legs-mcneil

What Lou Reed Taught Me

A lot of people who’ve read Please Kill Me, the history of punk I co-wrote with Gillian McCain, don’t realize the book begins with a question from Lou:

“Rock ‘n’ roll is so great, people should start dying for it. You don’t understand. The music gave you back your beat so you could dream. A whole generation running with a Fender bass… The people just have to die for the music. People are dying for everything else, so why not the music? Die for it. Isn’t it pretty? Wouldn’t you die for something pretty?”

It seemed like the perfect way to begin a book called Please Kill Me, you know? I thought that would be a worthwhile question to pose, especially since the basis of all philosophies is, “To be or not to be?” I mean, why go on? Is life too shitty to continue? The history of punk is sort of an answer to Lou’s classic question.

That was the glory of Lou—he showed us just how shitty everything really is. Just listen to “The Kids,” off of Berlin: “The black Air Force Sergeant / Wasn’t the first one…” He’s always pushing me to go further into the depths of hell—to have all the experiences life has to offer, the profound and the profane—before making up my mind about whether to end it all. I’ve always been fascinated with people who’ve been to psychic places I haven’t been, like William S. Burroughs and Norman Mailer, to mention a few. Lou was someone who knew the true secrets of life, and tried to weasel some truth out of them.

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Remembering Scott Asheton, Iggy Pop’s Brother in Noise

Scott Asheton was the greatest thug-rocker who ever lived. As the drummer for Iggy and the Stooges, Scott, who passed away just over a week ago, at age 64, was a third of the best punk band that ever existed (his brother Ron, who passed away in 2009, was its guitarist). As Iggy said of Scotty, “The record company must have thought, ‘These guys are maniacs: The singer attacks the audience. They’re all loaded. They don’t communicate nicely with us. The drummer won’t even talk to us; he won’t talk to the manager.’ [Scott would] grunt, say, ‘Uh-huh,’ like a juvenile-delinquent kid: ‘Don’t talk to me… grrr… grrr…’”

Scotty was the ultimate hoodlum, who stood outside Discount Records, in Ann Arbor, spitting on cars. When Gillian McCain and I conducted the interviews for Please Kill Me, we knew we had to include Scotty, since he was such an iconic figure in the history of punk. His brother Ron usually did the talking for the Stooges’ side of the story, and after we exhausted Ron, we set our sights on Scotty. This is one of the few times he ever sat down for such an extended interview. We were honored that he did.   

THE FIRST STOOGES SHOW

I was kicked out of my house by the time I was 17, which was fine with me. I was living at the SRC (Scot Richard Case) band house, over on Broadway. I had drums set up over there, and I was jamming with those guys when they weren’t playing. And one day my brother and Iggy came over, and Ron said, “Wanna start a band? Iggy wants you to play drums. Wanna do it?”

I said, “Yeah, sure.”

Even though we loved the Yardbirds and Stones and MC5, we couldn’t play that shit, you know? And we just wanted to do something totally different—I think LSD helped shaped our style. I wasn’t a big acid fan myself; I’d taken acid about ten times. Iggy took it more, and Dave took it a lot more. But after we first tripped at the Forest Court House, we started liking and feeling good about playing.

Our first gig, at the Grande Ballroom, was when we were living on that farm, and I didn’t sleep for three days, I was so nervous about the first gig. The night before, Iggy had shaved off his eyebrows. We had a friend that had a nervous condition and lost his hair and he had no eyebrows, and his name was Jim Pop. So I looked at him and said, “You look like Jim Pop.”

So we started calling him Pop, and that’s were Iggy Pop came from.

At the Grande Ballroom, Iggy took a woman’s bathing cap and stuck all these strips of aluminum foil around it to make a wig out of it. Then he rubbed his face with baby oil and took glitter and just threw it on his face. He had a tutu on with black tights and a metal plate on the floor with a microphone on it, and he’d stomp on that with the one golf show he was wearing. It was real hot in the ballroom that night, and he started sweating—and that’s when realized what you need eyebrows for, ‘cause everything on his face just started running into his eyes. We only played for 20 minutes, but at the end, his eyes were swollen up and totally red and puffy—'cause all that oil and glitter went right in his eyes. It was nasty.

Iggy was playing a Hawaiian guitar, my brother was playing a fuzz bass, and Dave was playing an amp at full volume with the reverb so it was making huge explosions. I had two 50-gallon oil drums with DayGlo paint all over 'em, with two wooden bass-drum beaters with contact mikes on the drums, and every time I had to hit that drum—it was the loudest, most outrageous, obnoxious drilling sound you’d ever heard in your life. It was driving people crazy—Iggy stomping on the metal with his golf shoe and Dave crashing the amp and the fuzz-tone Hawaiian guitar—people didn’t know what to think.

