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Interview with Punk authors Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain

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Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain, authors of Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk, a cult classic published in 12 languages across the globe, and Dear Nobody: The True Diary of Mary Rose, are true literary pioneers. In addition to revolutionizing the “narrative oral history” style, McNeil has been heavily involved with a number of alternative publications like Punk, Spin, and Nerve magazines, as well as Vice Media, while McCain remains renowned in the poetry field. Before the duo appears at Rough Trade NYC on Sunday, November 16 at 2 p.m. for a reading and discussion, we managed to catch up with the raucous historians for a quick interview. Check it out below.

Why do you think PKM has remained so popular since its release nearly 20 years ago?

LMI don’t have a clue, except to say that people usually wait until it’s safe and the scene is over and everybody’s dead before they embrace something. It’s not as threatening as the real scene. People really hated punk and would not accept it at the time. I mean, with the exception of Blondie, none of these bands sold any records. Personally, I never thought PKM would sell because, as my publisher told me, “it’s a book about a bunch of junkies and whores.”

GMBecause its fun, funny, and profound. And even if you are not interested in the subject matter, it is a very enjoyable read.

What was it about the late ’60s and early ’70s that people find so fascinating? Does our current social climate mirror any aspects of that movement?

LMThe more we fear the future, the more we recycle the past.

GMThe ’60s and the ’70s were the pinnacle of music, fashion, and counterculture. Does our current social climate mirror any aspects of it? That I don’t know. Whenever a question contains the word “current” I am usually at a loss…

Do you ever feel like nostalgia limits certain aspects of our culture moving forward? 

LMThe more we fear the future, the more we recycle the past.

GM: No.

Other than location, what makes a “New York” band? Are there any modern bands that you admire or would consider contenders?

LMDuring the ’70s, NYC had more close-nit neighborhoods that were very “neighborhood-istic.” So not only could you identify a band as being from NYC, but also what specific neighborhood they were from (i.e. Ramones from Queens, Dictators from the Bronx, etc.). But now NYC is filled with all the boring people from the suburbs, cause it’s so safe. Who could’ve imagined a NYC where you can’t smoke anywhere? As soon as NYC started taking direction from LA, it was doomed.

GMAwkwafina. Her song “New York City Bitches” describes a lot of things that make New York NOT what it used to be.

Your writing style is very unique. Having essentially fathered the “narrative oral history,” did you feel a need to remain innovative in your subsequent publications?

LMI love the “narrative oral history,” cause it’s so immediate. Since I was once described as having “the length of patience as a manic depressives finger nail,” I’d like to continue with that format. It’s funny, but I was reading some Wilkie Collins short story the other day, and I kept saying to myself, “Get to the point,” even though I love Wilkie Collins. I think it will be the format of the future, once people learn how to edit them as well as Gillian and I can.

GMI don’t think we ever thought of doing an oral history as particularly innovative, we just wanted to pick up where Jean Stein and George Plimpton had left off. That our book has inspired others to use that form is great. I’m surprised more people didn’t adopt it before we did. There was over a decade between Edie: American Girl and PKM.

Interview by Shea Garner, who is currently reading “The Disaster Artist.” Follow him on Twitter @sheaDUCK.

 

*Head to Rough Trade NYC on Sunday, November 16 at 2pm for a reading and discussion 

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