I used to hang out at CBGB. I met many, many good friends there and some nice girls, too. I played there several times with my band Konelrad. Once some girls threw some drinks at our handsome guitar player and, unfortunately, those drinks belonged to some Hells Angels, who began wiping up the place with the girls and their entourage. It was a great moment for me. I did my best Mick Jagger imitation, shouting into the microphone, "Brothers and sisters, brothers and sisters, why are we fightin'?"
I saw amazing shows there: Blondie, the Ramones, Suicide, Television, Talking Heads, the Patti Smith Group, the Dead Boys, the Dictators, Jayne County, Tuff Darts, Robert Gordon, the Heartbreakers, Mink DeVille, the Fleshtones, the Marbles, the Mumps, the Kojaks, the Damned, the Jam, Erasers, the Sic Fucks, Steel Tips, Richard Hell and the Voidoids, Walter Steding, and Zev, just to name a few. I even saw AC/DC there.
It was a great place because it was big and loose. And it happened completely by accident. The owner, Hilly Kristal, got fantastically lucky. He opened the place as a venue for country and bluegrass; then, one day soon afterward, the guys from Television were walking down the Bowery, went in, saw the P.A. system, and asked if they could play there. The rest is history. I saw Television there, maybe at their first engagement. The place was a hellhole, but the bands were great.
Hilly was nice. I don't think he knew what was going on, but he knew a good thing when he saw it. Photographer Roberta Bayley was the maître d' during the good old days, and she saw everything. Right across from the front desk where you paid was a check room. Nobody checked their stuff. That's where Hilly "walked" his dogs. It was not a place to order a hamburger, but it boasted one of the largest bars in New York City, along with décor that was totally anomalous and weird, but which was eventually subsumed by graffiti and volcanic ash from nearby Pompeii.
I think it's great that CB's hung on for all that time. It gave a lot of bands a place to grow up. But CB's should have known when to O.D. I hated all the whining and posturing of the last few years. This is New York, not a socialist country. Pay the rent or move somewhere else. Hilly didn't pay his rent for years, then acted like he was being treated unfairly for political reasons. And, of course, the club became a poster child against the development of the Bowery. As someone who lives a block away from the Bowery I'm all for the new hotels and the New Museum and the new Whole Foods on Houston Street. I may someday miss the unbelievable architectural eclecticism of the Bowery, but having a good memory of being chased by guys with knives there may make me view the gentrification of this ancient neighborhood with some optimism.
CB's had a great run. Its closing is not Bloomberg's fault, or Giuliani's. It's the way things are in New York. I am more concerned about losing all of our parking lots and gas stations to condos for the rich.
Hilly has been talking about moving the club to Las Vegas. It sounds good to me. I would love to be able to go to Vegas and see Patti Smith. In fact I think that's where she belongs. I miss young artists living in New York, but Manhattan's for rich people now. I always laugh when I hear Giuliani take credit for the drop in crime. Hey, all the criminals had to move out. Except the white collar guys.