Thursday, January 27, 2011

Happy Birthday, Legs McNeil

Originally published by PopMatters on January 27, 2011

Beyond the punk hype, the seminal Please Kill Me and other distinctly unique published works. Beyond the erudite caricature and inside track on the New York City underbelly, Legs McNeil is a friend.

Today is Legs MeNeil’s… well, it doesn’t really matter how old Legs is, because he’s perpetually however you want to think of him. In his character makeup is still the teenage hoodlum who co-founded Punk; the inquisitive rapscallion who turned a love of true crime and titillation into The Other Hollywood, an exploration of the two. He’s an historian, an elder statesman, a chain-smoking television celebrity and an absolute fucking riot. Today is Legs McNeil’s birthday, and if you’ve ever spent even one minute of your life flipping through one of his book at random and marveling at what you’ve found, you’ll raise a glass of whatever your particular fancy is and send him your kindest, filthiest regards. And go pick up a copy of Please Kill Me, and maybe a t-shirt or something from his website, You’ll feel much cooler if you do.
I met Legs through my father, and he quickly became something of a mentor to me. I was in college at the time, playing drums in a band and generally living my life like a cliché. Legs came to a gig in the East Village, took me aside and pointed out where various sordid acts of punk rock depravity once happened in the dark corners of the venue. My hero.

Legs gave me my first paid writing gig in the early ‘90s, reviewing records for the short-lived Nerve Magazine. He was more than a mentor, letting me crash in his room at the Gershwin Hotel the night of the Please Kill Me book release party, making sure our cups of Earl Grey tea were always filled no matter where we happened to run into one another.

I spent a year living in Legs’ guest room in North Hollywood maybe a decade ago, transcribing interviews with porn stars, eating a lot of Indian and Mexican food, watching Simpsons re-runs and hitting yard sales. Going into any greater detail than that would almost certainly be a violation of omertà, that I never reveal what I might have seen or heard. He said it with a laugh, and I laughed too. But I also love and respect Legs McNeil enough that unless he specifically asked me to dish dirt, I’m keeping it clean and lean.

We drifted apart for a while, at least partly because I was young and impetuous and felt the need to uproot myself at the drop of a hat. We’ve reconnected, though, and while we’re no longer cracking jokes in a tiny room while he guns down German infantrymen in a World War II video game like we used to, he’s still ever present in my life. I learned a lot from seeing Legs’ work ethic, his attention to detail and his insistence one getting the facts straight. It’s a philosophy I’ve adopted in my own life as a writer, and I think of him even when we haven’t actually caught up maybe for months.

Happy Birthday, Legs.