NEW YORK — An estimated 800 supporters gathered in Washington Square Park on Wednesday afternoon in a last-ditch effort to save New York's CBGB, the rundown club that helped birth American punk rock. But it was all for naught.
During the event — which featured performances by Public Enemy, Blondie and Gavin Rossdale's new band, Institute — the club's landlord issued a statement to the press, effectively driving a proverbial stake through the venue's 31-year-old heart.
"Today, CBGB's lease expires and is not being renewed," wrote Bowery Residents' Committee Executive Director Muzzy Rosenblatt (see "Good Charlotte, Audioslave, Blink-182 Weigh In On CBGB's Plight As Deadline Looms"). "[The] BRC has already been forced to divert precious funds and resources toward a lengthy rent dispute with the club and believes it is in the best interest of our clients — the homeless and neediest New Yorkers — to sever this relationship. We hope that CBGB will vacate the premises both voluntarily and expeditiously and avoid costly eviction proceedings that will further hinder our 35-year mission to help the homeless."
In the meantime, "CBGB Forever," a rally orchestrated by E Street Band member and "The Sopranos" thespian Steven Van Zandt (see "Benefit Events Planned For CBGB"), carried on.
Gavin Rossdale's band Institute, drenched from head to toe in sweat, rocked the tattooed, "Save CBGB" T-shirt-donning masses (which was surprisingly short on mohawks, actually). Bad Brains' H.R. and his band Dub Trio infused the activist spirit of reggae into the proceedings. New Jersey punks the Bouncing Souls rallied the troops with one of the afternoon's tightest and longest sets, warming things up for Debbie Harry and Blondie, who captivated the diverse crowd with playful renditions of "Hanging on the Telephone" and "One Way or Another."
House of Pain's Everlast introduced Chuck D et al. by saying, "New York City can't let this place go away" because "it would be a crime." He also took the low road, screaming words everyone who preceded him onstage perhaps wanted to say but couldn't: "F--- the guy standing in the way." Chuck D, Flavor Flav, Professor Griff and the rest of Public Enemy capped things off by challenging everyone in attendance to "Fight the Power."
Before the concert started, Van Zandt, unaware that the death knell had tolled for CBGB, took several shots at Rosenblatt, claiming "no one in New York City wants CBGB to leave, except Muzzy.
"He refuses to talk about a new lease," he continued, calling the club a "historic" and "sacred" site worthy of long-term preservation. He was flanked by two "Sopranos" co-stars: Tony Sirico, who plays Paulie "Walnuts" Gualtieri, and Joe Pantoliano, known to fans of the mob drama as Ralph Cifaretto. "This isn't about money. It's about one guy's ego trip. We'll keep fighting this. Bands will play CBGB tonight. Bands will play CBGB tomorrow night, and they'll keep playing until Muzzy comes to his senses."
Van Zandt even spoke of the petition he'd presented earlier this week to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg with the names and signatures of more than 30,000 of his constituents, including 43 city council members. On Tuesday, during a press conference, Bloomberg threw his support behind the club, calling it "a great New York City institution" (see "CBGB's Fate Uncertain As Final Hours Of Lease Tick Away"). He explained that his office had tried to intervene in what became a lease-renewal stalemate, and even offered to help CBGB owner Hilly Kristal find a new locale within Manhattan's borders should the BRC move to evict.
Rosenblatt's statement added that "BRC appreciates the efforts of Bloomberg's office during the last few weeks to mediate this matter," but that "we have concluded that the best course of action is to move on. To that end, we fully support the mayor's efforts to find the club a new home, and we will continue to support and work with Bloomberg and all concerned New Yorkers to end the tragedy of homelessness in New York City."
For Kristal, the fight's over. His iconic landmark club will be boarded up — just when is the question. Although the "Save CBGB" camp could not be reached for comment, if BRC moves to evict, it's likely the matter will find its way to a courtroom. So theoretically, it could be months before the iconic Bowery landmark is boarded up, and Kristal's club's relegated to the annals of rock-and-roll history.
During the rally, Van Zandt vowed that "if eviction proceedings happen tomorrow, we will go to the courts and we'll fight it. It's not over till it's over. We'll be there until someone drags us out. We don't care what Muzzy says."
Before launching into "When Animals Attack," from their forthcoming disc Distort Yourself, Institute frontman Rossdale said his former band Bush's first U.S. gig was at CBGB. "It's such a legacy, it's insane," he commented. "Let's hope they figure it out. It's a cultural landmark. Even outside of America, CBGB is synonymous with New York, with music." The crowd exploded when Institute unleashed a cover — if you could call it that — of Bush's "Machinehead."
After his band played "Hopeless Romantic" and "The Ballad of Johnny X," Bouncing Souls frontman Greg Attonitoi recalled how one of the group's first gigs came on audition night at CBGB: "We played for two people." At one point during their set, the Souls invited a bored-to-tears H.R. out to the stage for a rendition of Bad Brains' "Pay to C--," and then incited the crowd with "East Coast F--- You."
It was clear, though, that at least one person on hand was aware of Rosenblatt's decision: Alan Gerson, a Democrat on the city council whose lower Manhattan district includes CBGB. Before Public Enemy took the stage, Gerson likened CBGB to Radio City Music Hall, saying they're both city landmarks that contribute to the culture and "vibe" of the metropolis. He added that the BRC was not doing "good by destroying good" and urged Rosenblatt to be a "responsible recipient of public funds," as the city of New York contributes more than $30 million a year to the organization's annual budget.
He also said if the BRC moved to evict that it might be time to "rethink the support we've given [the organization] in the past." He ended his remarks by putting a twist on an infamous chant from one of the many legends CBGB helped foster, the Ramones: "Hey, ho, we're not gonna go."
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