Put Your Arms Around a Memory


Over at the Village Voice, Patti Smith guitarist/Nuggets compiler Lenny Kaye bids a long, fond farewell to CBGB, which shutters at the end of the month. It's a little soupy and wordy, but hey, the man's earned it. (And at least the Voice shitcanned Christgau.)

You had to be there, and if it was a- happening, there you were, though because it was so happening, you weren't thinking or even appreciating it much, just living in the groove of its moment, not wondering how its movement into legend was influencing and inspiring and creating waves that soon found a CBGB in every major city, each with its own roster of local bands and camp followers. For when the first wave of CBGB bands signed their contracts and went off on their individual odysseys–some to fame and some to spectacular flame-out–that to me is when the club became the rallying cry that it is today, the pledge of allegiance hailed in the wearing of the souvenir T-shirt, the icon enjoying its third-of-a-century lifeline, a hallowed shrine and a stopover for the tour bus, whether an on-the-roadeo band that wants to take its territorial piss on a sacred stage or a sightseeing double-decker traveling down the corridor of glass box real estate that has become CBGB's neighborhood.

The club hasn't been relevant for a long while. That doesn't mean this isn't sad.

NEXT: Farewell to the Future

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  1. CBGB is a sad museum to its former self, like much of Manhattan. Unlike the rest of Manhattan, CBGB never took itself quite too seriously, and even though the uber-vain roam the streets of Brooklyn nowadays, one can still see kick-ass underground music at CBGB. I think CBGB might still be cool because it isn’t relevant.

  2. Does anyone else find it amusing that a trendy nightclub is being forced out by a homeless shelter?

  3. In Chicago the great rock and roll dives (The West End, Lounge Ax, etc.) last about 6-7 years and then are lost to gentrification. Is rent control the only reason CBGB’s lasted so long?

  4. Deus,

    Amusing? Hell, it’s probably fitting. Junkies like Johnny Thunders and Dee Dee Ramone would have been in the building anyway. Perhaps if the club had more once-and-future-residents of the building playing there they wouldn’t be closing.

  5. Russ 2000,

    Great rock’n’roll dive bar:
    The Mutiny
    (Warning: annoying pop-ups that get around the pop-up blocker)

  6. Annoying pop-ups is putting it rather mildly.

    In order to be considered great, they have to have bands 7 nights a week.

  7. Russ 2000,

    That’s an interesting point about the clubs lasting about 6-7 years. The Fireside Bowl in Logan Square was a bowling alley that degenerated into an all-ages hardcore venue that has regenerated back into an upscale (?!) bowling alley as the neighborhood moved on up. The Double Door has been around since 1994, and their landlord has been trying to get them out for a few years.
    Ah, well, thank FSM that FitzGerald’s is in Berwyn.

  8. I heard an interesting story that one of the itinerant regulars at the club was so poor that he had to use safety pins to hold together his only change of clothes. The Sex Pistols saw this and copied the style mistakenly assuming that this was a fashion statement.

  9. That story may have a glimmer of truth in there somewhere, but it’s hard to connect the Pistols to CBGBs. They never played there. Never played in New York, period, thanks to the passport hang-up that caused cancellation of their planned SNL gig. Sid later moved to New York and spent his last days there, but that was after the band was already gone. And the Pistols were already dressing that way in 1976, before they’d ever come to America.

    But I could buy that Richard Hell, who was using safety pins at least a year before the Pistols, might have gotten the idea from a bowery bum.

  10. Russ: there’s no rent control on commercial space in NY. It’s just taken a long, long time for the Bowery to gentrify.

  11. I went to one of the “save CBGB/last shows ever” there last September. I had not been there since 1989 to play a Sunday matinee. I couldn’t believe how different the area is now. It has it’s place in history I suppose but I found it ironic that they were using bands to promote themselves last year that they had pushed off to Sundays only.

  12. battman,

    In the gentrification I’m most familiar with, Chicago and Boston, the commericial space gentrifies after the residential space. I was just speculating that New York rent control might slow down the pace of gentrification there as opposed to other cities.

  13. “The Fireside Bowl in Logan Square was a bowling alley that degenerated into an all-ages hardcore venue that has regenerated back into an upscale (?!) bowling alley as the neighborhood moved on up.”

    The Fireside Bowl is a Bowling Alley again?

    I hope Jimmy (the owner) made a good piece of change on this turn of events. I can’t imagine that neighborhood gentrified, I got stuck up there once. That’ll teach me for leaving town.

  14. McLaren, who stole everything, including his first breath, got the Pistols’ look from New York’s Television (Richard Hell, Tom Verlaine.) Richard Lloyd, another member, told Eric Veillette:

    Q: [Malcolm] McLaren wanted to manage Television?

    RL: McLaren wanted to manage Television. He was managing the New York Dolls, who at the time were in a slump. He had them dressed in red leather, patent leather, with a communist flag in the backdrop. We did a co-bill for one week in Manhattan. Some dive. Malcolm fell in love with Television, and wanted to manage us. When he was turned down, he went back to England and used the image that he had gotten from us, from Richard Hell, and started marketing the image in his wife’s clothing shop. Ripped clothing. The safety pins, the stitches, which was Richard Hell’s idea! So then they got some kids together, and he got the wild idea of “It doesn’t matter if they can play or not. The excitement is there.” So anyways, that’s where the Sex Pistols came from. In fact, irrespective of what others may say, any media, that’s completely from the horse’s mouth.

    Even though I’m a New York native, I never made it to CBGB, as I was attending college in the Great Midwest when the scene was hopping, and I was too B&T to venture into Manhattan to see shows as a teenager, anyway. But every town of any size had its CeeBees clones, as Kaye’s article points out. Around here it was Zak’s, then The Starship, both of which I frequented regularly. Starship was a hangout for hookers and rummies that the owner’s kid turned into a punk/new wave space, to the everlasting annoyance of the whores. How CBGB was that?


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