The punk phenomenon was one of the more interesting and volatile music periods for a young person to live through – or perhaps it would be more accurate to say “survive through”.
I pose no argument with the ‘60s generation of hippies, who established a precedent that never before existed, and did it during wartime, but that vision failed itself, and the punk philosophy that sort of overlapped with and then overtook hippie culture established itself as not only anti-establishment, but also anti-hippie. Hippies were about peace and love, so Punk was about nihilism and even anarchy. Hippies were agrarian and loved nature, while the Punk movement was almost entirely a distinctly urban experience.
“Please Kill Me” is an oral history, assembled by Legs McNeil and Gillian Welch, that captures the inside story of how this scene developed. It is a fascinating read, an overwhelmingly engrossing compendium of quotes from the people who were existing on the cusp of the scene, usually living in poverty and surrounded by violence, but reveling in the notion of creating something completely different and artful from found material.
Technically, punk wasn’t an invention cut from whole cloth. It grabbed from elements of a dying junk-youth culture that had previously been shunned or ignored, or put to pasture. Punk was a RE-action against the things that preceded it. As such, it was doomed before it even started, but for a few short years, it provided an inspirational scene that provided a much-needed musical rebirth for a new generation of kids who didn’t know what they wanted, except to be different from what came before.
The story is both exhilarating and frightening, and ”Please Kill Me” captures the essence of the movement better than any other book I’ve ever read on the subject. To discuss her book and the scene itself, I am distinctly pleased to have author and poet Gillian McCain as our guest.
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