Down In The Bowery: Soaking Up CBGB

CBGB, the movie, is available tomorrow on DVD.  I haven’t read/heard anything positive about the film set around the famed NYC music venue.  Apparently it displays such outright atrocities for fans of the early punk rock scene as a depiction of Patti Smith performing “Because The Night” at her club debut. (Of course that song would not emerge until a couple of years later.) One would think that the music history aspect would have been the easy part to get right.  Negative buzz aside, the temptation to see portrayals of folks like Cheetah Chrome, Stiv Bators and Genya Ravan is just too much for me.  I am currently 14th out of 102 on the “holds” list through my county library system.

Just over twenty years ago, I made my one and only pilgrimage to this legendary dive in the Bowery.  It was my last night in NYC for the New Music Seminar, an adventure that has surfaced on this site before (and probably will again).  Here’s my brief description about my visit to CB’s as originally shared in The Stew:

We would be closing out the week at the venerable punk rock club CBGB on Bleecker Street. Everything that we had heard about the famous “hole-in-the-wall” was true.  The club was soon celebrating its 2oth anniversary, and the original dust was still on the baseball pennants behind the bar.  The bathrooms are literally backstage, and nobody pays any mind to modern concert trappings like security.  I was just happy to hang out in the hallowed hall that was the old stomping grounds of The Ramones, Patti Smith, and Richard Hell.  I was nearly starstruck too as Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore from Sonic Youth brushed by my barstool on their way out.

CBGB

“Country Bluegrass Blues and Other Music For Uplifting Gourmandizers”
The famed CBGB awning now hangs in the lower level of the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, Ohio.

Unfortunately the performances on stage that night were not as memorable as the mystique of the room. The bill was made up of bands from the Caroline label.  We learned that St. Johnny was average, the Action Swingers have a bad attitude, and Paula Kelley from Hot Rod is not afraid to display affection publicly.  Walt Mink, who most everyone was there to see, played at a chest-vibrating volume level that easily surpassed The Fluid as the loudest band that I have ever heard.  (This also confirmed reports that the club’s regular soundman is already deaf and would like to inflict that disability on others.)  Richmond’s Fudge closed out the night, but by this time it was anticlimactic. The next day we were to head back west.

Sure that’s just a memory snapshot and just one segment of an article about a jam-packed week of live music, and I am sure that I figured I would return to the venue many more times.  I can still picture those small dusty baseball pennants on the wall including one featuring the Washington Senators, a team that hadn’t existed for over twenty years. Most of all, though, I think one never forgets the bathrooms, scuzz monuments which are well documented elsewhere.  It will be interesting to see if my recollection of the long, claustrophobia-inducing room with the big sound matches up at all with the setting of the film.  CBGB was shuttered for good in October 2006.

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Milk It: Nirvana in ’93 (Marking Another 20th Anniversary)

A couple of weeks ago, Geffen Records released a deluxe 20th anniversary package of Nirvana’s third and final studio album In Utero. It has been 20th Anniversary-Mania for music scribes, labels, and fans this year as every week seems to bring another waft of nostalgia.  Not only was 1993 the heart of the alterna-boom, it really did produce some classic and career-defining albums. As “modern rock” exploded I was fortunate enough to have a great vantage point from both the music retail trenches and the beer-soaked floors of the shows as we watched our favorite bands go from underground heroes to MTV regulars.  In July of 1993,  I ventured to New York City for the New Music Seminar with a buddy — we’ll call him Rick. I chronicled this vacation road trip at length, and you’ll find more from that excursion and 1993 in general in future posts. For now here’s an excerpt detailing one memorable night:

Tonight was a “surprise” show from Nirvana and the Jesus Lizard at Roseland.  Announced only two days prior, this was the event of the week.  We figured it would be the only chance to see them in such a small venue, and we could hear them perform material from their long awaited forthcoming LP In Utero.  Nirvana in N.Y.C. — maybe something to tell the kids someday.

Anticipation was high for the show as epitomized by a Swedish tourist whom we met at the front of the stage. He had paid $75 to a scalper for his ticket just to see the Jesus Lizard and was equally eager to see Cop Shoot Cop on the following night. Shrugging off the price he paid, he summed up our week well.  “You know,” he said, “it’s New York. Everybody wants to take your money.”

The Jesus Lizard was phenomenal.  They thumped it out as tightly as ever as vocalist David Yow chain-guzzled cans of Bud.  We had staked out some ground near the stage and helped Yow stay afloat during his many sojourns into the crowd.

When Nirvana hit the stage, we were bounced back to the “old guy section” even though we were wearing sensible shoes.  The only escape from the rampant teen spirit of the N.Y.C. youthful would have been the special guest area above us that seated the Kurt Loders and Courtney Loves.

Anyway, the barrier-breaking trio turned in a set that was musically better than what I had experienced on ’91’s Nevermind tour.  Included were new ones like Heart Shaped Box and older faves like School,  and they also debuted their female cellist friend for some quieter moments.  The show was a classic example of what Nirvana was all about, characteristically sloppy at points and brilliant at others.  Kurt Cobain ended the show on the floor, drenching us with and basking in his guitar’s feedback.

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This magnet just showed up on the refrigerator one day a couple of years ago. (Audrey picked it up at Big Fun in Cleveland.) The realization eventually hit me that I was actually at the gig commemorated on the magnet. Note Pat Smear (pictured lower left) had become a touring member of the band which I failed to mention in the brief review.

Nirvana would swing through our Northeast Ohio Region about three months later for a Halloween show at Akron University with their upstart labelmate Beck and their heroes, the Meat Puppets. I decided to sit that one out as my tastes leaned almost exclusively to smaller underground club shows.  It turns out that that would be Nirvana’s last Northeast Ohio appearance.