FALLEN ROCK ZONE
Yeah, I know that the last day for CBGB as a "performace space" was back on the fifteenth when Patti Smith closed out the joint to expected rave reviews (though I thought it woulda been quite appropriate for Hilly Kristal to get the VERY FIRST ACT to set foot upon the CBGB [as CBGB and not Hilly's on the Bowery...there is a distinction!] stage to close the thing out...perhaps some long-forgotten fingerpicker whose folkie strains would end the club the way it had opened, on a solemn note), but in actuality this Spooky Holiday marks the final real day that CBGB is, for all intent purposes, CBGB. I guess this piece of real estate will reverts back to that dogooder homeless shelter organization who pined for CBGB's demise come tomorrow, though that's not the only reason I waited so long to note the death of this bonafide living legend Amerigan rock club...y'see, I also wanted to check out a lotta the obituaries for CBGB that have been printed all over the internet and maybe assess things from a POV counter to the usual lightweight laurels that have been tossed out by the usual chic-er than thou suspects. And once again I was right, given the absolute soul-less and life-less eulogies for the fallen rock zone that I've come across to date. (Only Lenny Kaye's adieu in THE VILLAGE [retch!] VOICE was worth the time to read, which would figure since he did a similarly good adios to Max's Kansas City for the same fishwrap back in the early days of 1982!)
Listen people, I could care less that CBGB was "the birthplace of punk rock"...actually it wasn't (leave that to some late-fifties Northwest hangout such as the Spanish Castle where the Wailers and loads of other loudfastwhite teenagers playing the hard black stomp would perform) or that a few big "save-the-world" stars of the late-seventies on got their start and BIG BREAK (gosh!) there and that every alternative crybaby buttwipe group vying for "the only band that matters" tag this week appeared on CB's stage at one point or another in their existence. I mean, Patti Smith and Talking Heads certainly had some great, nay earth-shattering moments down the line as did all those other seventies aggregates who sure knew how to speak for a new disengaged generation way back when, but little if anything these groups did after the decadent seventies gyrated into the glitz eighties really catered to a high-energy rock & roll mindset. (Although even a suspicious soul such as I has been mesmerized by a number of recently-recorded Smith bootlegs which have a seventies retro-charm to them...go figure!) All of that stuff is "nice" mind you, but once you get down to it very little of the whole hyped-up 1977 CBGB hotspot rose-colored lookbacks I've read as of late really mean that much to me, nor should they. Now don't get me wrong, I do have many reasons to be sad seeing this infamous flopdive deep-six even though I never set foot in the place nor felt like doing so after a certain point in time...maybe it's for whatever that was good about CBGB that I have (dare I say) semi-nostalgic pangs of seventies rockism-laden ennui seeing the dive turned into some soup kitchen, but these "feelings" do come off differently than all of the one-dimensional ultra-light praise that has been heaped on by writers whom you would have thought hated CBGB deep inside for its helping to destroy their sense of megalomorphic technical mainstream musical perfection.
In case you doubt my sincerity, let me just list a few of the reasons I think that CBGB was, in general, a cool place for rock & roll nurturing:
1) CBGB had a policy of booking original music groups ONLY, and this radical policy was being enforced at a time when almost every other beerjoint on the planet was raking in the dough with cover bands doing the hits and "tributes" to the big name arena acts in the biz. Strangely enough, a good portion of the "rock fans" out there thought that such fun and games were a great sign of musical vitality (or perhaps they just liked the music for backdrop to picking up some fast sex), and because of this avoided original (or underground) rock with a hell-bent passion. And if thinking original rock & roll was way superior to cover band hijinx and that the people who liked that sorta smudge were a load of manuremongers makes me an elitist, well then I guess I can't find a better thing to be elite about! CBGB helped pave the way for original music rock & roll bands to flourish, so the next time you happen to hear some whining adolescent faux-boho jive vaguely reminiscent of the past quarter-century of what alternative rock doth wrought, thank CBGB for it!
