Posted October 31, 2006

goodnight CBGBs

Hearing of CBGB’s closure this month, I found myself reminiscing over my experience at the famed birthplace of punk in the Bowery on New York’s Lower East Side. The venue was born in the 70’s to a blistering array of talent who became the archetypal punk bands of the era. From the Ramones, Blondie, Patti Smith, Television, New York Dolls on it goes, this gritty hole in the wall became synonymous with punk music, art and fashion. Anyone growing up listening to underground music was made well aware that CBGBs was a shrine to the purity of filthy punk and dirty rock and roll.

I didn’t get there until a cold and snow laden February of 1994 with a punk pop trio from Melbourne en route to London via shows in Boston and New York. And what a place it was. Smaller than I’d ever imagined it could be and warm as toast inside, it was simply The Real Deal.

While we checked out the space, the house sound engineer was tuning the PA system. He’d opened the old black wall casing to expose a crypt of very large and ancient looking valve tubes scarcely illuminated under a mound of silvery grey cobwebs and dust…it was like something out of the Addams Family.

The walls were covered thick with the posters, stickers, sweat, snot and ash of 10,000 bands, and I was keen as mustard to add our little poster to the sea of grimy paste and paper. The only problem was nobody had any sticky tape. It was mid-week and a couple of hours before show time I wandered off across the streets of the Bowery.

I entered a small and cluttered Hispanic milk bar and asked the guy behind the pigeonhole counter for sticky tape. He threw his arms in the air and barked repeatedly at me in Spanish. Finally a beautiful young woman sitting on his side of the counter - legs crossed, doing her nails and chewing gum - translated my request. It soon became obvious that they were both unaware of what the hell “sticky tape” was.

I attempted once more to explain but was cut off by a very tall older Texan gent, leaning down on the counter in a cream coloured cowboy suit with matching Stetson. His open suit exposed a large pearl handled silver plated revolver nestled in a tan leather holster “They ain’t got what you want, little buddy” he lamented with a Texan drawl. Within minutes I was back in the safety of CBGBs relaxing with a Rolling Rock and peeling away bits of blu tac and tape from other bands posters to get the job done!

The crowd of 70 to 100 punters that night enjoyed styles from old school punk to hard industrial rock and freaky folk punk. It was one of the few gigs I have ever played where all the bands on the bill supported each other with real verve during each of the performances; everyone enjoyed their half hour in the sun.

A few more beers and visits to the most decrepit toilet I’ve seen anywhere on the planet and we were off to indulge in the multiple invitations we’d received during the evening. First stop was a pizza joint 2 doors down with the boys from Conflict Burning who were insulted for hailing from New Jersey by a number of Russ Meyer Faster Pussycat look-alike waitresses. In response the band members indulged in a magnificent tirade of New Jersey v New York abuse. “Frankie Sin-at-ra and da Stray Cats are from Joisey, you freakin’ bimbo freaks!!…” We moved from club to club that night, and were introduced as a band that had just played CBGBs; it carried a lot of cred with New Yorkers. It always will with me. - Robert Lastdrager