Cookies and wine with ‘Please Kill Me’s Legs McNeil
Legs McNeil doesn’t know what the fuck is going on. We are sitting in the basement of WORD bookstore in Greenpoint, along with Legs’s writing partner Gillian McCain and a dozen members of the Gilmore Girls Book Group, a club that meets on the fourth Sunday of every month “for a lively discussion of one of the books important in the ‘Gilmore Girls’ universe.” A woman in her late twenties is describing the complex set of emotions that fans feel toward Jess Mariano, Rory Gilmore’s ex-boyfriend.
“What the fuck is going on?” Legs whispers to me, possibly because I am sitting next to him but probably because he assumes (wrongly) that I have not watched this television show. I tell him that I don’t know, as a signal of my punkness, I guess. I am drinking rosé and eating a “Ginger Dead Boys” cookie with frowny face frosting.
The reason that Legs and Gillian have been invited here is that Jess lent Rory a copy of Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk in the second season of “Gilmore Girls.” The extent to which Legs McNeil was made aware of this context remains unclear for the duration of the book club.
Most of the book group is holding the 20th anniversary edition of PKM, which Legs and Gillian have spent the summer promoting in an Ace Hotel-sponsored tour across the country. According to Legs, the reissue also marks the 40th anniversary of the Ramones playing CBGB’s for the first time. This is not quite true, in the same way that Legs’ claim that he invented the word punk is not quite true — the Ramones played their first show at CBGB’s in August of 1974 and Dave Marsh coined the term “punk rock” in a 1971 column for Creem magazine.
In any case, Legs first saw the Ramones at CBGB’s in the fall of 1975, and it was that night that Punk magazine really got its start. As recounted in the book, the Ramones couldn’t agree on which song to play, and ended up storming off soon after taking the stage. Amid the chaos, a 19-year-old Legs and his friend John Holmstrom spotted Lou Reed, who begrudgingly agreed to an interview for the first issue of Punk magazine. The three of them, along with Mary Harron (director of I Shot Andy Warhol and American Psycho) and “Lou’s transvestite girlfriend,” went out for cheeseburgers at Locale, where Lou Reed soon concluded that Legs was an asshole. He stuck by this belief until his death.
Back in Greenpoint, some members of the book group are wondering if their invited guest is a Nazi. We are discussing our favorite stories in the book, when, apropos of nothing, Legs tells us about this patch he’s designed: “A swastika blended with, like, a women sign, in front of some sweet chicks.” It is at this point that Legs excuses himself for the first of four smoke breaks he will take over the course of an hour.
Meanwhile, Gillian, who is much better at reading a room, asks each of us what band from the book we’d most like to see live. Answers are split 60/40 between the Velvet Underground and the Stooges, with a few outliers mentioning Television and Elvis Costello.
When Legs returns, he seems calmer. He tells one woman that Lou would’ve loved her. He expresses sadness about the many friends he’s lost over the years. He eats three Peanut Butter Patti Smiths and inquires about a Sixpoint on the craft table. “An IPA! What the heck is an IPA?” he says, maybe earnestly.
Someone asks Legs if he listens to any new music, and he says that he does not. At this point, the conversation turns — as it inevitably does when discussing literally any subject with people in this city over the age of 50 — to New York, and how it was once Good, but is now Bad. “Back then,” Legs says, “you could pay your rent by having your girlfriend strip twice a week.” People in the room shift uncomfortably, checking their phones.
He signs some books, takes a photo and leaves before we can recommend any of the excellent musical acts that appear on the show.
A cheap argument can be made here positioning Legs McNeil and the Gilmore Girls Book Group as emblematic of the city’s decline — the sleazy punk embodying New York’s former grit and authenticity; a book club based on a show set in the fictional Connecticut suburb of “Stars Hollow” as a symbol of the ever-sanitizing city. But that argument, like most arguments about things presumed to be worse now (America, Kanye West, etc.), would not be right.
Everything that is Bad now was probably Bad before, or else it was turned Bad by the very people who grumble about the days when things were Good.
The private equity bros who spoiled the Bowery are actually on the same team as Legs’s supposedly-punk Ace Hotel, which paid $30 million in 2014 to demolish the neighborhood’s longstanding homeless shelter. The marketing minds behind Barneys’ $590 “distressed” Superstar sneakers are working from the same logic that convinced Malcolm McLaren he could sell clothes by putting a bunch of working-class kids in a band and calling them the Sex Pistols.
Here’s a funny coincidence: On November 25th, Netflix will premiere the first new episodes of “Gilmore Girls” in almost nine years. The next day, the moneyed son of Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood has promised to burn his entire collection of punk memorabilia, valued at £5 million, as some sort of protest against state-funded concerts. Maybe there is a point here about the tide of culture, cyclic and advancing, hoisting along the vessels in which we choose to stick our nostalgia, however misplaced. Or maybe not.
Punk is dead. Long live “Gilmore Girls.”
Jake is a freelance writer in New York. He apologizes to any punk dads he may have offended.