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From minstrelsy to vaudeville and Monk to punk, never under-estimate urban ugliness

Punk needed Bowery scuzz the way minstrelsy needed Bowery fun-seekers. CBGB's ambient grunge and flophouse residues added texture to punk's lower-class pretensions and kept bizzers on their toes. Loud, deep, in constant motion because you have to pass the stage to go take a leak, CBGB is the only club I've ever hung out at; when the band was bad, I'd try to hear how the drummer sucked, which was always educational. If my musical heroes had their minds on other things—Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain's Please Kill Me names 30 heroin users on the scene—we shared an affection for urban ugliness and a willingness to live someplace most Americans would consider a shithole as long as the action was good and the rent was cheap. As it happens, the best music I ever experienced on the Bowery took place a few blocks north, when Hüsker Dü launched a transcendent late set for eight or 10 diehards at the shorter-lived, harder-rock Gildersleeves. But the countless good nights at CB's—OK, let me single out the Feelies show we saw from the front row—were what made it possible.

CBGB: Back in the scuzzy heyday
photo: Ebet Roberts
CBGB: Back in the scuzzy heyday

Details

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    No wonder they call that joint on Delancey the Bowery Ballroom. Not so surprising it's a good joint, either.

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