There was just silence at the end of the show.

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Alice Cooper’s Dead Drunk Friends

by Alice Cooper, as told to Legs McNeil 

I first met Alice Cooper at a party on Park Avenue in the mid-1970s. It was really one of those, “I’m not worthy” moments. Alice was one of the few guys I truly respected back then, because he’d made it on his own terms: by “driving a stake into the heart of the peace-and-love Generation,” and by playing delinquent rock ‘n’ roll for punks like me. That night on Park Avenue, Alice invited me to interview him, so we sat down for a long session at his place in Bel Air a few days later. Alice was deeply disturbed by what he’d heard about some of the punk bands, telling me, “I don’t get this scene, I mean, do they wanna make money or don’t they?”

I explained that yes, they did want to make money, but they wanted to do it on their own terms like he’d done. Alice was relieved that the punks wanted to make money—and so we’ve remained friends ever since. He’s just finishing a new album of cover songs by all his old friends from the Hollywood Vampires, the old drinking club he conducted at the Rainbow in LA that included Harry Nilsson, John Lennon, Ringo, Micky Dolenz, Keith Moon, and Jim Morrison, among other rock luminaries, I called him up to talk about some of his old pals.

 HOLLYWOOD VAMPIRES

When we put the Hollywood Vampires together, it was sort of a tribute to the old Hollywood drinking clubs, like when John Barrymore, Errol Flynn, and W.C. Fields would drink every night. So I said, “Well, we do that anyways, so let’s just go down to the Rainbow and drink…”        

Pretty soon it was a thing called the Hollywood Vampires, and we would go up to the top of the Rainbow and sit there and drink. Every night it was Harry Nilsson, Bernie Taupin, Micky Dolenz, myself, and whoever else would show up. Ringo was there once in awhile. Keith Moon came when he was in town.

John Lennon would come too. He and Harry Nilsson were the best of friends, ya know? So if Harry was in town, he was always with John, and they’d come over. He was great! John was just another one of the guys, ya know?        

But the really fun thing to do was to see what Keith Moon was gonna wear that night. One night he’d be in an Adolf Hitler outfit and the next he’d be the Queen of England. I mean he would go all out, Keith was the full package, and the greatest drummer I’ve ever seen in my life.        

Keith was everybody’s best friend. When he was in town, he would stay at my house for a week, then go to Harry Nilsson’s for a week, and then stay at Ringo’s for a week. There was nobody like him. I always tell people, 30% of what you’ve heard about me is true, 30% of what you hear about Iggy is true, 30% of Prince is true, whatever… but everything you’ve heard about Keith Moon is true.        

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Please Kill Me: Legs McNeil Shares a Memory of Arturo Vega, the Man Behind the Ramones Logo

“Really Arturo, ABBA?” I shake my head in disbelief as I enter his loft, where the Swedish rock band is blaring from the record player. The record player is on a table, and next to it sits the Ramones’ entire silk-screen operation—one long counter weighted down with a wooden silk screen, cans of white acrylic paint, and stacks of black T-shirts. Arturo is busy making another pass with the squeegee over the latest model of the new Ramones logo, the one with the names of Johnny, Joey, Dee Dee, and Tommy encircling an American eagle clutching a baseball bat in one talon and an apple-tree branch in the other. It will become their most famous design ever.

“Aren’t they wonderful?” Arturo beams at me, looking up from the T-shirt. I can’t tell if he’s talking about the music or the T-shirts, since he’s never been self-conscious about his musical guilty pleasures. Let’s face it: even though ABBA is spectacularly popular, no one would ever accuse them of being hip or guess they’d be on the stereo here at the epicenter of punk, the Ramones’ loft at 6 East Second Street. Arturo Vega lives here. 

That was the beauty of Arturo. He would combine elements that didn’t fit, and sometimes the end result actually worked. Though, back in the late 70s, I wasn’t so sure about the whole ABBA nonsense.

“ABBA is like some satanic bubblegum that you can’t stop chewing, ya know?” he explains, noticing my displeasure. “Es like what you think happiness should sound like, right?”

“I don’t know about that,” I say, considering his theory. The Swedish pop music was way too loud.

