NEW YORK – It’s 10:30 p.m. March 20 in New York City, and down in the Bowery at the seedy-looking little rock club Country Bluegrass Blues & Other Music For Uplifting Gormandizers, better known around the world as CBGB, a gaggle of young bands had crossed the tiny stage. The evening was winding down, and only a few music lovers and friends were left to make the remaining musicians’ CBGB experience memorable.

Seven bands – Grey Tide, Sever, 7 Ways Out, Evan Tolerant, Step Aside, The Vaux and A Dying Declaration – took the stage this night, did their best to rock the smallish crowd, and as the place slowly began to clear out, the uninterested staff started to clean up so they could go home.

By 11:30 it was all over and for this reporter and music fan, the CBGB experience was underwhelming and a bit disappointing. But going to CBGB is like making a pilgrimage to punk’s holy land and although I’m pretty sure I didn’t see the future of rock that night, I still feel I’ve scratched a long-suffering itch simply by walking through the club’s entrance.

CBGB is the acknowledged birthplace of American punk, and during the ’70s it was the headquarters of a scene that can claim Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees the Ramones and the Talking Heads. It sent a wave of excitement through rock whose reverberations are still being felt in popular music.

Virtually every punk and punk/pop band on the charts today owes a debt to the owner, 73-year-old Hilly Kristal, who opened the club in December 1973 to book the country, folk and bluegrass bands he wanted to hear. That mission changed fairly quickly when three guys named Richard Lloyd, Tom Verlaine and Richard Hell had their manager book their band, Television, a Sunday night gig.

A few years later a rock revolution was born as the club was considered home to a host of exciting bands such as Blondie, Patti Smith and Richard Hell and the Voidoids, and the place where foreign bands including the Damned and the Jam made their New York debuts.

But for the last four years the club, so legendary it’s used by the city of New York in advertisements, has been in danger of becoming nothing but a legend. Its landlord, the Bowery Residents’ Committee, which runs the homeless shelter adjacent to the club, wants more than $91,000 in back rent owed to them by Kristal. If they don’t get it, both CBGB and the much nicer-looking CB’s Lounge next door will be evicted, ending 33 years of rock “n’ roll history.

In reality, what’s left is a feisty old man who naturally doesn’t want to give up his business or his place in rock history (“I’m energized, I’m going to fight,” Kristal told the Associated Press), and musicians who remember what was.

“I consider it a historic place, It would be like losing a landmark of sorts, you know?” former Ramones drummer Tommy Erdelyi, better known as Tommy Ramone, recently told the AP.

But Erdelyi didn’t mention the last time he actually went to CBGB and checked out a band, or how much of his (likely very small) Ramones royalties he was willing to give to help save the club.

At the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, where Kristal was an invited guest, just about every rock star, movie star and record executive in the room could afford to dig the club out of its current predicament. But beyond delaying Kristal’s transition into retirement, what would be the point? The trails have been blazed, the legend solidified, the books written, and now the place is a shell of its former self.

As I watched the average hardcore band Sever give way to nominal headliners A Dying Declaration, an equally average emo band, there was no excitement, no feeling that I was witnessing the next revolution in rock or even a soon-to-be popular band. There were no famed rock critics such as Lester Bangs or Robert Christgau checking out the next thing, no record label weasels looking to jump on a new zeitgeist, just friends, family and a soundman who looked liked he wished he was anywhere but the storied club.


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