Published July 26, 1996 7:00PM (EDT)

In "Please Kill Me," Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain track the rise and fall of American punk, from its late-'60s roots to its Reagan-era demise. We hear from all the usual suspects -- including John Cale, Iggy Pop, Patti Smith, Richard Hell and the Ramones -- as well as a vast constellation of fringe figures, who mostly document the sex lives and substance-abuse patterns of the stars.

Not surprisingly, many of the participants are nostalgic for the golden age of 1975. But others, like Dee Dee Ramone, have long since exhausted their patience with "the little-boy look, the bowl haircut and the motorcycle jacket" (which McNeil himself seems to favor to this very day). By the end of the book it's hard not to share Dee Dee's feelings, and to wonder whether the authors haven't expended 100 pages too many on this particular cultural moment.

Still, "Please Kill Me" often makes for hilarious reading. Its loony pile-up of detail does manage to catch the jolting energy of the period. And Danny Fields' description of the rapport between pre-punk titans Jim Morrison and Nico is worth the price of admission, even as it serves as a corrective to mythomaniacs like Oliver Stone: "They were both too poetic to say anything. It was a very boring, poetic, silent thing that was going on between them. They formed a mystical bond immediately -- I think Morrison pulled Nico's hair and then he proceeded to get extremely drunk and I fed him whatever was left of my drugs that Edie Sedgwick hadn't stolen."

By James Marcus

James Marcus is a critic, translator and novelist living in Portland, Oregon. He is a regular contributor to Salon.

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