Sunday, October 15, 2006
CBGB: THE ANTI-HISTORICAL CENTER
I've decided to mix this blog up a bit. In between CNN tales, I'm going to post personal Op Ed pieces on current events. I figure, it's all under the same umbrella of news anyway...
After hinging on exctinction for several months despite the intense efforts to save it from ruin, CBGB, famous for both its repulsive bathrooms and for being the birthplace of punk, is closed for good. Amidst all the tributes and celebrity benefit shows that have taken place, owner Hilly Kristal had entertained the notion of getting his gritty hole in the wall official landmark recognition or turning it into a punk museum. The latest plan is to open a CBGB in Las Vegas.
Why stop there?
Why doesn't Hallmark hire Richard Hell to pen prose for a new line of Baptism cards, or Metlife revamp a Dead Boys song as a jingle to endorse life insurance policies?
The way I see it, punk sneered at nostalgia, spat in the face of history, and often espoused a brand of nihilism so nasty that “No future” became a mantra. The songs were fast and fierce, and some of the best punk bands never achieved fame, occasionally self-destructing in a matter of months. Malcolm McLaren, punk’s P.T. Barnum insisted that the Sex Pistols were never supposed to last, claiming they were “cash from chaos.”
Punk desecrated idols and institutions, and didn’t even trust itself. As music journalist Greil Marcus pointed out in his excellent book “Lipstick Traces”, there is a distinct thread between the deconstructive Dada art movement and punk. Tristan Tzara’s slogan “True Dadas are against Dada” could easily be interchanged with punk.
So to turn this place into a museum, or worse, reopen in Las Vegas, the slick, overly rehearsed antithesis of punk, seems ridiculous. At its core, this music sought to negate nostalgia, negate sentimentality. It was supposed to be enjoyed in the sweaty moment, not awarded, remastered, or deluxe editioned.
But then, maybe the whole spirit of CBGB had vanished so much that it doesn’t really matter if it is sanitized or commodified even further. With the sales of CBGB's merchandise such as the ubiquitous t-shirts and a new book, Hilly Kristal has made cash from chaos too, and turned the name into a product, like Nokia or Depends. I was recently walking past the CBGB shop and noticed a thirteen year old with her parents, happily strutting out of there with her Gap bag in one hand and a CBGB t-shirt in the other.
So maybe my irritation at the thought of moving CBGB's memorabilia to Las Vegas just shows my own brand of sentimentality. Maybe a kitchy CBGB in Vegas is a weird brand of punk ethos in its absurdity.
But I can’t help but think the most fitting tribute would be to tear it apart, throw all the years of defunct band stickers, filthy, water-stained plaster, graffiti-festooned walls, chewing gum and vomit into a pile, light a match, invite the ghost of Joey Ramone and have one last great party. Then poof-it would all go up in smoke.
The place that spawned a genre that disdained musty history would cease to be a musty historical landmark.