The club has been some kind of symbol for decades. The question is whether that symbolism can transcend real estate and real noise. A transplanted CBGB would be irrevocably changed, and an artificially preserved one could be just as dicey. Punk-rock certainly has enough artifacts to fill a museum, but solemn academic inquiry just doesn't seem right for CBGB. A transplanted CBGB might become something like the Cavern Club in Liverpool, where the Beatles woodshedded and which was demolished and rebuilt as a replica (with some of the original bricks). What has been a symbol of unlovely urban survival would turn into a self-conscious icon.
Or, to be precise, a more self-conscious icon. It's hard to say how long ago CBGB started considering itself legendary, but decades is a fair estimate. While punk promoted itself as overthrowing the status quo, CBGB has prided itself on staying put.
Everyone knows CBGB is a dump, same as it ever was: a place where punk spirit holds out against gentrification, a remnant of the old stinking Bowery versus the slick NoLIta. CBGB & OMFUG (which once stood for Country Blue Grass Blues and Other Music for Uplifting Gourmandisers) started out as a neighborhood joint and never upgraded much beyond its sound system. It's had chic visitors, but it never turned chic; even as it became a tourist stop, as it has been at least since the early 1980's, it stayed dingy, a place where kids could still afford to hang out. Mr. Kristal hasn't profiteered unduly.
The post-punk and no-wave bands that are now being widely imitated also had a home at CBGB as the 1970's turned into the 1980's, and so did hardcore matinees. But in the years since, well, it often seems that all a band needs to get a CBGB gig is a wacky name. Musicians like P. J. Harvey and Guns N' Roses, who were grateful for what they learned from the first CBGB bands, have performed there by way of tribute. But it has been a long time since the club was the crucible for a movement.
In some ways, CBGB is a victim of one of punk's enduring myths: that amateur enthusiasm is all a band needs. All the stickers on the walls prove otherwise. What made the first CBGB bands important wasn't that they were amateurs, but that they were inspired amateurs; they had a sound in their heads, one that didn't require too much technique.
Not sure how I feel about this. You?