Kill Your Idols: Punk Memoirs

By Jane Hanna

Some loud books about loud people from in and around the CBGB's scene.

  • Just Kids

    2010 by Patti Smith

    For someone touted as the "godmother of punk," Patti Smith sure seems like a sweetheart. She shows incredible vulnerability, femininity, and an unexpected (to me, anyway) sense of humor in this touching memoir about her friendship with Robert Mapplethorpe and the fledgling days of the CBGB scene. I was struck by how unglamorous it all seemed--body lice!--while still making me misty for a time when the artistically-inclined could just sort of show up in New York and there'd at least be a floor to sleep on somewhere.

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  • Girl In a Band

    2015 by Kim Gordon

    The aggressive, sometimes impenetrable dissonance of Sonic Youth's music leaves many listeners on the outside. So too does Kim Gordon's memoir keep the audience at arm's length. I thought I'd relate to her as a woman musician far more than I did. Even as she opens up about her past, there's still a strong sense that she's on the other side of an exclusive fortress you're not qualified to enter. Or maybe it's that everything she feels is in rear-view, and she has no emotional link to the here and now. That being said, her narrative portraits of times, places, and people are rich and vivid. And all women scorned will feel a certain distant kinship with this enigmatic icon.

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  • Clothes, Clothes, Clothes : music, music, music

    2014 by Viv Albertine

    Of the three female rockers represented in this list, Viv Albertine is the most accessible. There isn't a pretentious or self-aggrandizing syllable in this entire memoir. Fans of the Slits, The Sex Pistols, Johnny Thunders, and The Clash will delight in the behind-the-music moments of youthful friendship and frolic. But even non-music fans will relate to her genuine struggles with identify and self-confidence. Her frank account of her marriage, struggles with fertility, battle with cancer, and voyage back to herself in later life are what comprise the bulk of this courageous, raw, and hysterical personal narrative. It's inspiring, uplifting, tragic, off-beat, and wonderful. Like all women!

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  • Please Kill Me : the uncensored oral history of punk

    1996 by Legs McNeil

    Oft-cited as the definitive account of the formative punk scene in and around CBGB, ultimately this is a book about Legs McNeil. Legs McNeil is cool, everyone, ok? He was THERE, you weren't. He prints all the legends we've come to adore from an eye witness perspective. Whether oral histories collected from drug-addled people comprise anything even close to accuracy is a matter of debate. But everything you love about punk rock is served up here in delectable slices, despite the author's inflation of his own importance in the unfolding events.

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  • From the Velvets to the Voidoids : the birth of American punk rock

    2005 by Clinton Heylin

    If Please Kill Me errs on the side of subjectivity (see previous annotation re: Legs McNeil Legs McNeil Legs McNeil), this book opts for cool academic distance. In fact, it's sometimes so removed as to be boring--which is no small feat when the subject matter is drugs, sex, and rock and roll! It's useful in its exhaustive coverage, but should be read in tandem with Please Kill Me to get a truly balanced portrait of the time/place in question.

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  • M Train

    2015 by Patti Smith

    Reflections on marriage, travel, aging, solitude, and the creative impulse. A less focused but somehow more intimate portrait of the artist. She's my hero and it's humbling to see her with her human feet on the ground. Further in her personal timeline than Just Kids, it's no less intimate and revealing. She's matured and we're privileged enough to still be invited into her circle.

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  • Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl : a memoir

    2015 by Carrie Brownstein

    Perhaps better known today as one half of the comedy duo behind Portlandia, Brownstein--to us rock chicks--is one of the legendary loud. As raw in her commentary as in her guitar soloing, she shares her awkwardness and insecurities here in vivid but accessible color.

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