Originally created 10/20/06

New York club must retain its integrity



It's not very punk rock to cry, but even the most mercenary of mohawk men surely must have shed a tear over the demise of CBGB, the venerable hole-in-the-wall that served as early stomping grounds for the Ramones, Blondie, Television and the like.

The Bowery bar, which opened in 1973 and, after a prolonged fight with landlords, will close its doors Oct. 31, served as the unofficial epicenter of New York noise.

The small, 300-capacity bar-and-bands venue ended its impressive concert run with a final performance by punk poet Patti Smith, a seminal figure in CBGB's history.

I hope it was a fitting farewell.

CBGB's owner and impresario, Hilly Kristal, has promised that the last show at the New York location will not be the last song sung under the CBGB banner.

He already has divulged plans to open a new version of the club in Las Vegas, bringing together the disparate worlds of Texas hold 'em and hard rock in an uneasy alliance.

Though I understand his unwillingness to relinquish the cash cow, I have to wonder how, or whether, the bar's New York squalor will work under the bright lights and high expectations of Vegas.

There's always the possibility Mr. Kristal sees this as an opportunity to upgrade, to clean up the famously disheveled dive and add ample showbiz glitz to the legendary name.

That would be a mistake.

The allure of CBGB, beyond the music born and bred there, has always been the idea that it could be any beat-down bar in any city in the world.

There was nothing special about the room, no stellar sound system or laser light show.

It was a bar, and the bands that played there were bar bands.

That they managed to elevate what being a bar band meant made the location and its distinctive sound magical.

To try to reinvent that magic, particularly in a Vegas setting, is disrespectful to the bands that began at CBGB, to the fans who flocked there and to the bar's place in musical history.

Don't worry, Mr. Kristal, CBGB should remain a profitable property.

A quick perusal of the official CBGB Web site finds the bar's merchandising arm alive and well, and I noticed that the brick-and-mortar store already has moved to new New York digs.

Sure, the days when every up-and-coming act clamored to play the tiny club's stage are over, but 33 years is a really good run.

It's time to let CBGB become an important part of rock history and relish the memories of the little club that could and did.

Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or steven.uhles@augustachronicle.com.