If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably bought and re-bought several crucial books you’ve loaned out to friends. Please Kill Me is one that’s always made its way back to me, but is worse for the wear of passing through so many hands. I felt the urge to re-read it a few months back after Marc Maron interviewed authors Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain. The book remains a highly entertaining and disturbing read, crucial for any punk fan.
I almost missed Phil Marcade’s anecdotes amongst the tales of Iggy Pop, Wayne County, Debbie Harry, and the rest of the original crew. Marcade’s anecdote about meeting and summarily shooting up Nancy Spungen is a memorable one, but more because of Nancy than him. Similarly, Marcade’s band the Senders played with all the nascent scene’s heavy hitters but have none of the notoriety of their contemporaries—they’re not a canonical band despite having been there.
Punk Avenue is Phil Marcade’s recollection of his years in the scene for Three Rooms Press (which, in the interest of full disclosure, have released two novels I’ve written). The book starts in media res with his 1972 Arizona drug bust, stopping in Los Angeles and Provincetown before landing in the veritable Chelsea Hotel in 1974, as the New York Dolls play the Mercer Arts Center and the Ramones begin gigging at CBGB’s. Marcade’s stories are crisp and well told throughout, often hilarious and sometimes grisly. A perfect example is when the Senders, after playing the legendary Rat in Boston, are invited back to a woman’s apartment for salad when chaos explodes. Marcade creates real tension with his details and descriptions—one of the book’s more memorable anecdotes (of which there are no shortage).
On the one hand, Marcade’s narration reads like a punk rock version of Zelig, as he appears in anecdotes with all the era’s heavy hitters. His friendship with Johnny Thunders, in particular, is an ongoing thread throughout the book. Marcade renders his anecdotes like behind-the-scenes footage of the aforementioned Please Kill Me and all the other canonical punk history books, lending fresh perspective to well-trodden territory. On the downside, there’s an assumption that a reader is at least noddingly familiar with the principles—but if you’re reading this review, chances are you have that familiarity.
I don’t think this book would work as well as it does if it were just “I was there” stories. More important than the all-star cast is Marcade’s story, as he bungles a series of relationships, struggles to establish the Senders, gets a foothold, then succumbs to heroin addiction before finally getting clean and committing it all to paper. The scene gossip and the larger through line are well-balanced.
Punk Avenue is a fast, fun read that fills in historical gaps and establishes Phil Marcade as more than a character lurking in the shadows. Fans of CBGB and American punk will dig it. –Michael T. Fournier (Three Rooms Press, 561 Hudson St. #33, New York, NY 10014, threeroomspress.com)