The Faithful Departed: CBGB (1973-2006)
Rest in Pieces : Rock n Roll's Church of Lost Souls
CBGBs closed for good this year. Despite financial help from its famous friends, the legendary New York nightclub finally lost a long legal battle with its landlord, the Bowery Residents Committee (a non-profit homeless advocacy group).
CBGB spawned the likes of the Ramones, Television, the Talking Heads, Blondie and many others in the 70s, the stage a veritable pulpit for famous and infamous, including Joey Ramone, often called a “prophet from Queens.” Much of my teenage life was spent at the all-ages hardcore matinees of the 80s. My friends and I drove the four hours up from DC many Sundays, where we gathered in the graffiti-and-sticker-covered space to sing at the feet of our saviors—bands whose names reflected our collective social identity: the Misfits, the Weirdos, Agnostic Front, Unholy Alliance, Sick of It All, Wasted Youth, Murphy’s Law, Cro-Mags, Bad Brains, The Damned, Social Distortion, the Unsane… Together there we ‘youth-crewed’ or yelled ‘oi!’ like yogis chanting ‘ohm’ for some universal something to be felt.
Millions like us crossed that threshold into a place where we could share our art, a grimy sanctuary from the rest of society. “For over a century the Bowery has been a street of lost souls,” Hilly Kristal, the club’s founder, states on its website. Is it any surprise that the building housing the birthplace of punk rock also held the BRC’s homeless shelter upstairs? (Jars of urine hurled by its residents exploded on the sidewalk around me during one afternoon show.) The non-profit organization above and the bar below both served society’s outcasts, giving us a place to sing, dance, love, fight—commune.
Perhaps we should not mourn the loss of refuge, but revel in its longevity. Poet/songstress Patti Smith performed the final show there on Sunday October 15. “33 years!” she shouted at the end of the night. “The same age as Jesus. Goodnight, everybody.”
Holy places are consecrated by regular people. They can move the club’s toilets and the bar to Las Vegas (as Kristal has discussed doing), but I will never make that pilgrimage. This hallowed ground represents a time, a feeling, a philosophy, a memory stronger than mortar and bricks. CBs closed but punk’s not dead. It lives forever in hearts, heads, and songs.