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!
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Legendary New York club CBGB still hasn’t run out of lives yet. With last weeks ruling by a Manhattan Civil Court judge, all is clear for negotiations for a new lease agreement to resume between the club and the Bowery Residents Committee, who own the building in which CBGB’s is a tenant. The judges ruling also recognized the historical significance and impact CBGB’s had on the local area when she recalled how the neighbourhood had suffered from “destitution, degradation and substance abuse” before the club opened in 1973.
CBGB opened in the early seventies and began to gain notoriety when many up and coming artists would perform at the club playing music that was to be later christened “punk” rock by critics and patrons who saw the shows. Bands that would frequent the club included such musical pioneers as Television, Blondie, The Ramones, The Heartbreakers, Patti Smith Group, Richard Hell and the Voidoids and The Talking Heads among others.
Thousands claim they were witnesses to what would be later seen as a music revolution and though many of these claims can be supported and are truthful a lot of them are just outrageous attempts to cash in on history. The legend of CBGB’s has grown over the years but in reality, it was a relatively a small underground phenomenon especially in the beginning.
One woman who was there and had been since the beginning is New York City resident Deborah Olin. This remarkable woman was a regular patron of CBGB when it was still called Hilly’s on the Bowery. She attended the club’s very first shows becoming so well known and liked by CBGB employees and musical guests that she has never paid to get in.
“I loved CBGB’s because it was my place, my tribe, my hangout, etc,” wrote Olin in a recent e-mail. “I was attached to the people who worked there the bands who were friends and some people I met there and just someplace to go.”
Olin, who is a professional photographer (she once wrote and took photos for Circus Magazine) and head chef, once lived in Blondie guitarist Chris Stein’s apartment where Stein’s girlfriend and band member Debbie Harry would also stay on occasion. Olin still remains friends with both of them to this day
“I’d watch Chris Stein shave like a little girl and put on his Alice Cooper makeup every morning like when I was a little kid watching my father shave or my mom putting on makeup,” Olin said in the e-mail. “I felt so safe in that house.”
Olin is also widely credited with putting on the first punk rock festival she held in a gymnasium where over 2000 people attended. Too support her claims, she and Chris Stein still have posters from the event. Debbie Harry once wrote it was Blondie’s biggest audience up to that time calling the show “pure heaven.”
Olin was also a huge fan of many of the music acts that would grace CBGB’s stage during those days. She loved Blondie because she knew the band members very well and of course she enjoyed The Ramones. Olin didn’t really hang out with Johnny and Joey Ramone speaking only to Johnny a few times and hanging with Joey occasionally but she did hang out with Marky and Dee Dee all the time describing those days as “the most funniest craziest times.”
One of the best bands she ever saw wasn’t a punk band but a hard rock band that blew the roof off. AC/DC played there in the late seventies with original singer Bon Scott who would pass away a few years later due to an over consumption of alcohol causing him to choke on his own vomit while passed out.
She watched The Police play numerous times but wasn’t really interested in them saying, “they sounded exactly as they did on there first record. They weren’t that interesting to me for some reason but I thought Sting was a nice guy.”
Olin also enjoyed the band Television only after they got rid of Richard Hell, the Talking Heads, The Mumps with Lance Loud, Jayne Country, The Dead Boys, Slander Band, The New York Dolls (in which Chris Stein turned her onto), The Voidoids, and the Heartbreakers, which was her favourite band. Olin regarded Johnny Thunders, (a member of the Heartbreakers) as the individual who should have been the biggest superstar out of everyone. She knew Thunders from hanging out at Max’s Kansas City where he often played and they were friendly together once even sharing a limo with Keith Richard’s common-law wife Anita Pallenberg where they all drank screw drivers out of a Tropicana juice jars.
“Johnny (Thunders) and I were friendly and I feel I understood him,” Olin said. “He was always soft spoken and funny and sweet. He liked to call everyone kid. ‘Hey kid, hey kids.’ He was a very New York old school Italian boy, in his way he was old fashion.”
One individual she did not care for was Patti Smith. Olin thought Smith babbled too much during performances randomly spouting off poetry and non-sensical sentences. She also felt at times Smith wasn’t a very nice person but Olin did enjoy Lenny Kaye (The Patti Smith Group’s guitarist) and the band's performances would be entertaining only when Smith strictly stuck to singing the songs.
One of Olin’s wishes was to see the Sex Pistols who never played CBGB’s and ended up imploding during a U.S. tour in early 1978. Sex Pistol manger Malcolm McLaren was the manger for the New York Dolls in New York City in the 70’s where he took the sounds and fashions of the emerging punk scene in New York and brought them back to England for his new band which would end up being The Sex Pistols.
Today Olin regards the current state of CBGB’s as a shell of it’s former self. The club now relies more on its famous name and legendary status rather than being an actual hub of cutting edge music.
“I also think it’s like a cemetery and over,” Olin wrote when describing CBGB. “It’s depressing to be there. It’s different.”
Like Memphis in ‘54, Liverpool in ‘63 and Seattle in ‘91, the New York punk scene was made up of people who shared a common love of music and camaraderie. And as with many scenes, the New York punk scene hit its peak and was soon followed after by a period of decline and eventual burn out.
“It was very tribal, very close scene, anyway the world ignored us we were a joke,” Olin notes when describing those days. “Now its Ramones on Pepsi commercials and Blondie for Doritos. Now they noticed when its gone..it’s weird.”
Being around artists for most of her life, Olin doesn’t have the romantic, rock and roll celebrity outlook as many people today do. It’s more of a personal thing for her because the artists weren’t rock idols to her but friends and acquaintances.
“I hung out since I was 11,” Olin remarked in one of her e-mail letters. “I even later hung out with the Who so being around musicians and creative people was a natural thing for me and where I felt the most accepted and it was more fun of course!”
“Your looking at it from what you read after the fact,” Olin explained. “Your looking at the Ramones as this band or Blondie…not people you goofed around with or you understand. It’s weird relating to Blondie as rock stars, it’s so bizarre.”