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15 Books Every Punk Must Read

Think you’re a punk just because you bought a Ramones muscle tee for $24 at Urban Outfitters? Nice try, poser. Earn your mohawk, studded leather jacket, and beat-up Chucks by reading these 15 essential punk rock books.

1. Please Kill Me by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain

Dee Dee Ramone’s days as a Midtown Manhattan sex worker? Iggy Pop’s insane drug and sexual habits? It’s all recounted here in this debauchery-packed (and sordidly hilarious) oral history of punk’s early days.

2. Our Band Could Be Your Life by Michael Azerrad

Azerrad’s raucous collection of band profiles highlights 13 important groups from the pre-Nevermind era. The booze-soaked chapter on The Replacements is worth the price of the book alone.

3. Commando: The Autobiography of Johnny Ramone

Punk’s most curmudgeonly founding father, Johnny Ramone (famously a staunch Republican), tells the legend of the Ramones from his cranky perspective. It’s as funny and offensive as you’d hope it would be.

4. Girls to the Front by Sara Marcus

Sara Marcus’ personal account of Riot Grrrl nation in the early ’90s shines a spotlight on the movement’s blistering music and and progressive politics.

5. Get in the Van by Henry Rollins

Henry Rollins’ tour diaries from his days as Black Flag’s muscle-bound frontman recount the band’s often violent gigs. The audio version of this book scored Rollins a Best Spoken Word Album Grammy in 1995.

6. Just Kids by Patti Smith

Patti Smith’s moving memoir tells the story of her relationship with then-fledgling artist Robert Mapplethorpe, and how she transformed from a wannabe poet to the godmother of punk.

7. We Got the Neutron Bomb by Marc Spitz with Brendan Mullen

L.A. punk’s wild scene is largely neglected in Please Kill Me, but it gets its due in this tome, which tells the tale of X, Germs, the Go-Go’s, and SoCal’s other original punks.

8. England’s Dreaming by Jon Savage

Savage’s 656-page whopper focuses on U.K. punk and the explosive rise (and subsequent implosion) of the Sex Pistols. It’s an academic and entertaining take on pre-’80s punk.

9. Violence Girl by Alice Bag

Bag’s memoir recounts her lifelong romance with rock ‘n’ roll music, and how her passion for music led to her to lead the Bags, one of first-generation L.A. punk’s most riotous bands.

10. I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp by Richard Hell

Hell, who played in Television, the Heartbreakers, and The Voidoids, spins depraved yarns about the reckless lifestyle he led as a downtown Manhattan punk in this 2013 memoir.

11. Despite Everything: A Cometbus Omnibus by Aaron Cometbus

Cometbus, a former Green Day drummer and roadie, is better known for his long-running and beloved zine, Cometbus, and for his strict punk ethics. This collection serves as an gateway to a must-read punk periodical.

12. American Hardcore: A Tribal History by Steven Blush

Blush’s comprehensive book breaks down the history of U.S. hardcore, region by region. This oral history led to the 2006 documentary of the same name.

13. King Dork by Frank Portman

Although technically not a book about punk rock, King Dork, one of the most memorable YA novels of the past 10 years, was penned by Frank Portman, the frontman for pop-punk legends the Mr. T Experience.

14. Gimme Something Better by Jack Boulware and Silke Tudor

Unlike the U.K., NYC, or L.A. punk scenes, Bay Area punk didn’t take itself seriously, and this oral history — which tells the stories of NorCal punks like the Dead Kennedys, Operation Ivy, and others — reflects that spirit.

15. Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs by John Lydon with Keith and Kent Zimmerman

As the frontman of the Sex Pistols, Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten) was a riveting entertainer. The skills that made him a remarkable showman are on full display in his wicked and witty autobiography.

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