Back then, the best of the CBGB bands were not only great, they were great in such different ways. Contrary to the tidy "punk" term that bound them, none of these groups looked or sounded anything like each other. They were connected solely by the tightness of the scene, a point underscored by the jukebox that spun almost exclusively house bands. The result sealed this place as its own world, fostering the gloriously laughable notion that the Ramones were every bit as big as the Rolling Stones.
Amazingly, the CB's scene remained remarkably small throughout its heyday. Though every national publication (save Field & Stream) glowed about the bands here, you'd see the same 200 freaks there every week. I remember the first time Television finally managed to get off the Bowery and play the Palladium, as the opening act for Peter Gabriel in 1978.
They got booed off the stage. If they couldn't make it to 14th St., I thought, how could they possibly make it on Main Street?
From James Wolcott:
Tom Verlaine and Richard Hell may have been Lewis & Clark of the Lower East Side, discovering and claiming CBGB's for the future punk poets of America as Hilly Kristal gave the shrug that changed history, but it was Patti Smith who made everything possible--Patti who was CBGB's first star and benediction spirit, Patti who channeled the nomadic nerve of Rimbaud and Isabelle Eberhardt, the bop prosody of the Beats, and the monochromatic drive of the Velvets through her scrawny frame and expressive, air-sculpting fingers. Tonight Patti, the first performer I ever saw at CBGB's--back when her band was drummer-less, she and Tom Verlaine held hands between sets, her band was drummer-less, and the occasional beer bottle dropped from the men's shelter upstairs from the club, shattering on the sidewalk--will be headlining the club's farewell bill, as the former biker's bar on the Bowery joins Max's, Mercer Arts, the Mudd Club, and Danceteria in the foggy graveyard of bohemian legend. (Sirius Radio will be broadcasting the concert live at 9pm on channel 24.) It never occurred to any of us then that someday the CBGB's t-shirt would be a ubiquitous cultural signifier, Richard Hell's byline would grace the op-ed page of the NY Times, the Ramones' "Hey ho/let's go" would rev up car ads, Please Kill Me would be as much a classic of oral history as Edie or Studs Terkel's books, and Deborah Harry would achieve her dye-job dream of being a Warhol superstar in a post-Warhol world.
From Roy Edroso:
It made sense that the nexus of New York punk rock was such a ratty joint. A greybeard such as I have become will taunt the kids today for their backwards-looking rock gambits, but the old punk scene was full of magpies mining la boue for lost gems, and sometimes turds. This was said to be a rebuke to what was considered the smooth and stupefied state of the lively arts of the time. It was also a form of passive aggression: one could expect outsiders to be uncomfortable. I have a hunch you won't like it here, the potato chips are soggy, they water the beer, etc.
I became a habitue, saw many splendid shows (Ramones, Dead Boys, X-Ray Spex, B-52s) and a lot of lame ones. Eventually I hauled myself up on that stage and played some splendid/lame shows myself. I got accustomed to the smell, the smashed toilet, and the pleasurable clubhouse atmosphere that you get just by showing up and doing a little work. Nostalgie de la boue? No, it was happening right now! I always had a hand to shake or a back to pat or a face reading clearly, "Oh, this guy again" when I walked in the door.
All those hours spent loading in and loading out and drinking and hearing, or yelling, "You rock" or "You suck." Long after I stopped playing regularly, I considered it part of my life, until the day came when I realized I could count the time that had passed since I darkened Hilly's door in years, and if I walked through again it would be as a stranger.
From Tom Watson:
We live somewhere now in post neo-classic proto pre-post punk rock land. Everything is derivative, but there's more of it, and sometimes it makes you tap your toes on the morning commute. Always there in the DNA is the strange and wonderful cluster of gene markers known roughly to scientists as "New York punk." Others call it the Johnny Thunders mutation. Whatever it is, it's a historic part of our musical evolution, a marker on a place where music changed - and it changed best here.
Clearly, one of places in the long dual ribbon of DNA bears the name CBGB. A dark pestilent hole that attracted talent: that's the elevator speech. CB's closes tomorrow, but it's all so anti-climatic. All the youngsters wearing the iconic black t-shirts under their Gap jackets is testimony to a lasting rock brand - one that Hilly Kristal and his advisor's apparently hope to keep alive in Las Vegas and along the byways of cyber-commerce.
Lots of excellent links to other elegies through these, including the 'East Village' complex in Vegas where the CB's urinals may or may not be going.