2) However, despite the wide array of original music peep rock jamz unfortunately on the end-line of about fifty years of hard-edged attitude, I must 'fess up to the fact that a good number of those groups who never got beyond the performing stage (let alone recording or releasing their tasty wares) were pretty good and certainly didn't deserve their eternal status in the vast chasm of garage band obscurity. An act like Kongress back in the seventies coulda run rings around just about any other live practitioner of more "commercial" sounds and the fact they didn't get their stuff out only shows us that we're the poorer for it. In the eighties there were some mighty groups coming from the stages of CB's (or their next door sister club CB's Canteen/313 Gallery, and even later on in '99 CB's Lounge)...bands such as Fire in the Kitchen and Disposable God Squad who could rock out or do the inward-turned high-intensity trip like few others. Even well into the oh-ohs there were a whole lotta acts playing all three stages who I felt could match might with some of my fave raves, only they never got a chance to get their acts together and record, or at least get their own myspace page to drum up even a shard of support for their meaningful endeavors. I used to watch a lot of cybercasts featuring small-change fly-by-night bands who seemed to come and go and true, a whole load of them were rather pale copies of the big guns and had very little meaning or relevance regarding my personal sense o' values, but once in awhile there'd be some killer act playing their white-hot nova music only to disappear for all time leaving my personal psyche to wallow in the dust so to speak. Just scour this blog for reviews and mentions of a number of acts of varying stripes that I've caught on the virtual reality stage of CBGB whom you'll never read about anywhere else on this planet, and having tuned into these various cybercasts since their inception in '99 and osmosing the vast array of flybynight talent to play CBGB only has me thinking...what forgotten wonders of the previous 26 years did I miss out on?
3) CBGB (and sister clubs) booked a lotta acts that fit in well with my favorite styles and sways of all sorts of music. True I'd occasionally tune into the main club and come across a lotta derivative alternative and metallic musings that didn't quite fit in with my sense of pride, and more than once I'd be honed in on the action going down at the gallery only to come across some femme singer/songwriter telling us about her unbridled love for the music of Joni Mitchell (even though I gotta say I found nothing offensive about the gal's performance or even her Joni reference which makes me wonder why I brought it up in the first place!), but even with the attention paid to musics that don't quite light my pitted butt CBGB still seemed to have a natural sense for showcasing a lotta styles that I've been rah-rah-ing for quite some time now which only goes to show you that great minds think on the same wavelength. Not only the garage rock that the club made its name with (mainly because at the time there was nothing else for New York rock critics to claim they had discovered), but avant garde jazz, no wave, high-energy heavy metal and other whacked-out sonic excursions that could easily mingle side-by-side with the usual underground rock trends being hyped incessantly at the time. You could say that CBGB was a punk rock club, but then again you would have to extend the meaning of the word to include such acts as Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Sonny Sharrock, Bobby "Boris" Pickett, Luther Thomas, Byard Lancaster, Loudon Wainright III and a buncha outside-the-rim aggregates and personalities I'll find out about one of these days. And if you wanna call alla 'em punks, well it sure comes off a lot better'n calling Eddie Vedder (yet another CBGB alumni) one!
4) CBGB was a major promoter and champion of what's called the Velvet Underground-sound! I dunno about you, but for a good spell of the late-seventies I was more or less intrigued by the whole Velvets reason-for-being, although I really wasn't fretting about the fact that this group didn't exist no mo' like a lotta aficionados of the form were...y'see, I figured that with the likes of Television, Patti Smith etc. creating the same sense of power and energy as the Velvets (while looking as innocently dangerous as they did), who really needed a Velvets reunion anyway! Sure, it woulda been nice if the VU got back together in '77 and did their album and tour then split sorta like the original Byrds did a few years earlier, but it only would have been a nice "aside" especially with all of these "new" Velvet Undergrounds springing forth from the stage of CBGB as well as its friendly competitor Max's Kansas City. No nostalgia trips were needed especially when the energy was being revealed before my very ears!
So hey, let's all bid a fond bye-bye to CBGB and maybe even all of those great acts that made the place home (though with the vast array of original music clubs there are in En Why See, I don't think any of the groups who were playing there will have problems obtaining gigs), not to mention all the mythmaking (like Handsome Dick Manitoba getting clunked on the head by Wayne County) and of course all the nastiness. (Their employees weren't exactly graduates of the Emily Post School of Etiquette...in fact Paul McGarry told me about the time he went to CBGB during the daytime and some jamoke working there started yelling at him to get lost because the place was closed and he yelled back even louder saying he came all the way from Canada to see CBGB and by golly he was gonna see it or else! And y'know what? The worker actually relented and gave Paul the cook's tour!) It was nice while it lasted all these thirty-three years, and who knows but maybe the next generation of underground scuzz will be springing up soon somewhere else to catch all of us by surprise but don't get too rambunctious about it because, hey, this is the twenty-first century and do you think rock & roll will be allowed to live much longer??? So say goodbye, cry a little if you wish, and hope that someday soon someone has the initiative to go and reopen the 82 Club so we can all act seventies decadent once again!