Villager photo by Ara Chekmayan
Patti Smith and her band take a bow after playing a short set at CBGB for the media on Sunday night before a two and a half hour concert for the club’s swan song.
They wanna be sedated as CBGB, punk icon, closes
By Lincoln Anderson
While hundreds of fans were still rocking in punk ecstasy to Patti Smith at her closed-to-the-media farewell show inside CBGB early Monday morning, there was no mistaking the feeling among those who couldn’t get inside. Maybe for them, at a remove from the Smith band’s driving three-chord rhythms and feedback, reality had set in earlier.
Rubbing it in, in CB’s Gallery next door, Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” was playing on the stereo system.
“Right now I’m grieving,” said Seaton Hancock, aka “Raven,” the saxophonist for the Stimulators. “CBGB is closing and listen to what they’re playing. Not appropriate, dude. It’s almost sinful.”
The Sunday before, Hancock had played sax for Murphy’s Law at their farewell CBGB set. On Wednesday, he’d watched the Stimulators open, followed by the Bad Brains the show hardcore music fans dubbed CBGB’s real closing night.
Hancock, 51, has the feisty intensity of a Don Rickles, whom he resembles a bit, if Rickles were black and wore a black sweater with a skull and crossbones on it and a large silver cross earring. He’s been into hardcore since its beginnings.
“When I saw my first hardcore show at Max’s Kansas City, I said, this looks dangerous, this looks like fun!” he recalled. “I started coming to this place the first band I saw was the Talking Heads when they were a trio. They had just released ‘Psycho Killer.’ I said, ‘I don’t know what they’re doing, but I hope they keep it up.’”
Although the last night was bittersweet, it was also a time for reunions.
Alison Harvey, who did lights at the club for a five-year stint, saw Hancock and threw an arm around him and they hugged.
“It’s been like this all night,” Hancock said with a smile.
“It was amazing,” Harvey reminisced of her CBGB days. “It was wonderful to be a part of history, to be a part of a place that was part of a music scene.”
Other employees from years past returned to help hawk CBGB T-shirts and other wear, which was selling briskly, but which will still be available at CBGB.com.
Kevin Freeman, 30, who plays in a punk band called the Karloffs, flew up from North Carolina for the Bowery legend’s last gasp. He said it’s not just CBGB that’s closing, but rock clubs like it all over.
“It seems to be happening everywhere,” he said, swigging a Budweiser in CB’s Gallery. “It’s a gentrification of America, it’s all whitewashed.”
By now, Patti Smith’s show had ended and the crowd was spilling out onto the Bowery, tumbling into yellow cabs.
“It was intense,” said Russ Turk, 38, a huge man with a shaved head wearing a black Kiki and Herb T-shirt, displaying some photos of the concert he had on his digital camera. “It’s an iconic place. I’ve seen bands here. I’ve played here,” he said. “Manhattan’s turning into Disneyland. You’ll never see another Blondie or Patti Smith or Dictators, because this was before everything turned into videos and what you’re wearing. I mean Jessica Simpson is a pop star.”
Jaime Lees, 25, flew in from St. Louis to see the closing show. She enjoyed Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who joined in for about a quarter of the set, which lasted two and a half hours. Flea had visibly reined in his usual Chili Peppers exuberance for the historic occasion, she said.
“She rocked,” Lees said of Smith. “She cried at the end. Her eyes welled up she didn’t cry but her eyes were very wet.”
David Peel, an early punk rocker whose album “The Pope Smokes Dope” was produced by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, standing outside CBGB, remembered how he had performed in “all three places” the club, the gallery and downstairs at the gallery. And now on the closing night, he said, he’d also performed on the sidewalk out in front singing “Goodbye CBGB.”
As Peel was waxing poetic about something about a candle and its light going up into the sky in commemoration “I will come back here and place a candle here….” the metal gates came slamming down on either side of the club’s door. Two raw-boned bouncers shouted, “Let’s go people! Clear the block!”
Web designer Forest Mars couldn’t help but see the abrupt ending in the context of the Bowery’s booming development.
“I could see this coming,” he said. “Maybe one of these wrecking balls will come and clear us out.”
But Andy Lukac Jr., a music writer, wearing a jacket from the Stone Pony in New Jersey, put things in context.
“Part of rock and roll is the unceremonious decadence of it,” he observed. “The whole concept was in your face. There’s nothing about ceremony here.”
Over the weekend, security guards were stationed around the club’s interior to keep people from stealing parts of it. Later on Monday, a CBGB employee said that as much of the club’s interior as possible even the bathrooms, including the one with the layers of all the performers’ signatures will be removed. Hilly Kristal, 75, the 33-year-old club’s owner, had gotten a chemo treatment on Monday for lung cancer and didn’t come in, she said. Where all the remnants of the club may wind up Las Vegas or a new CBGB in New York City she couldn’t say. As an ad for CBGB in another local weekly said, “Hope to see you soon.”