A small, dim, dirty old hole of a club in New York City hardly seems worthy of celebrity attention. A club that permanently reeks of cigarette smoke and has walls covered with stickers and graffiti does not seem fit to be the source of strife and controversy. That is, unless that dingy, stinky hole is the famous CBGB.
CBGB has been called many things throughout its 30-plus years of business. The one that sticks and is the most accurate is “the home of underground rock.” Bands such as The Ramones, Blondie and Television owe much of their success to the tiny venue. It served as the launching pad for some of the influential rockers in the history of the genre. After its years of rocking, the SoHo club still allows little-known bands to play cheap shows to a maximum crowd of 300 people.
The bold red letters of the tiny awning at on the front of the venue read, “CBGB OMFUG.” When the owner, Hilly Kristal, opened the club in 1974, the CBGB stood for “Country Bluegrass and Blues” and OMFUG “Other music for uplifting gormandizers.” According to Kristal, a gormandizer is someone who ravenously consumes things, and in this case, music. The CBGB letters have come to mean almost the opposite of Kristal’s intention. They stand for all that is punk rock before its commercialization and before it was tainted by becoming an acceptable part of the mainstream.
People travel from around the world to visit the unofficial birthplace of punk. When the club opened, the surrounding area of New York was run-down. It was a safe-haven for those who chose to wear and live the gutter-punk lifestyle. It gave people a place to listen to the music they loved and wear what they wanted without fearing persecution. Now, the area has developed into a trendy, posh society that does not appreciate the significance of the club.
Recently, this punk relic has stumbled into some legal troubles. The Bowery Residents Committee, which owns the building in which Hilly leases CBGB’s space, claimed he owed $100,000 in back rent due to a bookkeeping mistake. However, in early August the court sided with Kristal, and the BRC could not evict him for the error.
Yet, new troubles have arisen for the club. The BRC does not want to renew the club’s expired lease. The lease officially expired on Wednesday at midnight and now the club is literally on the brink of extinction. Many in the music community have rallied by Kristal’s side in an effort to save the haven. A Web site containing petitions, news articles and pleas to Mayor Bloomberg is found at www.savecbgb.com . Concerts to save the club have been held to garner support. On Wednesday, a rally for CBGB was held featuring the music of the Public Enemy and Blondie. Despite the efforts, the outlook is still grim.
Kristal and supporters are preparing for an uphill battle. Kristal stated that if evicted, he would re-open the club in a new location. New York, Las Vegas and even Japan are considerations. But a new location? A location without stained floors and dingy walls? The Ramones didn’t start their career in Las Vegas. A new location would be devoid of all the charm and history of the current spot. It would be like punk music today. A polished, shiny version of its former self. As punk music evolves into radio pop, CGBG is all the more important.