The countdown for New York's CBGB began on Monday night: In less than one month, the fate of Hilly Kristal's graffiti-and-sticker-swathed club, considered by most to be the cradle of punk rock, will be clear. While an effort to preserve the club is in full swing, extinction is a very real possibility — but not if Steven Van Zandt's got anything to do about it.
The long-serving Bruce Springsteen guitarist and "Sopranos" thespian (he plays even-tempered Mafioso Silvio Dante) was joined by former Ramones drummer Tommy Erdelyi, Patti Smith guitarist Lenny Kaye, Handsome Dick Manitoba and others to announce the preservation efforts planned for the coming weeks. The event also featured performances from Blondie singer Debbie Harry, Jesse Malin, the Star Spangles, the Swingin' Neckbreakers, Ted Leo & the Pharmacists, the Brian Jonestown Massacre, the Charms and the Waldos.
If lease negotiations with Kristal's landlord do not resume, the month's festivities — which include gigs by Chevelle (August 4), the Misfits (August 12), the Gorilla Biscuits (August 14), the Offspring (August 15) and the Vandals (August 20) — might end up being little more than CB's final hurrah. The club's lease expires at the end of August.
The last of these efforts will be a free concert event set for August 31 in New York's Washington Square Park. Although several national artists are being bandied about as performing at the event, Van Zandt wasn't naming names.
"It's more of a rally with music, really — people speaking and some local people playing," he said. "We have to keep it local for the moment, and anybody who wants to come in from other places and support us, of course, are welcome."
Bands like Green Day, Good Charlotte and the Offspring "totally attribute their success to bands coming out of CBGB" such as the Ramones, Talking Heads and Blondie, Van Zant said.
"This was like going to school for us," Harry said. "It's part of our heritage. It would be horrible to see it close."
"CBGB is a symbol of rock and roll's possibilities," Kaye said. "It inspires by its very example. Anytime you turn on the television and see a random band from anywhere in the world, one of the guys has a CBGB T-shirt. It represents the sense that you can pick up a guitar and become who you'd like to be."
It's unlikely the club will be boarded up on September 1 even if lease-renewal negotiations with the club's landlord, the Bowery Residents' Committee, are not settled. In fact, Kristal has booked several shows at the club for September, and said it would take months before the eviction process yields the club's demise.
Kristal learned earlier this year that the BRC wanted to hike his monthly rent to $40,000 — double what it's been for the last few years. The BRC also claims the club's owner owes $91,000 in back rent, which it wants paid in full before it can revisit lease negotiations with Kristal (see "CBGB, Punk-Rock Mecca Of The World, On The Verge Of Extinction").