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New FestivALL event brings punk performers to town

By Bill Lynch, Staff writer

It’s not entirely clear exactly what author Legs McNeil and punk performer Johnny Puke, a Charleston native, will be talking about Sunday when the pair appears at Bluegrass Kitchen at 7 p.m. for the free, adults-only FestivALL event Punk and Pancakes.

McNeil was the least certain.

“I don’t have the slightest,” the counter-culture writer and Vice magazine columnist said. “We did a tour last year, just to get out of here — because, you know, it was cold.”

That tour, Puke explained, was a mixture of spoken word performances, stories and some readings from McNeil’s books, “Please Kill Me: The Uncensored, Oral History of Punk” and “The Other Hollywood: The Uncensored Oral History of the Porn Film Industry.”

Puke thought they might do something along those lines on Sunday, plus a little bit from McNeil’s latest book, “Dear Nobody: The True Diary of Mary Rose,” published in April.

The book was an odd passion project for McNeil, who said, “It always angered me that ‘Go Ask Alice’ turned out to be a fraud.”

“Dear Nobody,” he promised, wasn’t.

It is drawn from the journals of the older sister of the daughter of a friend. McNeil said the diary came to him through the daughter of his postmaster.

“I live in a small town in Pennsylvania, across the street from the post office,” he said. “I’m friends with the postmaster. He’s in a heavy metal cover band.”

McNeil said he sometimes goes over just to talk, and the friend’s daughter came to him about borrowing a book on the Manson family for school. (McNeil is working on an oral history book about the Manson family.)

“I asked her what she read,” he said. “She listed all the popular titles, but then told me the best thing she’d ever read were the journals of her best friend’s older sister, who’d died.”

McNeil said after a four-and-a-half year legal battle with Mary Rose’s father and a bout of mental illness, the book was released in April.

“I think Legs will read from that book,” Puke said.

For his part, Puke said he was looking forward just to coming home to Charleston.

“It’s been about three years since I’ve been back,” he said.

Puke, who’s given name was Hurt, grew up in Charleston, attended Charleston Catholic in the early 1980s and helped bring punk acts to the area.

“I was a punk rock kid, and there were a lot of us who were part of that burgeoning national punk scene,” he said. “I brought in a few shows, rented everything from the ballet studio to the Catholic church gym, and we did shows in every non-traditional space we could find.”

Some of those bands are still remembered, like The Melvins, D.O.A. and Raw Power, though not all of them are still performing. Some faded away or became something else.

“We brought in a band called The Vatican Commandos. Funny thing, the bass player of that band grew up to be Moby.”

Moby is a six-time Grammy-nominated electronica and electronic rock artist.

Puke played in his own bands, the most successful of which was a group called Cletus. Active through the 1990s, the band toured for about five years and released three albums before calling it quits.

“I’m still doing music,” he said. “I’m in a straight-up traditional honky tonk band called Sin City, and I’m a singer in a punk band.”

Puke said Punk and Pancakes will incorporate Puke and McNeil’s experiences and memories, but the part he’s looking forward to is the free-for-all Q&A session at the end.

“We love that,” he said. “They can ask us anything.”

It sounded almost like a dare.

Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.


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