This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco
This ain’t no fooling around
This ain’t no mud club, or C. B. G. B.
I ain’t got time for that now…
~Talking Heads – Life During Wartime (1979)
CBGB was the iconic NYC club that defined the punk era in America. The letters CBGB were an acronym for country, bluegrass, and blues, which was the brainchild of Hilly Kristal who opened the club in 1973 at 315 Bowery. CBGB soon became a famed venue of punk rock and new wave bands like the Ramones, Television, Patti Smith Group, Blondie, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, and Talking Heads. From the early 1980s onward, CBGB was known for hardcore punk.
Seeing bands play at CBGB’s would always be a blast, and just having a drink at the venerable club was always exciting. The place had tons of character, and I’m not even going to go into what peeing in the bathroom was like. As a matter of fact, when the Metropolitan Museum of Art did the show, Punk: Chaos to Couture they featured a installation piece of the bathroom! CBGB was storied, and an important landmark in NYC. However NYC is an expensive place, and Hilly got his club in trouble. In 2000, CBGB entered a protracted dispute over allegedly unpaid rent and a deal to renew CBGB’s lease, expiring in 2006, failed. The club closed upon its final concert, played by Patti Smith, on October 15, 2006. The end of an era.
“There’s new kids with new ideas all over the world,” Patti Smith declared outside the club at the last show, “They’ll make their own places — it doesn’t matter whether it’s here or wherever it is. but It’s a symptom of the empty new prosperity of our city”.
Upon learning on the eminent end to CBGB I set out to photograph it as part of my loose project entitled, “NY Out of Business”. On a cold and windy late October day I set up my Deardorff 8×10 camera and wide angle 8 ¼ dagor lens in front of CBGB’s. Cars and vans were always parked out side, so I set up as close to the curb as possible and made my exposure. Fearing the high wind would have rocked the camera and caused a blurry image due to a low shutter speed I returned the next day only to find the premiss white washed and the awning skeleton removed. The last vestige of CBGB and her punk heritage was obliterated. Luckily, I shot it just in time.
A year later, the awesome clothing designer John Varvatos leased the property and with deep respect to the orignal punk ethic, integrated as much of the enterior to his shop. Walking in the Bowery Varvatos store is almost like entering a punk museum. He saved the landmark from becoming a 7-11 or worse. Thanks John!
Here is what the store looks like now.
This is the original shot from the Deardorff. I was too close to correct the perspective, so after scanning the negative I was able to correct for perspective in photoshop.
CBGB I miss you, one more piece of NYC that has gone to history.