antiMUSIC is pleased to welcome aboard Trent McMartin who not only has been filing special news reports but now will give you the "lowdown" on various music related topics!
As always the views expressed
by the writer do not neccessarily reflect the views of antiMUSIC or the
iconoclast entertainment group
As of August 31 of this year the lease for New York City seminal rock club CBGB will expire. The club, which has been around for over thirty years, does not own its own space and is looking for a new deal with the Bowery Residence Committee (BRC). The BRC is in charge of renting the space of the entire building CBGB is located in and now the talks between the property owner and CBGB owner Hilly Kristal have stalled over alleged unpaid rent and safety concerns.
With negotiations at a stand still and time running out, an American musical institution is in serious danger of closing its doors for the last time spelling a definite end to an era that has long since passed. “I sincerely hope it never shuts down...it’s been one of my life long dreams to play there and I just hope I get the chance to make that dream come true someday,” said Billy Pettinger of the punk band Billy and The Lost Boys. “Literally everyone that we look up to as musicians has played on that stage. To see such a rich history disintegrate right in front of our eyes would be a shame, although I’d predict it would only help to in making the club that much more legendary.”
CBGB’s, which stands for Country, Blue Grass and Blues was originally a venue for country and folk musicians. As the seventies progressed many underground musicians would end up calling CBGB’s home playing there regularly establishing themselves as leaders of a new movement. Groups that would frequent the club included The Patti Smith Group, The Ramones, Blondie, Television and the Talking Heads among others.
“CBGB was a dump and it was the only place to see certain types of artists,” said George Seminara, one of the producers of the Ramones documentary End of the Century and local resident who grew up around the club. “Punk was literally born on it’s dog sh*t encrusted floor boards. But Punk in turn spawned so many musical styles that it’s reverberations will persist for generations,” he added.
Many who were first hand witnesses to musical history have their own personal stories and insights on CBGB’s. Their favourite moment. Their favourite band. Their favourite show. When asked which were his favourite acts to play CBGBs George Seminara responded by saying “Ramones in 1977 of course, but guiltily I would have to say the Jam. The fire marshals were there and only allowed the 103 patrons in the club of which I was one.”
Deborah Olin, who once lived with Chris Stein and Debby Harry and was a regular patron of CBGB’s couldn’t decide on any one moment since she witnessed many memorable gigs by many great bands. “I was very partial to Blondie because I knew them and I loved them and they were great,” Olin revealed. “I did love the Ramones the second I saw them that’s almost as long as there first song lasted.”
During its hey day CBGB’s was a breeding ground for creativity and a place where musicians could hone their craft. Murray Ramone, webmaster of the Ramones fansite “Hands Across Your Face” explained. “The secret behind CBGB’s success was the twin combination of bands with cheap places to live and rehearse and the policy of letting anyone play. No band arrives fully formed, they have to learn someplace and CBGB’s has been the place since it opened.”
Rick Blanco, who runs a Flipper fan website described recently how the club operated over the course of its existence citing its inner workings and willingness to promote lesser known artists. “For years the venue has hosted new band nights twice a week,” said Blanco. “The people at the door ask who you came to see. So if ten people walk and came to see band “A”, band “A” gets paid $5 admission. If no one came to see band “B”, band “B” makes nothing. Most bands see it as honor cause so many bands have played that stage.”
Moving into the eighites and nineties the club fell on hard times and on numerous occasions was without proper plumbing and heat. And recently the club has faced accusations of unpaid rent and safety issues. In an online statement posted on the site www.savecbgb.org, the BRC is claiming that CBGB has not paid their full rent for three years. CBGB claims the BRC has not properly billed the club for those years and did not even provide heat.
The statement than goes on to decree that CBGB’s simply wants a renewal of their 12 year lease, for the BRC to be a good landlord and take proper care of the maintenance of the building, for the BRC to provide information on rent increases in a proper and fair manner, for the BRC to fulfill its mission of taking care of the homeless and mentally ill, and for New York City and the neighbours of the Lower East Side to take action before it is too late and this historic club turns into a memory.
Many have offered support for the legendary club donating money and their voice but there are a large number of people who feel that even though the club has some historical significance, all things must come to an end.
“I grew up with the place (CBGBs) too in the late '70's and early '80's but I’m not really involved in what’s going on with the club now and frankly I think it's time to let go,” said Jim Fields, co-director of the Ramones documentary End of the Century. “The place is not really a vital spot for music anymore. It’s really a museum, more or less. It’s not all that ‘punk’ to cling to the past. It’s hard to let go but... go out while you’re still fairly on top,” Fields added.
Sonic 102. 9 FM radio Program Director Jason Manning, who has made numerous trips to the club agreed. “The problem is the people who own the building want to raise the rent through the roof....well CB’s can’t afford it....and as much as I hate to say it....all good things must come to an end. I hope that if it does close....all the walls do not get sold to the Hard Rock Cafe. It would be cool if they reopened somewhere else.....NYC won’t be the same without that place.”
CBGB today is not just a victim of shifting musical trends and tastes but a whole demographic change. “The rest of the area has now changed, the process of gentrification now means you’re neighbours are less likely to be tolerant of a band playing the same song twenty times in a row trying to figure it out at 3 am,” said webmaster Murray Ramone. “As most of the bands were the next night’s audience in the old days it meant there was a steady clientele there as well. Last time I was in on a midweek night the band outnumbered the audience.”
According to some online reports, owner Hilly Kristal may be interested in taking the CBGB brand name to Vegas and open a new club there. While many think it is a logical step to move the club to sin city, others feel the contrary.
“Of course moving CBGB’s to Vegas would lose its charm,” Billy Pettinger remarked. “That’s like moving Gilman Street to Vegas. It really says something about the state of indie music when even a club as famous as CGBG’s can’t afford to keep its doors open.”
Now with only a few weeks to go until the expiration of CBGB’s lease, the club and its followers scramble to make last ditch efforts to save an historical landmark where a musical revolution was born.
“Music is a crucial part of the New York City landscape and yet every venue but CBGB and Carnegie Hall are gone (Lincoln Center is relatively new),” George Seminara explained in a recent e-mail. “And like Carnegie Hall, CB’s is crucial to the city’s musical fabric.”
“CBGB’s became famous worldwide for being the home of Punk rock - you could say that it wouldn’t have worked without the bands, but the bands wouldn’t have existed without somewhere to play,” added Murray Ramone.
“In Liverpool they tore down the old Cavern where the Beatles played, only to reopen it nearby. New York shouldn’t make that mistake.”