Please Kill Me. A conversation with resident punk Legs McNeil
September 22, 2018
After two months, I decided to share with you one of the greatest accomplishes I’ve done this year (and probably, in all my life). Most of you know how much I love punk music. I grew up knowing about Sid Vicious, The Ramones and The Clash because my oldest sister listened to them. But it wasn’t until I was thirteen years old when I listened, consciously, Nevermind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols. And for a thirteen-year-old kid who had been listening to All Time Low and The Academy Is… before, this was a big mind-blowing moment for me. This was just the start of my passion for punk music (and photography, and fashion)
Of course, as I did research of this genre, where most of the information source came from a book named ”Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk” written by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain. One time, I was in Barnes and Noble and when I saw the book I immediately bought it. (well, my parents did)
I was reading the book and I had no idea what they were talking about but I absolutely loved it. In my fifteen-year-old mind, Lou Reed was a very nice person. Drugs weren’t that heavy. There was no rudeness between people in the scene and everyone loved each other so much. (I don’t know what I was thinking?!)
Not so long after that, I met Legs McNeil, author of the book, and it wasn’t until now that I decided to ask him the question I was always hesitant to ask. “Could I interview you?”
So, I got to talk with a genius mind, a true punk rocker, a legend in the music history and a very nice man who called me a “sweetie” at the end of the conversation. A 19-minute call filled with mumbled crappy inaudible voice recording but with an interesting insight of the real punk scene that isn’t far away from any underground music scene in your town. And that’s exactly what I wanted to hear.
I started reading for the second time your book “Please Kill Me”. The first time I read it I was 15 years old and I didn’t quite get everything, to be honest, but now that I read it again I was astonished. The attitude, the fashion, the scene, music. It wasn’t easy for a band to play in a place, which still happens to this day.
You got to live an iconic decade, this whole punk scene, where everything was emerging, nothing was done or heard yet…
Well, I wrote it just for you, Sheila. You were in my mind the whole time. I only cared about whether you’d like it or not. I didn’t give a shit about anyone else…
Now, looking back, did you realize how important those new changes were going to be in the future? Because punk right now is a big part of the music history.
I hoped, at the time. We hoped that it’d settle and people would like it but they didn’t. They rejected it. It became like some kind of a joke for most people.
You were the one who started using the word “punk”. That’s amazing! That’s pretty clever.
Yep. Well, Holmstrom and I wanted to start a magazine and I thought it was a stupid idea. He wanted to combine comic books and rock and roll, and he wanted it to call “Teenage News” and I thought it was a stupid title so I just come up with Punk.
How did you come up with that name?
It was pretty easy. That’s what everyone called me my entire life.
And did you think it was somehow related to the music and the people from the scene?
Well, we said, “Okay, we’re gonna do this magazine and we’re gonna call it punk.” And then we went to CBGBs to saw The Ramones and Lou Reed was in the audience. And I tried to confront it, you know? We’re up to something now. ‘Cause the Ramones were singing “Beat on the Brat”, “Loudmouth” and I said “Yeah! This is great. This is cool.”
Actually, I wanted to ask you about that moment. I love that story of how you and John Holmstrom went up to Lou Reed and asked him a bunch of questions. I’d be intimidated because you kept talking to him while he was being rude to you and you didn’t care.
I mean, you cared! But we thought that The Ramones were the best band ever. We thought that everyone would love them but they didn’t get played on the radio, they didn’t get played anywhere, you know? It’s kind of depressing.
Yeah… that’s true.
It’s just that since the nineties punk had just taken on but before that, no one gives a shit about it. No one gave a shit until we were doing the book!
I didn’t know that! I thought it had been a big thing in the eighties.
Gillian kept saying “This book is gonna sell really big” and I said no, it’s not! Because none of these groups sold. We sold more books than The Ramones had sold out. Probably not now, but The Ramones only sold $100,000 records every time now, you know?
I really thought they were pretty big even in the seventies when they were getting started.
Well, they should have been but they weren’t selling.
They were your favorite band…
Yes, and you know, the Velvets, Johnny Thunders, and the Heartbreakers. It goes back and forth…. one week it’s this band, one week it’s that band.
There’s a photo I love of you and Sabel Starr in the backstage of CBGB and Dave Vanian is behind…
Yeah, I was pretty drunk. I was pretty drunk most of the time.
And do you remember that night? I want to ask you about the story behind the photo. I strongly believe that photo describes the late punk scene.
I don’t know. I think it was taken the day The Damned was playing at CBGBs. And I think Sabel just saw a photo opportunity so she just jumped into the picture.
Were you friends with Sabel?
Sort of. Not very close, though. I was not a big-time rock and roll star so she really had no interest in me thought we’d hang out. She was nice. I liked Sabel.
Now, what did you think about fashion these days? Why did punks dressed like that?
Because we thought it was cool. It was also economical, we wore what we already had. The t-shirts, leather jacket, and sneakers.
I thought they were trying to make a statement.
I thought we looked great! I still do when I go back to those pictures. It’s like those shots with the early Velvets. They still look great. It was kind of like that tradition. Stripped t-shirts, tight black jeans, sneakers, the black leather jacket. It still works. Nothing has really replaced it.
It’s being used again. People still wear leather jackets to resemble punk.
Going back to the magazine. I’ve never seen it in person but from what I’ve seen on the internet the creative idea and concept of Punk Magazine are incredible. The living cartoon stories, it was very original. What happened to Punk?
Well, John Holmstrom fired Ged Dunn and after that John was a horrible business manager. It was pretty much over.
When did that happen?
Early ’77. It kept going for a while but it wasn’t the same. But John was a great genius.
Did you ever hear of any band from this decade that sounds like The Damned or The Ramones?
No… well, yeah. I go to see friends of mine that are still playing. But I don’t know, I just listen to music I like. 99% of everything, books, movies, television, music is crap. There’s only like 1% that really matter, that really affects you. There’s always some music I want to hear, there’s always some book I want to read. When you look it at that way it’s kind of pleasing when you find something you really enjoy but people are very unimaginative and I’d say they’re just copying stuff, so something comes out and everybody copies it. And usually it’s crap, you know?
Yeah, actually a lot of bands try to do the punk sound and they just sound…
But that’s the way the world has always been! So I’m sure there’s a band out there right now that I’d love to hear I just don’t know who they are, what they sound like.
I really wish we could know them.
You have to look harder but that’s the way it’s always been. We just got lucky to walk in CBGB and see The Ramones that night and everyone else was there. Everyone else was great, you know? Blondie, Talking Heads. That night was giving birth to the scene. It was fun, it was exciting, it was great.
Here goes my last question, what’s the most important moment for you during that time?
I think all. All the moments were just great. It was just a fun time, it was great that it would come night again and you’d go out and have a great adventure.
That’s a great answer! Thank you for your time.
Well, thank you, Sheila. I hope you enjoyed it.
And I did.