I’ve been living in New York for a week and a half now, and I’ve never been to CBGB, which is now in the midst of maybe closing or maybe not. Last week, CBGB won a major court case, freeing its owners of the obligation of more than $58,000 and allowing them to open up negotiations for a new lease with their landlords, the homeless-shelter nonprofit Bowery Residents’ Committee. But that’s no guarantee that both parties will be able to work out a deal, and the club may still close, especially with the BRC appealing the court’s decision.
A lot of the debate surrounding the campaign to keep the club open is lost on me—people seem either militaristically reverent of the club’s history or spitefully dismissive of its mere existence (or its continued existence, anyway), and the discussion seems largely limited to “Fuck that place”/”No, fuck you.” For the next few weeks, the club is playing host to a series of benefit shows, and one of the only non-Paleolithic bands playing is the crazy-huge post-hardcore band Thursday (playing, appropriately enough, on Thursday). Status Ain’t Hood spoke with Thursday frontman Geoff Rickly about his band’s participation in the effort to save the club.
What drew you to the Save CBGB campaign?
To be honest, when I first heard about it, I kind of had mixed feelings about it because I saw a bunch of the first shows that I ever saw there. They were hardcore Sunday matinees, and they were incredible; I had the best time at them. But now I live on East 11th Street, and I walk by CB’s all the time, and I almost never see anything on their bill of shows anymore that looks even remotely interesting. Part of me was like “I guess it’s run its course, seeya later CB’s.” But at the same time, as far as New York goes, there aren’t a ton of rock clubs, and with the cabaret laws that came around a few years ago, they all started closing down. And I think that just because they haven’t had the best shows in a while, that doesn’t mean we should just let something as important as a long-standing venue that’s not owned by Clear Channel go out of business. Sure, there are varying degrees of cultural relevance that are at play, but it means something to me in the past tense, and also as someone who’s run a venue before. Most venues, once they disappear, it’s hard to make them reappear out of nowhere. It’s hard to find spaces for venues or find people who are willing to let you do avant-garde or off-the-beaten-path rock shows. CB’s can still be a great club if it stays. People can put on great shows there still. It still has an amazing sound system.
I mean, I love that stuff, and I think it’s amazing, but I really don’t want it to turn into a dead museum of punk rock. At that point, I’d almost rather it die, if it was just going to reflect a path that’s since gone. Punk rock seems like it should be transient; it seems like it should disappear like a flash that just explodes and disappears. But I still think that there can be a huge future for the club. It could be incredible, you know? I don’t think all the shows need to move to Brooklyn. It’s the right part of town to have a good rock club, and it can still be embraced by artists and musicians all over the East Village and all over the city. I have a romanticized idea of what it was like for Blondie and the Talking Heads and the Ramones to be playing back then, but I wasn’t even born yet.
The campaign has gotten a lot of negative press lately; people are saying that it should close, and you seem to have at least some of those feelings. What do you think of the fact that it’s gotten this mixed response?
I personally think some of it makes sense; it’s people that have lived through that era and would like the club to retire gracefully. But I kind of think that’s a bullshit older hipster thing to say. Anybody who’s tried to put on shows in the New York area knows it’s hard. I used to always put on illegal shows in houses and basements and VFW Halls, anywhere I could manage to get a PA. I think it’s bullshit to say, “Just close that fucking place down.” Just because it’s not really culturally relevant and musically relevant right now, that’s no reason to just throw it away. For practical reasons, if you’re not nostalgic about it at all, it’s still a place that could have shows put on. It has an art space with it too; it could be amazing. I don’t think it’s past the point of ever being that way again.
If it does close, do you know what’s going to happen with the money that’s being generated from these benefit shows?
I know that the money from our benefit show at least is going to the same homeless shelter organization that’s in the fight with CBGB’s. It won’t be toward opening up a CBGB’s museum or something. I really don’t have any interest in doing a benefit for that; it’s like, ‘Raise the money yourself and good luck.’
Did you negotiate it that way with them?
Yeah, that was our request. If we’re going to do a benefit for them and they still end up closing, we still want to money to go to these causes.
What do you think about the fact that they’re in a fight with a homeless shelter? It’s not like The Man is trying to shut them down.
It’s one thing that we talk about in the band all the time. We have friends who work there, so we have the inside scoop. Is this a bad thing for CB’s to be fighting with the BRC? It seems like for whatever reason the BRC are trying to strong-arm them out of the building, and it’s not necessarily for financial reasons. At least, that’s a lot of what we’ve gotten from the court case that just happened where CB’s got cleared of having to pay back rent. It really is hard to tell, all the money that CB’s is paying to keep their lease and all the money that’s being raised from it is still going to the BRC. So either way, it’s money going toward a homeless shelter, and if CB’s stays there and works out a fair lease, they’ll still be subsidizing the building overall, so I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on August 19, 2005