Books: Why this is Hell, and I'm out of it

PLEASE KILL ME: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk by Legs McNeil & Gillian McCain, Little, Brown pounds 18.99

IF YOUR idea of what an "uncensored oral history" should be is an impartial work of science, then this book is not for you. In fact, compared with McNeil & McCain's monumental and intensely entertaining compendium of bitchiness, whining and relentless self-aggrandisement, the Alan Clarke diaries are a rigorous work of factual reference.

Please Kill Me (the title comes from a T-shirt that punk originator Richard Hell designed but was too sensible to wear) presents itself as an uninterrupted dialogue. A cast of hundreds drops in and out of the conversation, mixing a heady cocktail of reminiscence, conjecture and salacious innuendo. Living and dead, legend and nobody, all mingle at will in a context-free limbo - McNeil and McCain having opted to supplement their own hundreds of hours of taped interviews with extracts from other people's books and articles as they feel the need.

The total subjectivity and all-round untrustworthiness of this approach is very appropriate to the matter in hand, and if the intention was to capture the freedom from constraint which was the protagonists' guiding principle, that goal is achieved. The cut-and-paste methodology also seems nicely in tune with the punk mind-set, recalling both the ground-breaking literary heresies of William Burroughs and the rough and ready hostage- note graphics of Jamie Reid. These two names are worth keeping in mind, as the dividing line between American innovation and British appropriation is one Please Kill Me's authors are very keen to draw.

The basic thrust of the book (and it really is this basic) is that punk was invented by Legs McNeil and his clever New York friends to amuse themselves in between bouts of heroin addiction and trips to McDonald's, but then the dumb Brits went and spoiled it by transforming it into a cultural cataclysm of massive global import. In terms of provocation, which has been Legs McNeil's primary objective since he decided to start a magazine called "Punk" in 1975, this argument has a fatal flaw, which is that it is unarguably correct.

No one doubts the validity of McNeil and McCain's beloved Velvet Underground / Stooges / New York Dolls / Patti Smith / Ramones lineage. Malcolm McLaren cheerfully admits to returning to Britain after his abortive attempt to manage the New York Dolls feeling "like Marco Polo or Walter Raleigh" - except that his cargo was not turmeric or the potato, but the image of Richard Hell in his ripped shirt. And Hell himself confesses to having felt a moment's pique on hearing how direct a steal The Sex Pistols' "Pretty Vacant" was from his own "Blank Generation", before genially acknowledging that "Ideas are free property - I stole shit too."

This last seems a much more sensible and above all a much punkier approach to transatlantic takeover than McNeil's sour-faced "If you want to go and start your own youth movement, fine, but this one's already taken." Yet that same pervasive sense of disappointment - of the anger that results when something that is supposed to be very smart turns out to be extremely stupid - is, perversely, what makes Please Kill Me such an instructive and even uplifting book.

There is nothing so poignant as the disillusionment of an iconoclast. And from the lifelong friend snubbed by a newly in-demand Patti Smith to the well-read drag queen looking back on his disappointing first encounter with a lascivious Lou Reed, the stench of recrimination overpowers even the most basic of human odours rising from these seamy pages. The real issue here seems to be how people behave in a condition of absolute licence, and the answer to that question is "not very well".

By the end of this 500-page litany of pointless drug deaths, sexual betrayal and remorseless oneupmanship, the whole junk-fixated, sunglasses-after- dark edifice of New York cool has more or less been levelled. The only people who emerge from the ruins with their reputations enhanced are the ones who don't fit in - Debbie Harry, for always trying to help people; The Ramones, for having hidden depths (who knew that Joey used to make paintings out of chopped up fruit and vegetables?); and, strangest of all, Sid Vicious, for being made to cry by the music of Jim Reeves. You don't have to have read Richard Hell's terrible autobiographical novel to feel that the final message of Please Kill Me is a liberating get over it.

Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

    The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

    What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
    Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

    Finding the names for America’s shame

    The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
    Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

    Inside a church for Born Again Christians

    As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
    Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
    Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

    Incredible survival story of David Tovey

    Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little