New York

CBGB’s Is Closing Again–Who Cares?



Some Things About CBGB’s Closing

Save CBGB’s Benefit Concerts: Schedule (Bush Tetras tonight, 8/5)

Let’s be jerks. Looking through the CBGB’s calendar I see a bunch of bands I hate, don’t care about, or used to be in (and therefore hate). Off work I walk by the place en route to shows downtown–Knitting Factory, Bowery, Merc, etc.–weaving through a seventeen-year-old crowd of black tees and wallet chains who aspire to fear-inspire and, jeez, something else probably, punk in scare quotes? I know CBGB’s history well enough, and I appreciate founder Hilly Kristal’s gambles over the years, but I’m not feeling dude these days, and the club’s closing, if it happens, would hardly affect me or anything I particularly care about.

That’s the brilliance of CBGB’s of course: The club doesn’t offer acts money guarantees, so bands play there either because they want to play there, or in most cases because that’s the only place they can play, so young in their careers that money simply can’t matter. Career-wise, playing CBGB’s means more to them than they mean to CBGB’s. Unless, of course, one of the billion or so bands that plays there breaks, and CBGB’s can claim some initial responsibility in their success, which is what they do shamelessly with Talking Heads, Television,Ramones, Blondie, etc., and that starts the whole cycle again.

So yeah, I could give a shit about CBGB’s, I think. There are more clubs in the city, and the mythological burden of CBGB’s “breaking” bands has been spread out more/less over a bunch. And if we buy into rock carpe diem, isn’t CBGB’s, an old guy, supposed to go happily?

Dee Pop, the drummer of New York no wave i-savants Bush Tetras who play tonight on a bill including Ari Up from the Slits, Electroputas, and some other dudes, disagrees with pretty much everything I think here. Pop first played there in 1977, CBGB’s is still special (though Pop’s been booking Sunday night avant-garde jazz shows at CB’s for four years now, so he’s a bit biased [sorry]), its importance in New York still relevant (ditto), and its preservation absolutely necessary, beyond historical reasons.

So the first thing, w/r/t all the bands sucking, Pop puts things in perspective: “What they’re trying to explore is different than what I tried to do, and the times are different, so it’s kinda hard to say one is better or one is not as important without sounding like an old fart. There was a lot of crap music back in 1977 or 78, there was a lot of bad bands, there was a lot of great bands. And that’s just how it is now….When Television or the Ramones played there, they were terrible. Hilly was the first one to say, ‘I hated them!’ But there was something about them that made him say, yeah, come back. So there are a lot bands now, you might go in there and go God this is crap, they’re doing the same thing, or they’re doing something you just don’t like. But he’s giving them a chance, just like he gave the Ramones.”

Speaking of those guys, Pop’s first visit to CBGB’s was to see the Ramones play before their first record had come out–he hated them. “The first time I walked in there, I was like, I must have been about 16 or 17 or something, I just remember seeing the Ramones, and just not getting it. I went home really pissed off and angry, going ‘Why did my friends bring me to see this?’ I just didn’t get it.”

For the next 24 hours I was consumed by hating this band. And the next night I went back by myself to see them again and I don’t know what hit me, but it just all made sense that night. For some reason I had to go back. I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t just let it go, how I was that upset about what I had seen. I just remember going back and thinking, ‘God this amazing.'”

For what it’s worth. Though when pressed to articulate a difference between CB’s of yesterday and whatever it is today, Pop cites the relative sense of exploration involved with going to the club, and the sense of danger that accompanied that:

“It was kind of a scary place, actually, that’s probably what it was. It wasn’t that it was dirty or weird, it was just scary. There were Hell’s Angels at the bar, there was a dog by the front door. It wasn’t like anything–it was this other world. It was seedy and I had some sort of attraction to it right then. This seediness and darkness I don’t think people find all that attractive right now. Everything’s very prefabricated right now set up so you can just come in and enjoy a place. As opposed to searching something that’s dark and dangerous.”

Eventually he ended up on stage with the Bush Tetras, which was tougher to do than now it seems. According to Pop, “If you were in a rock band, especially if you were doing original music, it was either Max’s or CBGB’s.” There was one opener and one headline, and they alternated for four sets.

That was a enough of a thrill to Pop, but one gig with Floor Kiss, a band he played in with his then-pregnant, then-wife Deerfrance, speaks to his CBGB’s relationship far less abstractly: “She broke water on that stage. And she literally turned around to me and told me, ‘This is the last song of the set.’ And I was like, ‘What are you talking about?’ And she goes, ‘Look down at my pants.’ And the back of her legs were all wet, and I thought she had pissed in her pants. And she’d actually broke water, she was eight and a half months pregnant and we were still playing gigs.”

At the very least Pop made this whole affair a bit more human, singing praises for Hilly Kristal (“He never followed trends, he just followed his gut instinct”) and most of all worrying for the man, who’s been working the club for over thirty years now (“I think the scariest thing is Hilly not having to take that walk every day to work. It’s like he’s been doing it for so long”).

Despite all the talk, Pop remains optimistic: “It’s not the first time I’ve heard of CBGB’s closing. There’s been lots of scares over the years, lots of dark times for CBs before. And [Hilly]’s weathered them all. I think he’ll probably weather this one as well.”

Archive Highlights