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22 December 2015 @ 07:34 am
Got CBGB, gonna jump back, jump back  
Newark Airport is opening a restaurant called CBGB, and a number of my friends are offended. My first reaction, I’m afraid, was an unwholesome snicker. The original CBGB opened some years after the music died, or more precisely some years after I hit the stage of musical senility where the reactionary oppressor music my elders liked was starting to sound better than the noise those kids listen to, and I had no love for CBGB and no objection to seeing it commercially mocked.

I had seen it happening in my formative years when otherwise reasonable grownups thought that Little Richard was some kind of tiny dick, and I knew there had been a similar phenomenon in the previous generation: Robertson Davies, in his younger years (yes, he had younger years), had written a piece about how swing was not some barbarous animalistic noise and the lyrics of its stupider songs were no stupider than those of the previous generation.

It happened to me anyway, but in my more lucid moments I remember that it’s about me and not about the music, so let me pass along the words of two of those who want to put a jinx on it:
If Newark Airport really wants to offer the CBGB experience they better let me piss and puke on people and allow people to shoot up in the bathroom.–Bart Calendar
It makes perfect sense. CBGB was opened in a squalid, hellish, rundown place that nobody sane would want to go to.

That's a reasonable description of Newark Airport.-Dave Weingart
bart_calendarbart_calendar on December 22nd, 2015 01:21 pm (UTC)
CBGB wasn't really about the music (despite whatever mythos is out there now.)

It was about a place in New York that was actively hostile to the bankers and other rich people who were slowly buying up and destroying the vibe of the city itself.

It was a place for artists to hang out and get drunk (and one of the few places where the beer prices were low enough so that artists of all types could afford to get drunk.)

It was where drag queens and performance artists, trans people, gay and straight people could mix together and not feel uncomfortable. It was about creating a new counter culture because the previous counter culture had collasped into cocaine and disco.

That it spawned famous bands was just a matter of luck. Roughly 12 bands played a night (mostly for free) and when you offer nearly 100 bands a week in the middle of a counter culture hellscape some, just by the of averages, were going to make it big someday.

The main thing music-wise was that nearly anyone could play (though your set had to be capped at 15 minutes long.) They didn't care if you wanted to bang bongos, or throw fake blood off the stage. Whatever. As long as you were willing to be on stage and do something for 15 minutes you could do so. That allowed for a lot of creativity and experimentation.
Kalimac: puzzlekalimac on December 22nd, 2015 02:45 pm (UTC)
I've never heard of CBGB, but I think I get the gist.

I've read a novel (mainstream, but I'm not going to identify it now) from circa 1960, whose narrator is a middle-aged jazzman who's spent his whole life establishing jazz as a legitimate art-form and not, as people often thought, a bunch of mindless noise. He's rather a long-winded bore on the subject, and towards the end of the novel he goes off on a rant against rock-and-roll as a bunch of mindless noise.

I ended the book uncertain as to whether the author intended the irony, or if he was as unaware as his character of what he'd just done. I suspect the latter.
bart_calendarbart_calendar on December 22nd, 2015 03:36 pm (UTC)
In the late 70s the Bowery section of New York was a vast wasteland mostly inhabited by junkies and squatters. (Patti Smith and Robert Maplethorpe the two most famous junkie Bowery squatters.)

Because rent was so insanely cheap a couple guys got together and rending this big warehouse, put a bunch of tables and cheap bar in it and a big ass stage.

Then they had sign up sheets for bands who were willing to play for free or near free. And they sold the cheapest booze they could possibly find and put flyers up everywhere.

After that they sort of just stood back and let whatever was going to happen happen which meant that drug use was open and common, people got seriously wasted and the place became the mecca for the down and out and artists in New York.

It was always dirty, the floor was always covered in piss and vomit and blood. It was a nasty place, but it was fun. It didn't cost a lot and felt dangerous.

It has one important historical context. When it was opened a local newspaper asked one of the owners why the hell he was allowing simply anyone to play.

He said it was because he thought there was a "new wave" of music about to be developed and he wanted to be a part of that.

And so the term "New Wave" was coined for the bands that got their start at CBGBs.
Kalimac: puzzlekalimac on December 22nd, 2015 04:24 pm (UTC)
I've heard of New Wave music, and I knew its origin date, but I did not know this story.

I myself am more of a partisan of what's been called New Waif music (Suzanne Vega, Tori Amos, etc.)