Remembrance…redux

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m lazy. My Blog, in general, has been a little lonely for the past few months. This is attributed mainly to Facebook and all the time-killing, soul-sucking game applications that they provide. They’re like potato chips, I tells ya! It’s impossible to just have one!
In any case, it’s time for my yearly remembrance of  New York. As always, my remembrance blogs on 9/11 aren’t supposed to be tear-jerky, flag-wavy / gun-wavy, faux patriotic pity party. Nope. My intentions on this are purely aesthetic.
From about 1992 to around 1996, New York was my home. I tried my best to cram a lifetime’s worth of experiences in a short amount of time, and to more or less of an extent, I succeeded. There were highs and lows that were pretty much par for the course and could be experienced just as easily in Bismark, North Dakota, or 97th and Amsterdam in Manhattan. Those I’ll leave alone because the experiences that were most important to me were the ones in the middle; the experiences that were only poetic to me, the ones that deserved to have some sort of voice given to them. The everyday, the practically unspectacular, these are the stories that are the most important. 
Since about 2005, when I first started admitting personal character flaws online for everyone to see, I’ve done my best to share some of these stories with you on 9/11. This year, the Facebook addiction has sunk its claws deeper into my flesh, and as I tried to impart in last year’s post, I’m almost out of these stories and may have to resort to making shit up. I embellish enough, I don’t need to slap a thicker coat of gloss on my past. 
So anyway, I posted the following back in 2006. It was in response to a New York institution closing it’s doors forever. I thought I’d re-post this for the following reasons:
  • See above re: Facebook, running out of material
  • I saw VH1’s Top 100 Best Performers of all time last night and it was being hosted inside the former CBGB’s club. It has been since turned into a tourist trap and museum…kind of made me nostalgic.
  • This blog entry fits because it falls into the category of how I’d like to remember New York.

The original Title of this was CBGB’s RIP?!! OMG!! WTF!! I was remembering a time before the madness took over, a time that was only a few short years ago. Enjoy…

Things I Should’ve Done Before Leaving New York…Revisited

  • Tell her…anything! Just let her know you’re alive.
  • Think up another excuse for getting a Junior’s Cheesecake.
  • Disappear for an entire day at The Angelika.
  • Spend a few more days walking around SoHo.
  • See the Rockettes…at least once!
  • Get a CBGB’s t-shirt (a real CBGB’s t-shirt), and…..
  • Spend a few more Friday nights at CBGB’s.

Get off the train at Delancey Street, head north until you get to Houston, then just follow the crowd to The Bowery. It shouldn’t be too hard to miss. There, in the middle of a row converted, aging, factory brownstones, it sits with the majesty of a dirty snowball splattered against a fallen tree. A huge illuminated white awning with the letters CBGB OMFUG stitched into to the top of it. The big red letters frayed and flapping in the breeze through years of abuse. The light underneath showcases the years upon years of graphitti; a living testimony to the ghosts that have lingered for generations in the walls, the rafters, the sound system. This is not a rock-‘n-roll heaven, this is a rock-‘n-roll Valhalla.

You take a deep breath as you throw open the big wooden doors, not because of any foul stench, but because as soon as you walk in the place, you are immediately processed like a tv dinner. The regulars know the drill: keep at least one hand in your pocket when you walk in, make sure it’s the pocket with your cash and your ID so you can show the doorperson. In one fluid movement you flash your card, and you give her the cash. She stamps your hand and you shuffle your way to the bar. Why make your way to the bar immediately? Because it’s Saturday night in August. And if you don’t act quickly, you are going to be one very thirsty, very sober individual for the rest of the night…or at least for the next few hours.

The bar resembles an offspring of a makeshift prison and a bank teller’s counter. The term “open concept”, familiar with regular bars, only applies to the area in front of the stage. You fight tooth and nail, elbow and asshole to get one overpriced domestic beer, but it’s tricky to get the attention of the bartender through the vertical bars, chicken wire and the usual rogues’ gallery of patrons. The bar may be ugly on the outside; scabbed and scarred by the continuing theme of graffiti and torn show posters that date back to the mid-Seventies, but I’m willing to bet that behind the bar, it’s a well oiled machine dipped in gold.

