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CBGB, A Place that Matters

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We asked you to tell us what makes CBGBs important to you. Your pictures and words are displayed below, and may be used for other public education efforts.

New York City is the music capital of the U.S., if not the world, and its formative role in 20th century music — from Tin Pan Alley to Broadway to the Brill Building — is unparalleled. The city is home to some of the most famous venues anywhere, including Carnegie Hall, the Apollo Theater, Town Hall, Madison Square Garden, Lincoln Center, and many more. Among the most renowned is CBGB, the birthplace of punk music and an internationally recognized cultural icon. CBGB Lunachicks rock punk venue new york music history

CBGB’s appreciation for new talent, and their policy of only booking bands that played original music, led to a revolution in rock ‘n roll. Beginning in 1975, bands such as the Ramones, Television, the Patti Smith Group, Blondie, the Talking Heads, and many, many more made their debut there. By the 1980s, punk rock had taken over the world and had profoundly influenced every major art form — from painting, filmmaking, TV programming, and even advertising. Today, some of the biggest bands return to CBGB to perform at the revered venue, celebrating and taking part in what has become the symbol of a cultural and musical era, as well as a symbol of hope for emerging artists today.

More than just an artistic achievement, the cultural revivals that venues like CBGB help create is an integral part of the New York City history and economy. Thousands of aspiring artists migrate to New York every year to start their careers and add to the city’s unrivaled talent pool, helping to make the city’s music industry the largest in the country. Moreover, New York’s artistic heritage contributes to the $23 billion a year in New York tourism industry revenues, bringing in business activity that directly supports more than a quarter-million city jobs.

Unless steps are taken to save the club, CBGB is slated to close on September 1, 2005. The loss of the club would be a serious blow to the cultural history of the city, to the development of new music, and to the city’s prestige. Furthermore, the continuing loss of cultural landmarks can only end up hurting the city’s music, art, and tourism industry in the long run. There are no compelling reasons why CBGB has to close, but many reasons why it should stay open — and continue to play a role in maintaining New York’s great tradition as the world’s music capital and the birthplace of so much history.

-Steven Van Zandt, Musician, Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band

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CBGB is a treasure of native New York culture. It has survived and thrived for decades because it serves the vital purpose of offering groundbreaking original music to a hungry audience. Without it we would be missing a major part of what has revitalized New York in the first place. CBGB was the original magnet that drew people from every corner of America to come to New York and participate in its rebirth. Please let’s save this great club.

-Tommy Ramone, Musician, The Ramones

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As the years went on, other places opened up, CBGB’s remained, and Hilly never renovated or turned the place into a tourist trap or a theme restaurant, bless his heart. The place still shocks visitors who expect some kind of rock palace – CBGB’s doesn’t have grandeur – but it is still the place to hear what’s bubbling up. Audiences can still be moved on any given night. The joint continues to hang in there looking pretty much as it did. I remember some years ago seeing Cibo Matto and then a few weeks later Chocolate Genius in the CBGB lounge and wondering to myself, how could Hilly do it? The most interesting and innovative bands were still emerging from CBGB’s.

-David Byrne, Musician, Talking Heads

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…and now, today, I see that damn CBGB’s shirt on people all over the world. I saw one on a kid somewhere recently while on tour and I wanted to grab him and yell at him, “Do you know what that means?” The culture and music that Hilly has, for decades, supported with unwavering integrity through thick and thin, now belongs to the world. He and his club are part of the very fabric of rock and roll. This is indisputable. Hilly is a legend and CB’s is a mecca.

-Henry Rollins, Musician, Black Flag

CBGB is one of the most important nightclubs in rock and roll history. It ranks with Liverpool’s Cavern Club and London’s Marquee Club. As one of the last places in New York City in the mid-1970s where original rock was played, owner Hilly Kristal encouraged spontaneity and creativity in his club, providing a space for new music and art, a spotlight for young talent, and a unique safe-space for artistic endeavor and free expression. For over 30 years, CBGB has evolved to fill the needs of the new music and cultural communities of New York City. It provided a stage for thousands of fledgling performers and jump-started innumerable careers, including seminal and influential artists like Television, the Dead Boys, Patti Smith, Blondie, and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees the Ramones and Talking Heads.

-Terry Stewart, CEO, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

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Without CBGB’s, there would’ve never been any punk rock: no Mudd Club, no Talking Heads, Television, Patty Smith, and therefore no hardcore scene, no grunge – just disco, hair metal, Madonna, and MTV. CBGB’s was where we spent every night hanging out, exchanging ideas, and having fun. It’s got to be the most important club in rock and roll history.

-John Holstrom, Editor, Punk Magazine

It was a perfect creative environment. It had subletly to it – it was simultaneously eccentric, anachronistic, and somehow imbued with good will.

-Kate Simon, Photographer

I’ve been coming to CBGB since 1982. I came to this amazing club because it was the birthplace of punk — the Ramones, Blondie, Dead Boys — all these bands started here and have greatly enriched my life over the years. Without a place like CBGB, and without a club owner who is willing to take a chance on a new music movement, I never would have had the musical inspirations I’ve experienced. Nor would I have become a singer. CBGB was the home of NYHC of which I was a big part. CBGB gave us a home when no one else could. That’s what brought me here. Every time I came to see a show or play a show at CBGB I was turned into something new. The camaraderie of the clubgoers and the NYHC punks was a tight brother/sisterhood. Bands and fans all felt this was a place where freedom of expression could be celebrated. You never know what antic someone would pull on stage or how crazy the clothing would get. This is a musical home for so many people. Please don’t make us musically homeless. The preservation of venues like this is what gives New York City its character.

-Jae Monroe, Brooklyn, Musician

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From the arty sleazoid roots of a fallen bohemia, a third generation nation rose up inside a faded, moldy stinkhole known as CBGB’s. Young bikers, bridge-and-tunnel refugees, pool sharks, wild boys, bad girls, and hipsters transformed a divey bar into a world-historic cultural landmark, reclaiming a once blooming, buzzing Bowery for art’s sake and the greater glory of rock ‘n’ roll.

-Donna Gaines, Author

CB’s has been important to me in many different phases of my social life and development. My first time in CB’s was in the mid 80’s when I was supposed to sing with a band for the first time, but I chickened out and instead introduced the band. The singer was wearing a peter pan outfit. After that, when I was still really young, socializing and finding a way to express myself that made me feel “cool” came during the Sunday afternoon hardcore matinees. Every sunday, I’d sweat and act tough, eager to prove i could hold my own at the front of the stage with the snarling, shirtless, wet skinhead boys; feeling like warzone, murphy’s law, breakdown were all in tune with the frustrations i felt. Pretty childish now, but at the time, it was great. Then I joined a couple of bands that played CB’s. Whenever you played there, you felt you became involved with an ongoing legacy that you could still feel in the room, largely because the traces of who came before you were stil on the walls; nothing was erased, only partly covered up.

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I cut my teeth as a photographer at CB’s, learning how to handle any situation, shooting live punk shows for my friends like the Radicts and the Lunachicks. Friends joined bands, friends became successful, friends died, they all went through CB’s…we all convened there at some point. Through the late ’90’s, my band, Speedball Baby, did really well playing at CB’s. Those are some of my best musical memories, like the time the place was sold out and HIlly turned the electric off on us to get us to finish up the set, but we kept playing without it and making a big noise and scene which got the whole place riled up. One way I’ve marked the passage of time at CB’s for myself has been to watch as the mirror in the ladies’ bathroom gets more and more obscured by stickers. There used to be a little tiny place you could stick your face to see if you still looked presentable, but even that’s gone now.

-Ali Smith, Photographer

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