Not even Hilly Kristal knows what September 1 holds for CBGB, the fetid cradle of punk rock on New York’s Lower East Side he opened back in late 1973. With lease renewal negotiations between Kristal and his landlord, the Bowery Residents’ Committee, all but calcified, and the club’s current lease set to expire in a matter of hours, the outlook is rather dour for the future of this musical landmark.
Despite the recent court ruling that settled a lingering dispute over $90,000 in outstanding back rent, a heated legal tangle that stalled ongoing lease discussions ad infinitum (see “CBGB Doesn’t Have To Pay $90,000 In Back Rent, Judge Rules” ), CBGB could close up shop for good come the beginning of the month. According to Bowery Residents’ Committee Executive Director Muzzy Rosenblatt, he expects his tenant to abide by the terms and conditions of the lease, and to vacate the premises if there’s no resolution.
Rosenblatt, who listed the CBGB property months ago to lure potential replacement occupants, said he’s fielded three serious offers from parties who’re interested in leasing the space. CBGB has shows booked through the fall, nonetheless.
Of course, if Kristal’s club — the site of a monthlong series of high-profile concerts designed as a last-ditch effort to rescue CBGB (see “Benefit Events Planned For CBGB”
— closes, it will mark the end of an era. For many musicians, the thought of CBGB being boarded up is unthinkable — depressing, even.
“It’s a venue where you can really feel the history,” Audioslave’s Tom Morello said. “You know, it was one of my first pilgrimages. I went on a rock tour just to go there and check it out.”
“CBGB needs to be respected and it needs to be preserved,” said 311’s P-Nut. “Keeping a venue like that alive has everything to do with keeping culture alive. That’s who we are. That’s a part of us. And if it goes away, it would be way too big of a loss. It could never be re-created because it’s such a unique establishment.”
Others think that the club should be designated an official landmark, because in their eyes, CBGB already is.
“It’s the birthplace of American punk rock: our Mecca,” said the Adolescents’ Steve Soto.
“It’s such a reference point in music for people in bands,” Beck said. “It’s more of a concept, even.”
“CBGB is an icon. It’s an institution,” Blink-182’s Mark Hoppus said. “When I saw on the news that there was a possibility that it would be closing down, it was on par with, like, ’They’re closing down Mount Rushmore’ or something like that. It can’t happen.”
“CBGB represents a lot to New York City and to underground rock and to new wave and post-punk and whatever,” Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl said. “But, you know, it’s like tearing down the Jefferson Memorial or something.”
“It’s a cultural landmark of New York history,” said Dennis Lyxzen of the (International) Noise Conspiracy. “Forty of my favorite bands started at CBGB, like the Dead Boys and the Ramones and Patti Smith and Blondie. It’s kind of sad to see it go. For everyone who grew up on punk music or hardcore music, I think it is a big thing because it’s such an important place. I mean, without those bands, I wouldn’t be here today playing music.”
“After playing there, being there … there’s energy in that place that you just can’t … I’ve been to a million shows there, I’ve seen a million bands that I can’t remember the names of, but, like, there’s an energy there, I think that place is important,” said Good Charlotte’s Joel Madden.
Kristal’s been toying with the idea of moving CBGB, perhaps even to Las Vegas. Sin City politicos have been wooing him for months, making generous offers to assist him in reviving CBGB — at least in name — in their fair city.
“It’s kind of scary to think of franchising something that is one of a kind,” Madden said. “There will never be another Ramones or another Clash. There’s those things you can’t replace. Maybe more people would learn about the history of what that place was. But as far as taking away that originality and the specialness of that, I think it’s kinda scary.”
Former Soul Coughing frontman Mike Doughty actually likes the idea. “I’ve heard this rumor that Hilly’s going to transport CBGB as it is, like peel off the walls and remove it and take it to Las Vegas. I just think it would be so bad-ass if, like, the actual CBGB was in, like, the lobby of the Bellagio. I’d go for sure.”
Without CBGB, many musicians feel other scenes and venues would pop up to fill the void.
“Rock will always have CBGB, whether it’s open or closed,” Chris Cornell of Audioslave reasoned. “It will just naturally be replaced by something else.”
“I think if there’s a vacancy like that, hopefully it will make bands get more creative, and turn up, as they did in the old days, in empty warehouses and just impromptu showcases that are word-of-mouth and flyer-oriented,” Dave Navarro said. “Hopefully it can be a good thing. But I’ll miss that place.”
Some of today’s musicians don’t know if CBGB is worth preserving, and think that the club should just die slowly and quietly, with little struggle. They think the club has served its purpose, but also that it has turned into something of an embarrassing cliché, which is starting to chip away at its reputation and legacy.
“CBGB is one of those things where, every time I’ve seen a schedule, it’s pretty crappy now,” said All-American Rejects guitarist Mike Kennerty. “I mean, it’s bad. It’s still historic, but CBGB is like the later Ramones albums: You still love them, but they’re not that good. It’s like Acid Eaters.”
Rejects frontman Tyson Ritter agrees. “It’s more of a look now,” he said. “If it was the ’70s, then we’d probably be bummed. If it was leaving at its prime, fine. But once the prime’s over, you’ve got to move on. I’m sure the bosom of punk rock will rest somewhere else.”
“I think it’s become a tourist attraction, which kind of takes away the nostalgia of it,” said the Von Bondies’ Jason Stollsteimer. “I don’t like that it’s become a tourist attraction and CBGB T-shirts are sold at Urban Outfitters and stuff.”
Ultimately, should CBGB fade, its legacy will still live on for many rockers, who’ll at least have their memories of the club, be they good or bad.
“CBGB was a wild place,” Grohl said. “The first time I ever played there was in 1987, I think, with my hardcore band, Scream. And I remember the craziest [thing] about that club was you could be in front of the stage and it could be louder than any show you’ve ever been to in your life. But if you were towards the back of the club at the bar, you could sit and have a conversation with someone. It was the weirdest thing to me.”
“I remember playing CBGB and thinking that no one had cleaned the toilets in there for at least six or seven years,” the Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne said. “Now maybe the women’s bathroom is different but in the men’s bathroom, you literally wouldn’t want to stand there, let alone sit there. I mean, it’s horrible.”
“The beautiful thing about CBGB is that I don’t have a single memory from that place,” said Navarro, laughing. “But I think it was amazing.”