|After opening its doors 32-and-a-half years ago at 315 Bowery, owner Hilly Kristals Country, Bluegrass and Blues club will be hosting its final concert on October 15, closing for good on Halloween. It will mark the end to several years of disputes between Kristal and the Bowery Revitalization Council and the buildings owner as well as closing a chapter in musical history.
"For a Catholic," notes Warren Kinsella, author of Furys Hour, "its like the closing of the Vatican."
Kinsellas comparison is particularly apt, as the club has become something of a pilgrimage site for punks all over the world. Theres even an art gallery cum shrine next door so visitors can come and pay their respects. CJSW station manager Chad Saunders sums up his own visit, "Its not like a must do, but certainly something you should pay your respect to if you listened to any of that music from the early-80s. Like the Ramones
. why did I go? I felt like I had to go, I had to be here. Like any good monument or place in history."
For CBGBs was an institution and its closure has drawn varied comments from music scenes divided over the clubs historical legacy and its willingness to trade in that legacy. Bob Keelaghan of the Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir responded to news of the clubs closure with a dismissive, "Oh well." Allen Baekland of the Rembetika Hipsters offered a similar view, "I think its window of musical importance was very limited, 1975 to about 1978. Its been in decline for the last 30 years."
New York music critic Gregg Wager, who once wrote for the early 1980s L.A.-based fanzine Flipside, observed, "In recent years, it is so depressing to be there. They try to get people to come by giving out free T-shirts and Frisbees. The bands are awful and the management is snobby and petty."
But for many, CBGBs was an institution, and to play there a mythic dream. Says Kara Keith of Falconhawk, "(We) would have loved to have played CBGB's but our bus got crushed in Pheonix, Arizona and we never made it to New York City. It is still a sore spot for me because I have wanted to play there since I was a little girl."
That feeling is echoed by Brent Cooper, who, as part of Huevos Rancheros was one of the few Calgary bands to make it to CBGBs. "It was one of those things that we figured we had to do play CBGBs. It's like a rite of passage for any band, especially one that was as Ramones obsessed as we were."
As an institution the club gave people with a common interest a place to gather and talk about things that interested them. Over time the interests and ideas of the people who met at CBGBs became synonymous with the club itself, something owner Kristal was quick to capitalize on. That, in turn, gave people a chance to debate what it meant to be a punk. With the closing of CBGBs, punk is losing one of the places that defined it.
CBGBs, like the Vatican, helped to inform a whole generation of punk identity. The scene at CBGBs determined how they danced, what bands they saw, what punk places of gathering looked like its surprising how many punk clubs across North America and Europe look like the dingy rat-infested shoebox that was CBGBs. In fact, the look of the club was so universal and nondescript this will prove to be one of the obstacles that Kristal will face as he attempts to relocate the club to Las Vegas. How do you recreate that intangible sense of place?
"If it moves to Vegas, its the Hard Rock. (CBGBs) is about stepping in dog shit and scraping it off with a stick. If it moves to Vegas, I wouldnt go. Theres no point. Theres nothing punk rock about Vegas," says Saunders emphatically.
Brent Cooper agrees, "I figure that a Vegas CBGB might not be a good thing. Vegas is full of lights and showbiz and stuff. The lower east side of Manhattan is as far from Vegas as you can get. I hope they save the cockroaches."
Kristal, however, sees Las Vegas as more of a blank slate, an opportunity to start fresh, bigger.
"Hopefully we can help start new bands, bring in bigger bands and make CBGBs more meaningful on the Internet. We already have visitors from over 180 countries, so maybe we can be a force of some good for these bands," he says.
If Kristal is optimistic about re-establishing CBGBs somewhere in Las Vegas, off-strip, why shouldnt he be? The Vatican moved to Avignon, in southern France, for awhile, too.
Sic transit Gloria.