Beer in hand, you turn to the left. You are now gazing upon history. Aside from the handful of well-worn tables and chairs that continuously recede from the front of the stage as the night rolls on–like seaweed that clings to the beach to mark the last high tide–the place is strangely cavernous and at the same time claustrophobic. Walls stretch up to at least twenty feet on two sides of you. Each one bares, and in no particular order, poster, begetting poster, begetting poster, like rings in a tree. You can almost make out the names of the Elders that performed there: Lou Reed, The Ramones, Patti Smith, Blondie, The Police, Talking Heads, Guns ‘n Roses, P J Harvey, and on and on.

Your attention has now been diverted to the dimly lit stage. A mike check, feedback from a Marshall Stack, a drummer checking his levels, electrified and distorted guitar strings pluck nervous last minute scales. The house lights dim, and there’s  a split second of static silence as the drummer clicks the cadence, “1…2…3…”

…Thank you, Almighty Rock Gods, for the bounty we are about to receive….

For over thirty years, CBGB, legendary venue, historical landmark, and Golden Fleece for veteran and up-and-coming Punks, New Wavers and Metalheads alike has been a launching pad for many, and a one-way ticket back to playing bar-mitzvahs for some.  It has been the genesis, the mecca, the epicenter. Not to discount or ignore Los Angeles and the Whiskey A-Go-Go. That venue has a richer history, and its roots run deep. On the other hand, unlike its East Coast cousin, it’s not going away any time too soon.

As of the time of this posting, CBGB’s has closed it’s doors forever. No surprise, really, considering the neighbors have been complaining about the noise for years, the rent in Manhattan has almost gotten completely out of control, and the club’s landlord has other plans for his building. Even after all of that, CB’s always persevered when lease renewal time came around again. However, even the strongest can only hold out for so long under so much pressure.

Quoting Ben Sisario from the October 17th edition of the New York Times:

It has been a long and painful denouement for CBGB. After settling in 2001 with its landlord, the Bowery Residents’ Committee, over more than $300,000 in back rent, Mr. Kristal, a plucky, gray-bearded 75-year-old, landed back in court last year. The committee, which has an annual budget of $32 million and operates 18 shelters and other facilities throughout the city, said the club owed an additional $75,000 in unpaid rent increases…”

Tough break. This is all history by now. Long before the big wooden doors got padlocked last Sunday,the Chariman of the Bowery Residents’ Committe stated that all accounts have been settled and there are no more debts left outstanding. Clean break.

So what now…? It would have appeared that Mr. Kristal (the owner) has adopted that good old fashioned American fortitude and moved West. Las Vegas, to be more precise. Nothing has been set in stone. No ground has been broken. No hands have been shaken and no signatures have been signed on bottom lines, but the wheels are already turning to carefully dismantle the club, piece by grafittied piece, and reassemble it exactly the way it was in the middle of the desert; “bat country“, as it were. Personally, I cannot think of a more fitting place. If it were up to me, I’d set up shop there too.

Even though I’m so far removed from my adopted city, I can’t help feeling sentimental, nostalgic and just a little sad. CBGB’s was the next to fall in a long line of established clubs that have disappeared in recent years: The Bottom Line, The Luna Lounge, The Continental. All gone the way of the dodo in the name of progress. Newer clubs are gaining momentum in the Lower East Side, but it’s not the same. It will never be the same. But…when I start thinking about it more, I realize that it’s just a place. A place can be torn down and maybe relocated, but the idea of it will never go away. It’s spirit lives on in every past, present and future musician who has ever uttered the phrase, “I remember our first gig at CBGB’s…” Patti Smith put it best in the farewell performance last Sunday:

“CBGB is a state of mind. There’s new kids with new ideas all over the world. They’ll make their own places, it doesn’t matter whether it’s here or wherever it is…”

…See you in Vegas, my old friend.

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