding response was, “Read Please Kill Me!” I think I had a gift certificate to Barnes and Noble, so I picked it up. That was quite a while ago now that I think about it. Anyway, it was sitting in my to-read pile for however long and then I set up this current Ambitious Reading List and decided that it would make a great caboose to this reading experience.

Please Kill Me was written by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain in 1996, but the version of the book I has is from 2006 and includes a few extra odds and ends. The book is an oral history much like Live from New York and Whores where large blocks of quotes from the interviewees propel the story along. The beauty of PKM is the width and depth of that McNeil and McCain were able to go to get these quotes. This book starts off back with Andy Warhol and his factory as kind of the primordial soup that punk rock grew out of (once scene spawned another in a sense) through the Doors and the Stooges into the classic bands like the Ramones, New York Dolls and even a little, tiny bit into the British scene. The authors interviewed everyone from scenesters and photographers to surviving members from all the most important bands and many who are no longer with us at this point.

To paraphrase an MTV show’s intro, I thought I knew about punk, but I had no idea. I’ve said before that I wasn’t a rage-filled kid. I think I had a very practical viewpoint on the world which helped me avoid a lot of the disillusionment in the real world that fueled a lot of punk rock kids. I was into then-modern punk/pop punk but when I started getting into original punk it was after reading articles in Guitar World and watching Syd and Nancy in high school. It was almost more academic than anything. I think I started off with that Ramones anthology from Rhino that covers most of their history. I also picked up the Sex Pistols’ Nevermind the Bollocks (I liked that they only had one real record but had no idea how common that was for these legendary punk bands). My buddy Jimmy also hipped me to the MC5 as this protopunk band that was from not too far from where we lived in Toledo, so I got Kick Out The Jams and loved it.

So, I knew some stuff. I knew some of the bands, but my knowledge wasn’t deep. I heard about the Dolls, the Dictators, the Dead Boys and lots of others, but just never got around to checking them out. I also knew the scene was pretty messy, but you really don’t get the feel for how messy until you read these peoples’ experiences. Man, it was nuts. Everyone was drinking, doing drugs, whoring themselves out, having sex with anything that moves, stealing, using, abusing, the whole lot.

The interesting thing about delving into any scene like this is discovering the small ins and outs of it. I was surprised to discover that there were only about 100 people in total living this life. It was quiet for a long time and then when it started getting popular, that was kind of the end of it, which stands to reason. Reading survivors recount some of the amazing and terrible things they’ve done to one another is a pretty singular experience.

I will say that reading this book changed how I listen to the Ramones a bit. I mean, I knew they came from the same scene as everyone else, but I think the somewhat gimmicky nature of the band and the decades between their debut and when I actually listened to them made them almost cartoonish. An amazing band with crazy-catchy songs, but still one that practically wore a uniform, changed their last names to Ramones and appeared in Rock and Roll High School. Finding out that they were drug fueled hopheads and prostitutes who actually went through shock therapy changes how you listen to songs like “53rd and Third” (which I clearly never paid too much attention to lyrics-wise), “Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment” and “Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue.” I’m not saying I’m disgusted or will never listen to the Ramones the same way again, it just changes how I listen to them…for the time being until my crappy memory glosses over those details with something from a movie or comic.

My one complaint about Please Kill Me comes from a lack of context and full storytelling that happens throughout the book. In Live From New York, there are these short paragraphs in the beginning of a chapter that explain some details not covered in the interviews. In this book, you’re just kind of thrown in and have to figure out what’s going on. Since I was fairly uneducated on this section of rock and roll history, that got kind of confusing. There’s also some bands that get kind of glossed over or mentioned, but never much detail is given. Like, I know Debbie Harry and Blondie was part of that scene even if they were dubbed New Wave, but the band is only mentioned circuitously. Maybe that’s because they’re not the focus or maybe it’s because certain members wouldn’t allow themselves to be interviewed, but I thought it was a little strange how one of the biggest acts to come out of that area was more or less a foot note. There is a handy section in the back that explains who people are, but a few who were interviewed were omitted back there and that can be frustrating when you’re trying to remember so many names and add some context where there might not be some.

But aside from that, I really enjoyed this book. It’s definitely not for everyone, but I’m guessing if you’re already into punk rock, the tales you’ll read about in this book won’t be too surprising. Actually, if you’re not surprised by at least something in here, well, you’re a different person than I and that’s cool.

And with that, this Ambitious Reading List comes to an end many months after the summer. I really like this format because it takes a very large pile of books I have in my to-read pile (now a purple bin in our storage unit, actually), condences them down to a varied dozen and makes me focus on them. Overall, I’d say this group was greatly eclectic and very interesting. I might have quit on one book and replaced one with The Strain, but overall, I had a great time and have not only arranged my next ARL, but even finished the first book already!

Doc Double Feature: Too Tough To Die (2006) & Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop (2011)

After watching roughly a metric butt-ton of horror movies and almost nothing else in the month of October, I was looking forward to watching something a little different. While scanning my Netflix Instant queue I came across a movie that caught my attention: Too Tough To Die: A Tribute To Johnny Ramone. The second part of the title didn’t come through on my screen or maybe I just missed it, but I was sold anyway. You could show me pretty much any picture of Johnny playing guitar in one of his awesome stances and I’d bite. As it turns out, TTTD is equal parts tribute concert for a man about to pass away and brief biography of one of the greatest bands of all time as told by famous fans and the people who were there to see it happen.

