“In September 2006, I spent 10 days shooting the interior of legendary NYC rock club CBGB. Six weeks later the club closed its doors forever, and the fabled walls and stage were dismantled. A year after that, as former owner Hilly Kristal succumbed to cancer, a high-end clothing store negotiated to take over the space.
The club had been a favorite venue for countless rock and punk acts, but for those few days my experience of the club was the exact opposite of most people’s. I came to look forward to my visits as a time of peaceful solitude. I arrived each morning at 11:00 with my tripod and camera, greeted Hilly at his desk, and then passed into a silent and empty club. During the following three to five hours of shooting, I rarely saw another human. The club was so dark, even during the day, that I had to carry a flashlight. After framing each shot, I took five to seven bracketed exposures, with each exposure lasting as long as 30 seconds, and I ended up with more than 1800 individual frames.
And that’s how I came to spend hour after hour sitting stock still in CBGB, alone in the dark among the empty beer bottles and broken guitar strings and abandoned drum sticks, waiting in the silence for the shutter to close.”
Limited edition prints of the CBGB Stage (Above, click This Link) and the venue’s Cash Register (Below click This Link) are available while supplies last via Jen Bekman’s 20X200. All prints are available framed or unframed, Artist-signed + numbered with a certificate of authenticity included. These prints are very reasonably priced and will sell out fast, so get them while you can!
Well, this is a bit of a surprise; but then again, maybe not so much. Less than a month after the death of its former owner, it’s been announced that live music and dance club Don Hill’s is officially bankrupt and will be closing, effective immediately. Current owners Nur Khan and Paul Sevigny were apparently overextended in the wallet area from running other restaurant and nightclub ventures here and in Los Angeles and couldn’t seem to get the rent check in the mail on time. You know how it is when you’re a wealthy, jet-setting hipster. Still, I’m not sure why club owners don’t seem to grok that this kind of thing happens when you don’t pay your rent. Sure, Don Hill’s was a legendary dive where everybody went do drugs and party with rock stars (I know I had many good times there), but who really gives a shit? Nostalgia goes right into the toilet when the landlord has bills to pay. The same exact thing happened when the late Hilly Kristal let the rent on CBGB lapse for a year and then had the nads to feed the public outrage over the place being shut down. It’s worth noting that the new tenant in the former CBGB’s space at Bowery and Bleecker, hot shot menswear designer John Varvatos, is also a hardcore rocker who turned his new boutique into a shrine to its former inhabitant, preserving many of the original walls and fixtures and selling vintage stereo equipment, vinyl LPS and coffee table books by Mick Rock. On the flipside, Nur Khan told Page Six that the building will be turned over to developers, noting that the property offered a “moneymaking opportunity unconcerned with preserving Don’s legacy.” Clearly, real estate owners aren’t very sentimental in New York City.
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 CMJshowcase 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.