“You are the dancing queen, young and sweet, only seventeen / Dancing queen, feel the beat from the tambourine / You can dance, you can jive, having the time of your life / See that girl, watch that scene, diggin’ the dancing queen!“

“That’s happiness?” I scowl, “Give me the fucking alternative…”

“Happy, happy, happy!” Arturo chuckles, mimicking a line from the Ramones’ “Gimmie Gimmie Shock Treatment” as he pulls a freshly printed T-shirt out from under the screen and replaces it with another. The song’s lyrics are “Peace and love is here to stay / And now I can wake up and face the day / Happy, happy, happy all the time / Shock treatment I’m doing fine.” It’s become a sort of mantra around the loft whenever things aren’t looking too good for the band, which is quite often. Arturo would smile that inviting smile of his and, overflowing with irony, say “Happy, happy, happy!” Then everyone would kinda snicker, suck in their gut, and keep on going. Sometimes a line from a song is all you have to go on.

Arturo holds the freshly screened shirt up for me to inspect. “Isn’t it beautiful! Es so… so… so majestic! Like, rigid militarism combined with that ‘Beat on the Brat’ honesty, right?” 

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He isn’t just pleased with his new design, he’s thrilled. It really is an iconic symbol. “Wow, really cool,” I say admiringly. “Can I have one?”

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The Dolls were being drived by a Rolls-Royce while they were in Texas and the police stopped us. I guess they knew the Dolls. Johnny had on these red leather pants and no underwear and we all had to get out of the car. It was really funny, all the Dolls with their hair bouffanted like roosters and Johnny in these red leather pants with no underwear, so tight they left nothing to the imagination. And kind of a lot not to leave to the imagination. So the cops thought that maybe he had drugs in his pants, maybehe had a stash. Johnny was so bad. He undid his pants and whipped out everything he owned…and it wasn’t a big bag of pot!

-Cyrinda Foxe in Please Kill Me: The Uncensored oral history of Punk by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain (1996)

The arms of Richard Hell and the neck of Tom Verlaine were so entrancing that I needed no more art, music, life, love or poetry to make me happy after that. They were the most gorgeous thing I’d ever seen… Tom Verlaine’s skin and Richard Hell’s skin were in a class of like “God made that and then threw away the skin formula.”

They were pretty decent musicians, too.

Danny Fields rhapsodizes about seeing the first incarnation of Television in Please Kill Me by Legs McNeil. Hurry up and read Please Kill Me if you haven’t already. 

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On this day in 2007, the world lost Hilly Kristal, owner of the legendary club called CBGB, and one of the people responsible for bringing the Punk movement to the spotlight.

We decided to put our own spotlight on said movement with the lovely Ramones gif above and the links to materials relating to the Punk movement below.

Beige by Cecil Castallucci http://bit.ly/XmWTWl

Born to Rock by Gordon Korman http://bit.ly/1oODyCG

Ballads of Suburbia by Stephanie Kuehnert http://bit.ly/1oVu1Ph

Freaks and Revelations: a novel by Davida Hurwin http://bit.ly/1BjZK1s

CBGB film featuring Alan Rickman, Ashley Greene, & Rupert Grint: http://bit.ly/1uH9sq2

Hairstyles of the Damned by Joe Meno http://bit.ly/1m1NetK

The House of Tomorrow by Peter Bognanni http://bit.ly/YdgE2D

Please Kill Me: the Uncensored Oral History of Punk http://bit.ly/1ynXemq

The Filth and the Fury documentary about the Sex Pistols and Punk in England http://bit.ly/1kX6CNr

What theme/movement/genre would you like us to feature next?

We’ll gladly take your suggestions and do our best to create an awesome feature worthy of the subject.

From Richard Hell's first interview for Punk magazine, 1975
  • Legs McNeil: How many pairs of underwear do you have?
  • Richard Hell: One.
  • McNeil: One? How long have you had them?
  • Hell: I bought a pair of underwear because I had so many holes in my pants it became necessary. But now I have so much holes in my underwear it hardly makes any difference.
  • McNeil: Why do you wear ripped up clothes? Did you rip them up?
  • Hell: I did rip one shirt once but I sewed it back together because I felt guilty...

Please Kill Me – Among the War Pigs

It’s amazing to me how many real-life Spinal Tap moments I’ve had. This always leads me to ask myself, “Did that really happen, or was I so fucked up that I just imagined it?” You know, tramping around a backstage construction area with INXS, searching for the stage door for an hour before giving up. Watching a groupie’s face melt after finding out the opening band she’d just gangbanged wasn’t Danzig, the headliner. And my favorite, watching the Ramones demand that me and the staff at Punk magazine cross out, by hand, all reference to them as a punk band in their cover story. They just didn’t think the term was “accurate.”

