This past Chrismas I gave my brother the book
Please Kill Me: The Oral History of Punk by Legs
McNeil and Gillian McCain., which focuses on the
origins of punk rock. He enjoyed the book, but had
some thoughts on it...
Oral History of Punk?
by Brian Chapman
I had a big punk discussion with a friend last night. We picked up where the book left off after the Sex Pistols and had a big discussion on D.C. punks and what I saw to be their reaction to the international punk rock "scene". They were probably just having fun playing music, but they opened a door to what seemed to be "the death of punk". They brought it down to a personal level and cared for the music and felt the energy they could create.
On the international level, punk was about getting high, making lots of money (for heroin), and wearing swastikas not knowing what they represent. But D.C. took an opposite approach and instigated the DIY style of punk rock the Hardcore Punk Rock. Boston and other large cities throughout the world all had great DIY bands but D.C. is probably the most famous because of Dischord.
DIY punks didn't want to be associated with the drugs. They didn't want to be associated with arena crowds. They didn't want to be associated with major labels. And they did it! They managed to last the past 20+ years on their own, just doing it themselves and doing it well.
One of the first bands to use that ethic was Bad Brains. I mean, they were one of the most influencial DIY punk bands ever (notice I used the word "were". God of Love? What was that shit about?). The book didn't even mention Bad Brains! The book didn't even mention Dischord! The book didn't discuss independent records labels! Is that the history of punk? A book about heroin and Elektra records? It was like Legs and Gillian were PR people or something, just two ignorant fucks who think they know everything about "punk" but in reality are totally out of touch.
"Am I that out of touch?" Principal Skinner
I know it sounds like I hate the book but I don't. It made me feel good about myself supporting independent music. What I am concerned about is that someone who wants to learn about "punk" (say a parent) might pick up this book and read about Johnny Thunders shooting up in his toe. They'll think, "My kids are punk rockers! I must stop this drug madness and get them to church!" And so on and so forth.
These anti-war, bra-burning 40 and 50 somethings won't see the parallels between the punk activists of the 90's and the hippy activists of the 60's because of a book by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain. They won't see the good ideals behind modern punk philosophy. They won't see the independent thought that is promoted by the majority of DIY bands today. They'll just have this picture of their kid popping a dozen black beautys, shooting up heroin, and choking on their own vomit.
Does that mean that indie rock bands like Chisel are punk because they live by the DIY ethic? The meaning of the word punk has changed so much over time. I wish people would realize it though; this book just reinforces a negative definition of punk.
Recommended reading on punk history:
Recommended listening on punk history
Uploaded February 1997