Ever since I discovered that a small amount of the world's population are what are commonly referred to as "musicians," and that they release collections of their respective work called "albums," I've made it a point to try and absorb as much music as I can. And I've been lucky enough to write about the music I discover. I first got the music journalism bug while swiping my father's Rolling Stone magazines. Those Rolling Stones served as a gateway into harder stuff, including Q, No Depression, and SPIN.
I started reading SPIN in high school. Back then it seemed hipper and edgier than Rolling Stone. One of the writers I gravitated toward was Legs McNeil. I was a latecomer to punk rock at the time, and between McNeil's musings about music and his political writing, I quickly became a fan of his work. It wasn't until later that I discovered that McNeil had indirectly helped coin the term "punk" as it related to music, and had started a magazine, also called Punk, while still in his teens. After leaving SPIN, McNeil started writing books. Two of his best are The Other Hollywood, which is the history of the porn industry told by the folks who were there, and Please Kill Me, which does the same for the punk rock movement.
I started following McNeil on Facebook a couple of years ago. He's actually quite active on the social networking site, posting awesome black and white photos of moments from the New York City punk rock era in the 1970s and '80s, always with a single caption of "YES!" Then one day last month, McNeil posted that he was looking for venues in Charleston and Savannah to hold readings of Please Kill Me with co-author Gillian McCain. I immediately sent a message to my pal Johnny Puke at Tin Roof in West Ashley. As it turns out, Puke was already on the case, and so this coming Monday I will get to meet one of the main reasons I'm doing what I'm doing right now. Even better, Puke got me McNeil's phone number.
"Give him a call," said Puke, "He's a nice guy." So I did, and he was.
I started my interview with Legs asking if he'd heard that SPIN, the magazine where he was a senior editor, was going to cease its print edition and go online only. "I heard it went under," said McNeil, who was in Philadelphia at the time. "It should have gone under years ago. I don't think I read an issue of SPIN after I left." These observations end with him laughing. I ask if the Internet is where he felt the industry was heading. "It seems to be, yeah, but you know Salon.com has become like the New York Times of the Internet. I think the New York Times will always exist, and I think now Salon.com will always exist. It adds more options. With an iPhone you can Google anything at any time. You can forget a guys name—and my memory is getting shot—and we can just Google it. It's really good for us people with early Alzheimer's."
On the subject of Punk, the magazine he helped start with Ged Dunn and John Holstrom in 1975: "I didn't want to start a magazine. I thought it was the dumbest idea in the world. I wanted to be a movie director. I thought I'd get more girls if I was a movie director. But Holmstrom said 'No! No! It'll be great!' John had this vision of merging comic strips with rock and roll. He really saw the magazine for what it was. He wanted to call it Teenage News, which I thought was the dumbest title ever. I finally came up with Punk. I came up with the title because of the song 'Weekend' by The Dictators, and because it was what I'd been called all my life."
On being able to witness, not to mention to be part of, the punk rock scene of the 70s: "John had seen The Ramones already, and he was like, 'Yeah, here's another group and they wear black leather jackets,' and I said, 'Cool! Let's go see them!' I didn't even know that there was this whole CBGBs thing going on. So we saw the Ramones, and they were great. As soon as we came up with the idea for Punk, things just started falling into place. It was so much fun." (For much, much more on that subject, you can read Please Kill Me. Seriously, please do. It's one of my favorite books about music. You'll dig it even if you don't like punk rock.)
When asked if today's music measured up to the 70s punk scene: "Yeah, there's always good stuff. I was just listening to the Libertines, and my young girlfriend was giving me an education on the punk bands of today. I love Broadcast, this band from England. That's what's so great about the Internet and all of this digital stuff. You can sample all of these sounds, although once you find what you like you want to get it on vinyl."
On how the readings with McCain got started: "I started in the fall of last year, because I'd been writing since March and I needed a break. I'd been writing 10 to 12 hours a day. With Please Kill Me and The Other Hollywood, it was about other people, and this new book is about me. It's kind of a memoir. I was nervous, because I wondered if anyone really cared about me and my dead girlfriend."
Expanding on what his new book, Live Through This, is about: "It's about this affair I had with this girlfriend. She told me that she had been a heroin addict, a heroin dealer, actually. She said she was clean now, and I believed her. Then she shot up black tar heroin infected with necrotizing fasciitis, which is the flesh-eating bacteria. They amputated her leg, and she didn't survive the operation. After she died, I was on Xanax and valium for 10 years, with an incredible amount of anxiety. I was stuck. The way she died brought up a lot of stuff in me. I hadn't dealt with my own shitty childhood. I had my leg chopped off. I was born with one leg longer than the other. Two inches on the right side. They did what was called a femoral shortening. They cut two inches off my right femur. I never really dealt with it as a child, and now I was having to deal with everything. I went to this treatment center for trauma last year, and my therapist said to me, 'What is therapy but putting your life in a narrative. Sit down and write it, asshole.' I got home from the West Coast in March, and that's when I started writing. It's been very therapeutic. I'm no longer on the meds. It's the hardest thing I've ever done, too."
On Monday night McNeil and McCain will be reading from both Please Kill Me and Live Through This at Tin Roof in West Ashley. The event begins at 7:30 p.m., and tickets are available at the door for $6.