Does New York City Really Need CBGB To Return?


So the big punks-not-dead news, that is actually a rumor, of the past 24 hours comes from a post on Gothamist claiming that the people who have access to a bunch of CBGB’s old things (although not the awning) are planning to reopen the iconic punk club “somewhere in Manhattan,” though not at the club’s old space on 315 Bowery because it’s currently being used to hawk expensive menswear and way-marked-up vinyl. So serious are these unnamed folks’ apparent intentions, in fact, that they have set up a Twitter account. Yesterday its timeline was studded with missives asking Courtney Love and Duff McKagan if they’d play a big festival happening this summer; there was also a Shepard Fairey-ish rejected poster for the fest. Those tweets have been deleted.

Also remaining: Questions about this whole enterprise. Namely, is breathing new life into the dessicated husk of CBGB really a necessary thing at this point? And is the club that results from this revival going to be any good—by which I mean “fun to go to, with decent bookings and not too many tourist trappings”—at all?

I’m not so sure. Call me a pessimist, but I suspect that any attempt to revitalize the CBGB “brand” with a club in Manhattan will likely result in a somewhat tourist-trappy club with overpriced drinks, awkward attempts to recreate the old “vibe”, museum-y honorings of punk legends past (even though wasn’t the whole point of punk… oh, forget it)—and, most importantly, lousy bookings studded by the occasional stunt show from a big-name artist that people not affiliated with the media or the biz can’t get into, but that will be promoted to the skies for “brand recognition” on both sides. (I can see the “SKRILLEX TO HEADLINE CBGB” press releases now!) This isn’t to say that I don’t have faith in whoever the people might be; I just think that maybe, at this point and especially given recent history, it’s better to let the idea of CBGB and what punk once was live on in everyone’s collective memory, whether those early notions were forged at Ramones shows in the ’70s or a Tsunami show in the ’90s. And no, it’s not a tragedy if future generations don’t get to share in those memories by going to a show “at CBGB”; let’s face it, the experience provided by a reconstituted version of the club in some other area of Manhattan will be more of a theme-park one that the kids will probably see right through and eschew for events that are more in keeping with their generation’s own ideas of what punk is, and what it can be.

(And real talk: If the people behind this CBGB revival will not sleep until their desire to bring a prismed version of Oldish New York City into the slicker, meaner, more moneyed New York of the present is satiated, why not revive Brownies? Or Tonic? They haven’t been exploited for nearly as many licensing opportunities—but, you know, that’s probably for the best. And during their twilights they generally had better bookings, too.)