Basically, before passing away from pancreatic cancer in 2004, Johnny Ramone planned a tribute concert to his already fallen bandmates Johnny and Dee Dee to celebrate the band’s 30th anniversary. He himself couldn’t make it, but he had a hand in nearly every detail from asking his pal Rob Zombie to MC the whole thing to getting bands like The Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Dickies and X to perform and even guys like Henry Rollins, Steve Jones, Eddie Vedder, Pete Yorn and others to get together and play some of the Ramones greatest hits along with some deep cuts. The concert was a lot of fun, though I don’t see the appeal of X (maybe they didn’t age well) and I’m always a huge fan of seeing seemingly disparate musicians coming together to share their influences. Would you have thought Yorn was a fan? Maybe not, but hearing him sing “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” made perfect sense (though he looked a little funny playing one of the Ramones signature style guitars).

Between songs, the performers along with others like Debbie Harry and the Ramones’ original managers talked about the band coming together and the impact they had on music. I’m by no means a Ramones expert, but the movie does a good job of filling in the basic details. I knew most of them going in, so I followed along nicely, but I’m not sure if the same could be said for someone completely unfamiliar with the band. Still, you should watch this flick to get an idea.

Johnny passed away two days after the tribute concert and many of the people interviewed think he hung on just to make sure the show went off without a hitch. It was really touching seeing many of the people interviewed in the movie eulogize Johnny. It wound up being an interesting doc because, even though he was the main focus of the discussion, Johnny only showed up in archival interviews and recordings, so you wind up completely seeing this man through the eyes of his friends and family, even though he was alive for at least part of the filming.

After being really bummed out all over again by Johnny’s passing, I grabbed my electric guitar and started wailing on it. I played a few songs that I’ve had in my head forever in a power chord, punk rock tempo and by the end of a quick session my hands hurt, I was sweating and my heart was racing. It felt good. I imagine Johnny and the Ramones felt something similar but magnified a million times on stage. That’s why punk rock is awesome, anyone can do it with a guitar and a few chords.

Moving from the Ramones to Conan O’Brien might seem kind of strange, but the two movies shared not only a thematic relationship, but also a common guest in the form of Eddie Vedder. Basically, Conan was totally punk rock last year. He not only turned down a multimillion dollar deal to move his show back an hour, but after he did so, he went on a DIY tour of the country with a band, skits and guest spots. Sure, he had a team behind him, but he was loyal to them throughout the entire thing and vice versa. It’s not exactly the same as The Ramones slogging through the mean streets of NYC, but it took a lot of integrity and hard work to make it happen.

Can’t Stop follows Conan from the end of his stint on the Tonight Show through the announcement of his Legally Prohibited From Being Funny On Television Tour and all the dates. You actually get to see the moment he sent out the tweet announcing the tour, which was pretty cool to see from the opposite end of things. I followed Conan throughout these days, so now I feel like I know what was going on on his end but also what he was going through.

The real meat of the documentary isn’t seeing Conan and his crew of writers figure out the jokes or him working out and playing songs with the band, but what the tour, being funny and leaving the Tonight Show really mean to the funny man. I heard Conan interviewed by Marc Maron on his wonderful WTF Podcast, so I kind of had a preview of the man behind the smile on TV, so it wasn’t as much of a surprise to see him freaked out after a show or having trouble with certain members of his staff. You tend to think of Conan as a guy who’s always smiling and making jokes, but that’s not the case. If you want to get a real look at the man, watch this movie and then check out the WTF episode…and then all the others, that’s the best damn podcast around.

Casting Internets

Hey gang, this is going to be another long one with some fairly old links, but I think there’s a little something for everyone in here.

First and foremost, I have yet another blog I’m working on. In addition to UnitedMonkee and my dad blog Pop Poppa, I have also started a food blog called Monkeying Around The Kitchen. Check it out and enjoy! If you want to keep up on everything I write, follow me on Twitter @PoppaDietsch because everything gets linked there.

In other me news, I talked to Mark Kidwell about ’68 one-shots, Rick Veitch about The Big Lie, Justin Jordan about The Strange Talent of Luther Strode, Paul Grist about Mudman, Dennis Hopeless about Lovestruck and Bob Schreck about the CBLDF Liberty Annual all for CBR.
I’m amazed that this is the first time I’ve ever even thought about a Warriors/Ramones mash-up. Thanks for enlightening me Nathan Stapley! (via Gallery 1988)

There’s been a lot of back and forth between Anthony Bourdain and Paula Deen, Andrew Zimmern defended his fellow Travel Channel host on his blog. It’s a great read about food awareness and cooking.

Speaking of food blogs, I just discovered CB Cebulski’s Eataku. Everything he eats looks amazing.

Reading the Horror Movie A Day review for Twice Dead made me want to watch that movie again.
Wynn Ryder drew Sean Connery’s James Bond from Dr. No. I of course and reposting and linking to his site.

Why oh why didn’t Sly Stone just record an all new record instead of the same old songs? Hopefully I’m Back will remind Stone of how fun recording can be and he’ll do something more original next time! (via Rolling Stone)

Rolling Stone also tells me that Krist Novoselic will be performing the entirety of Nevermind with various Seattle bands in that town on September 20th. That is a show I would like to hear live complete with everything Novoselic says on stage. While I haven’t fully written about my love of Planet of the Apes or even reviewed any of the flicks on this site, I am a HUGE fan who hopes he can get out to see Rise in theaters. In the meantime, I’ll settle for Dan Hipp‘s art inspired by the movie. And by “settle” I mean “bask in the glory of.”
Have you guys seen Giorgio Comolo‘s Galactus art? It’s amazing. (via Kirby-Vision)