A conversation with Gillian McCain, co-author of Please Kill Me: The Uncensored History of Punk | Music Features | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

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A conversation with Gillian McCain, co-author of Please Kill Me: The Uncensored History of Punk

“I think it was just a time period that people were ready to talk.”

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Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain provided the first detailed document of the New York punk scene with Please Kill Me: The Uncensored History of Punk. Beginning with the Velvet Underground, and continuing with the likes of Richard Hell (whose infamous T-shirt inspired the book’s title) and the Ramones, it chronicles the story in unfiltered quotes from the musicians and friends who were there.

As the authors mark the book’s 20th anniversary, they’ll visit Pittsburgh for a reading at the Ace Hotel on Mon., July 18. City Paper spoke to McCain by phone, before a recent reading in London.

How did the book come to life?
Legs had been doing a book with Dee Dee Ramone and had suggested to Dee Dee that they do it as an oral history because Legs was such a fan of the book Edie, by Jean Stein and George Plimpton. But Legs was also interviewing [publicist/journalist/Ramones manager] Danny Fields and Richard Hell and people, and kind of cut it together with Dee Dee. I was reading all these transcripts and I said, “This story is so much bigger than just the Ramones. You should do an oral history of punk.” He invited me to do it and I knew if anyone else did it with him I’d be really jealous when I read the book.

Was anyone reticent about being interviewed?
No. Because I think by the time period, there was just no interest in punk whatsoever. As Legs says, he thinks most people didn’t expect the book to get published! [Laughs] I think it was just a time period that people were ready to talk. It had been 15 years and maybe people were getting nostalgic for that time in New York. Because that was when New York really started to change, in the early ’90s.

… We left Iggy [Pop] to the very last interview. We had ideas about where we wanted to put him in, so that made the questions more specific. So we could tell anecdotes that led to questions that made his mind work in a different way. I think we got a pretty original interview with Iggy. He definitely was not phoning it in.

Ending the book with [New York Dolls drummer] Jerry Nolan’s death avoids any romanticizing. Was that intentional?
I think it was just intuitive. We were just wrapping up Johnny [Thunders, New York Dolls guitarist, who died under mysterious circumstances]. It seemed like Jerry was the natural person to go after that. We knew we had such an impactful ending with that. It’s almost like a vortex. You start [the book] with Lou Reed saying “Come over and let me talk to you,” and you end with a hole in someone’s shoe. [Nolan recounts an Elvis Presley concert, where the future king has worn-out footwear.] 

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