One Last Howl at the Marquee Moon

CBGB's death knell is finally real, even if your heartfelt nostalgia isn't

My stepmother knew that I loved Blondie, because I explained to her, the same way I explained to my real mother, that I loved the lady with the yellow hair and the brown spot on the top who waved around a scarf on TV. I was talking about the "Heart of Glass" video. I lived 3,000 miles away. I was seven.

This summer, when I heard the club was finally, definitely closing, I took a short walk from the Voice to visit Hilly Kristal, CBGB's legendary owner. After more than a year of battling with his landlord and the courts, Kristal finally had to close the doors. In the cruelest twist of fate, just after he'd won the right to stay open for another year last fall, he was diagnosed with lung cancer. Now he sat, as always, in the club's "office"—the beat-up front entrance. He'd just gotten out of the hospital—"It's operable, curable," the 74-year-old said. "I am just so weak"—and was visibly tired as he ate a healthy lunch of steamed veggies and brown rice.

Hilly was a father figure of sorts to the many bands and kids that wound their way through the club. "Hilly shepherded us," Patti Smith said at the pre-finale press conference. "He always gave us a job—just like tonight. He was our friend, our champion. In these days there are very few." So now, while the New York CBGB is forever closed, the venue may re-open in Vegas—coincidentally, my old hometown. As pleasing at that might sound, I must agree with Patti Smith, who sniffed at that possibility on Sunday night: "When you only sell 85 tickets out of 2,000, you don't go back."

Patti Smith contemplates building a better shithole
photo: Tricia Romano
Patti Smith contemplates building a better shithole

During my conversation with Kristal this summer, tourists and other curious types came by and wandered through the club. I asked him if they still got a lot of visitors. "Yeah, a few hundred a day," he said, laughing for the first time during our conversation. "They wanna see the place." I'm glad I finally did.


flylife@villagevoice.com

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