Sunday, October 8, 2017

CBGB's

I moved to New York in 1984. I was all about L.A., but life's like that. I grew up in and around Hollywood, lived in Topanga and Beverly Glen. The rock scene was a part of who I was. I met Jackson Browne when I was seven and at The Trip I played Ouija with David Crosby. All of it I recounted in the novel Jay and the Americans. Because of it I maintain a certain expertise, I know the history, I lived among it. Yet by '84 I had no one there any longer and headed east (but I couldn't let go of L.A...). I did the 80s thing in L.A. and in NYC as well, but the 70s for me, in my teens, were all about the City of the Fallen Angels. The whole punk thing in New York eluded me, and punk wouldn't hit L.A. till '77 at the Masque. 

What I've noticed about AM is that the story hits home so much better with personality; there are 1001 blogs on music, but the personal touch, what I consider my expertise, wasn't learned or researched but lived. With that in mind, I was deprived of CBGB's and the Mudd Club, of what was so very foreign from the goings on in L.A., and can't do its history justice. There are those nonetheless who can tell the story from an eyewitness basis. The following is a CBGB history reposted from greenlabel.com.  
Joey and Dee Dee, David Johanson, Arturo Vega, a Couple of Girls and the Back of Some Guy

Rumor is that the Ramones, in their first performance at CBGB on August 16, 1974, played a set that lasted about 12 minutes. Rumor is that Blondie was in the front row. Rumor is that Joey and Dee Dee fought the entire time. Rumor is that they played the set twice because it was so short. Rumors are that members of the crowd were so shocked by the absurdity of the performance—a bunch of longhaired and smelly kids screaming their guts out—that they thought it was a joke. How could this be real?
Debbie Harry Outside CBGB's
Rock critic god Legs McNeil, co-founder of PUNK magazine and one of the lucky few who witnessed the sweaty show, wrote later that the band struck everyone in a manner that felt, simply, “completely new.”
“They were all wearing these black leather jackets. And they counted off this song…and it was just this wall of noise. They looked so striking. These guys were not hippies.”
Not hippies, indeed. In fact, as a band that’s often looked at by rock historians as the boys who birthed punk, they played an instrumental role in establishing and solidifying CBGB as the venue in which the genre could grow and become what it is today. In their career, the band played the venue over 70 times. To put that in context, there are only 52 weekends in a year. That’s a lot of 12-minute sets.
Throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s, the Ramones were only a fraction of what was happening at 315 Bowery on the Lower East Side. Everything about what it meant to be punk with a capital “P” was planting itself in a little place in Manhattan with a name that, funny enough, stood for Country, Bluegrass, and Blues. (The full acronym, CBGB & OMFUG, stands for “Country Bluegrass Blues and Other Music For Uplifting Gormandizers”). That was unintentional false advertising. Founder Hilly Kristal, a musician-turned-bar-owner, named the place after the type of music he imagined playing there—but soon after, it looked like he may have been a little too specific in his branding. Emerging as something more than just a venue, this was a place that housed the scene and what it stood for. Groups and artists like Patti Smith, Television, Talking Heads, The Dead Boys, Blondie, and more performed regularly, attending each others’ sets, hanging out at the bar, and probably doing whatever they wanted. In short, this was the place to be.
Kristal founded the 3,300 square foot space in 1973, while he was running another bar around the corner. Soon, though, CBGB’s became his full focus. Some locals suggested he start booking bands, so he did just that. In order to play the venue, there were two rules: No. 1. Only original music was to be played—no cover bands allowed (some people believe this was because Kristal was afraid of paying ASCAP royalties); and No. 2. They had to move their own equipment. Looking back now in context and with history in mind, it makes sense that so many young and upcoming bands creating progressive and innovative music wanted to play there—they probably didn’t have anywhere else to go. If they showed up at CBGB’s ready to move their own stuff and play their own music, they could do just that. The venue provided something that was missing from the scene: a consistent space in which you could do whatever you want on stage. This was where you went to have your band’s first performance.
Some point to the beginning of the CBGB golden era as March 31, 1974 with Television’s first gig, a band that would later become a CBGB Sunday night staple. Other first performances of note, outside of the aforementioned Ramones, include: Blondie (January 17, 1975), the Patti Smith Group (February 14, 1975), Talking Heads (June 8, 1975), and The Police’s first American gig (October 20, 1978). Take a moment, pause, and think about that list. Then think about all of those people hanging out in the dirty, grimy venue. Imagine a scene in which David Byrne is chilling with Patti Smith and they sit down at a table next to Blondie and the Ramones. Oh yeah, and Sting has decided to show up for the night.

Who knows if something like that ever happened—it probably didn’t—but the glory of all that was CBGB and everything it stands for is that it could have happened. In the minds of culture appreciators, a scene like that taking place in this venue will forever play on loop in their heads.