Thursday, April 12, 2012

April 12: Legs McNeil

Throughout the course of music history, there is a long list of people who have helped to push the art form forward in different ways, and in many cases, it is those who are not "on stage" or in the studio that play the most vital roles.  While one certainly cannot overstate the importance of the actual musicians, one can easily make the case that without "someone to talk about them," the performers in question would have a far more difficult time in reaching the masses with their music.  Over the decades, those who document the changes within the world of music have played various roles, from radio DJ's to photographers to journalists to directors, and in each of these positions, there are a handful of individuals who for whatever reason, took their own path.  In many cases, it is the few that broke away from the norm, or those who were in a particular scene or position that became the most iconic, and it is this reality that vaults the great Roderick "Legs" McNeil to one of the most highly revered figures in the history of music journalism.  While one can rattle off a long list of writers that made their name within the world of jazz, rock, pop, and other mainstream sounds, it wasn't until the emergence of Legs McNeil that the "underground" scenes got much exposure, and to this day, his impact remains immeasurable.

As was the case with an overwhelming majority of those involved within the underground and punk music scenes of the 1970's, McNeil got his start as a journalist at an early age, and in many ways, under the ultimate "punk" circumstance.  It has been stated that Punk magazine was started by McNeil and two friends in an effort to "get free drinks" as well as set themselves apart from others within the scene.  Yet the fact of the matter is, it was these early writings that played a vital role in documenting exactly "what" was going on within the underground music scene of New York City.  Largely inspired by the music of The Dictators, the magazine took a rather similar approach to writing as the music upon which Punk was founded.  Though many may argue the fact, Punk magazine is often cited as the "first" place that the actual term of "punk" was used in reference to the music.  Whether or not it was actually the first place, the reality is that the magazine played a vital role in moving the scene and sound forward, and as the decades have passed, the name of Legs McNeil has become absolutely synonymous with the entire world of punk rock.  Strangely enough, after only a few years, McNeil was able to see the rather predictable and "mainstream" direction that the genre had taken, and instead of being affiliated with this almost ironic shift in the scene, he stepped down from the magazine, moving to other journalistic avenues.

As the next few decades passed, McNeil stayed within the world of music journalism, serving as the Senior Editor at Spin magazine, as well as founding Nerve magazine, which speaks to a far wider range of subjects within world culture.  Along with this, Legs McNeil worked with Gillian McCain to author the book, Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History Of Punk, which to this day, many cite as the most authoritative work on the genre as a whole.  Due to his longstanding place as a journalist and overall observer of the world of punk and hardcore music, few can be seen as having a greater knowledge on these styles, and even in the current day, one can find his writings on a wide range of subjects on the world of music.  Though he may not have played with a seminal band or served as a producer as has been the case in creating a number of "music legends," it is the existence and complete body of work of Legs McNeil that serves as absolute proof that those who document history are often just as, if not more important than those that "make" the events.  Had it not been for his continued efforts in covering the reality around him, one can make the case that the genre may not have succeeded as it did, and while there have been many people who have written about music over the decades, none are on the same level as the great Legs McNeil.

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