This month, Black Sabbath released their new record 13, and it shot to number one in the UK after its first week of sales. Now remember, that’s 43 years since “Paranoid” went number one in 1970.

I’m also reminded that some of the dumbest metal moments—some of those Spinal Tap flashes—have landed among the most profound experiences of my life. I had one of those bizarrely significant experiences with Ozzy Osbourne in Nuremberg, Germany, in the same stadium where Leni Riefenstahl made her epic Nazi propaganda film, Triumph of the Will.

I was traveling with Scorpions, a huge heavy metal phenomenon of the 1980s. They were so internationally famous that I had to wonder if the whole world had gone batshit crazy. Not that Scorpions sucked. Far from it—they were a decent band with some great songs, and they put on a fantastic show. It was the ratio of fame to talent that was a bit disproportionate, if not utterly ridiculous.

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This week’s diverse new releases, plus a couple that were mistakenly omitted last week:

Great by Sara Benincasa (HarperTeen)

“Adult author and comedian Benincasa (Agorafabulous!) gives The Great Gatsby a biting, genderbent twist in her first book for teens. … In many ways, this is a very faithful retelling, and any readers who have completed ninth-grade English (or caught the recent Baz Luhrmann film) will have as much fun picking out the parallels and allusions as Benincasa clearly did creating them. And, yes, there’s even a green light on a dock—the charging dock for Jacinta’s laptop.” — Publishers Weekly

Pointe by Brandy Colbert (Penguin)

“Theo Cartwright, from one of the few black families in a predominantly white Chicago suburb, lives for ballet, and she’s destined for stardom on stage. When her childhood best friend Donovan—who disappeared four years earlier at age 13—resurfaces, Theo’s life is upended. Debut novelist Colbert has written an extraordinary book about dance, seamlessly intertwined with the chilling aftermath of a kidnapping.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review

Between Two Worlds by Katherine Kirkpatrick (Wendy Lamb Books)

“This strong historical novel portrays the impact of Robert E. Peary’s polar expeditions on the family and world of a young Inuit woman who joined them. … Stripped of airbrushed romanticism and Eurocentric gloss, a rare look at culture clash arising from polar exploration.” — Kirkus

The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf by Ambelin Kwaymullina (Candlewick)

“This debut YA novel and series opener by indigenous Australian Kwaymullina is set in a postapocalyptic Australia where humanity’s abuse of the environment has caused a societal and environmental chaos called the Reckoning. … The world-building is particularly interesting, as the author incorporates elements of the aboriginal creation story of the Dreamtime and Grandfather Serpent into the protagonist’s visions. Give this one to dystopia fans who are looking for a unique perspective.” — School Library Journal

Dear Nobody: The True Diary of Mary Rose edited by Gillian McCain & Legs McNeil (Sourcebooks Fire)

“Between the ages of 15 and 18, until her death in 1999 of cystic fibrosis, a Pennsylvania teenager named Mary Rose wrote unguardedly in her journals. McCain and McNeil (co-editors of Please Kill Me: An Oral History of Punk) offer a condensed but otherwise unaltered version of her diary entries and the occasional letter. … It’s a rare, no-holds-barred documentation of an American teenager’s life, written for no audience but herself.” — Publishers Weekly

Far From You by Tess Sharpe (Disney-Hyperion)

“This beautifully realized debut delves into the emotions of a girl recovering from drug addiction and grief, all wrapped up in a solid mystery. Sophie and Mina have been best friends since second grade. When they were 14, they were involved in a car accident that nearly killed Sophie, who became addicted to OxyContin during her recovery. Sophie has kicked her habit with the help of her bounty-hunter aunt and clings to each day that she stays clean. As the book opens, however, readers learn that Mina has been murdered. … An absorbing story full of depth and emotion.” — Kirkus, starred review

The Summer I Wasn’t Me by Jessica Verdi (Sourcebooks Fire)

“Lexi Hamilton feels her homosexuality is too much of a burden on her recently widowed mother, so she agrees to go away for the summer. At Camp Horizon, a Christian ‘un-gaying’ institution on the East Coast, each teen reveals his or her past trauma in group therapy sessions led by the evil Jeremiah Martin. What keeps campers cooperating is that, like Lexi, the reality they’ve gotten away from seems much worse. Only Matthew, in love with Justin at home, remains aloof, until Mr. Martin selects him for his personal brand of mistreatment, and a rebellion ensues.” — School Library Journal