The End of An Era: CBGB Closes Its Doors

Ramones 1975 CBGB Bob Gruen
The Ramones Standing Outside CBGB in 1975, Photo By Bob Gruen. Worth a Thousand Words, at Least

This past Sunday night, a few of my more rock-savvy friends went downtown to the place where Bleecker Street meets The Bowery for the final concert performance at CBGB before that legendary club closed for good. While I’m not generally a huge supporter of people who don’t pay their rent (and think they can get away with it), it’s a shame that club owner Hilly Kristal made the tragic mistake of thinking he’d be bullet proof to eviction in a town where real estate is more precious than gold or diamonds. But that’s hardly the point anymore.

Over the nearly eighteen years I’ve lived in Manhattan, I couldn’t recall with a gun to my head how many nights I spent “making the scene” at CBGB. Beyond attending countless local or up-and-coming band gigs, a dozen worthy-cause benefits and my fair share of overcrowded CMJ showcase schmoozefests, being a member of the press also got me into some pretty exclusive shows. One of my favorite memories has to be seeing Cheap Trick perform the brilliant “Ballad of TV Violence” (coincidentally, on the very same day as the Columbine shooting) on CB’s dilapidated stage for the release of their live CD Music for Hangovers. Two other great shows that stand out are a press event for the Brooklyn-based Goth Metal band, Type O Negative (who I affectionately refer to as “The Beatles of Heavy Metal”) and my first Black Halos show, which must have been about seven years ago now, at least. I fucking love those guys.

But if I had to isolate just one golden moment, my favorite memory of time spent at CBGB wouldn’t even be a show I saw there, but an interview I conducted in the empty club late one weekday afternoon, with the Canadian pop-punk band, Sum 41. This was in the fall of 2002, when that dubiously talented band was riding high on the charts and their goofy faces were plastered across the covers of every rock glossy on the planet. It didn’t hurt that I was on a cover story assignment for the now-defunct Request – my first cover for a national rock rag! Since the band was participating in the article’s photo shoot on site – because, let’s be real here, nothing says “We are punk rock” quite like a group photo taken in CB’s infamously skeevy toilets – I was sent to interview the band ‘in their element,’ so to speak.

I’d never confess to be a fan of SUM 41’s music, but that day, something about the undeniable vibe of CBGB allowed those kids (I think their names are Derek, “Cone,” Dave and Steve) to really channel a kind of “roots punkiness” that made them sound like they knew what the hell they were talking about. It didn’t matter that their music was retarded; they gave me a really interesting, funny interview from which I wrote a great article. I’m sure that those guys don’t even remember talking to me, but I’ll never forget that afternoon.

These days, when I walk down St. Mark’s Place just east of Third Avenue, I can no longer pick out the store front that once marked the entrance to Coney Island High and it still blows my mind that what used to be the Fillmore East on Second Avenue near 5th Street is now an Emigrant Bank. Soon, CBGB’s former address will be home to a Laundromat or a bodega with a prohibitively expensive, high-rise apartment building sprouting from it. And as the replicant, Roy said at the end of the film Bladerunner, “All of these moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.” That’s life in the big city.