The long deathwatch for punk rock birthplace CBGB finally appears to be over. Despite an all-star rally held yesterday, featuring Blondie, Public Enemy, Institute (Bush frontman Gavin Rossdale’s new band), and organizer Steven Van Zandt (and some of his Sopranos castmates), the historic New York City nightclub’s landlord declined to renew its lease, effectively evicting the club as of midnight last night. That hasn’t stopped CBGB owner Hilly Kristal from continuing to book bands to play there through the month of September, though it seems he has no more cards up his sleeve.
I have mixed feelings about CBGB closing. Yes, the place had a storied history as the launch pad for the Ramones (pictured), Patti Smith, Blondie, Talking Heads, Television, et al, but for the last, oh, 25 years, the place has seemed less like a place for cutting-edge music and more of a shrine or a theme restauarant with a lucrative merchandising arm (it grossed $2 million in T-shirt sales last year): The Punk Rock Cafe. I wonder if anyone noted the irony at yesterday’s rally of Public Enemy performing ”Fight the Power” when the ”power” in this case, the landlord, is a homeless services agency to which the club owed tens of thousands of dollars in back rent. Even such CBGB stalwarts as Smith and Television’s Richard Lloyd have said they wouldn’t weep much over the club’s closing. ”Kids are resilient,” Smith told EW’s Whitney Pastorek in March, when the ”Save CBGB” drive was getting underway. ”If they close CBGB’s, they’ll find another hole-in-the-wall and give it glory.”
Still, the place is living history, with memories still echoing off the walls. The New York Post has collected scenester reminiscenses of CBGB here and here. My favorites are the recollections by Tony Bennett (yes, Tony Bennett), who came to see his son’s band and ended up meeting Bruce Springsteen, and by Melissa Auf Der Mar, who, as a starstruck young fan, met her future bandmates Billy Corgan and Courtney Love there during a Smashing Pumpkins/Hole double bill in 1990. ”My whole musical history is bedazzled by nights like that. Rock ‘n’ roll is magic, and the temples of that magic are the venues. CBGB is the No. 1 temple,” she says. ”You don’t tear down a church; you shouldn’t tear down this.”