November 29, 2023

CBGB is a state of mind – Patti Smith

All good things must come to an end, but it hurt when CBGB, New York’s celebrated — and notoriously dirty — music club closed for good on October 15, 2006, a victim of skyrocketing rents on the Lower East Side.

While plenty of punk and New Wave figures cut their teeth on the legendary venue’s stage — Talking Heads, The Ramones, Blondie — the latest honor went to CBGB regular Patti Smith, whose seven-week stint in 1975 earned her a major record deal.

In her National Book Award-winning memoir, just kids Smith described her first impressions of the venue when she headed downtown with her guitarist Lenny Kay to catch their friend Richard Hell’s band, Television, after the premiere of the concert film. Ladies and gentlemen, the Rolling Stones in Ziegfeld:

CBGB was a deep and narrow room on the right, lit by overhanging neon signs promoting various brands of beer. The stage was low, to the left, lined with turn-of-the-century photo murals of bathing beauties. Behind the stage was a pool table and in the back was a greasy kitchen and room where owner Hilly Krystal worked and slept with his Saluki Jonathan…

It was a world away from Ziegfeld. The lack of glamor made it feel all the more familiar, a place we could call our own. As the band played, you could hear the crash of the pool cue hitting the balls, the barking of the salukis, the clinking of bottles, the sounds of the scene emerging. Though no one knew it, the stars aligned, the angels called.

Some 30 years later, Kaye prepared to say goodbye to CBGB New York Times“It is as if he grows his own parnacles:”

You couldn’t replicate the decor in a million years, and unpicking all the layers of archeology of the club’s music is a daunting task.

Village Voice noted that it was “a crazy, emotional night for everyone in the crowd and everyone on stage” and New York Times announced how Smith had documented the club’s marquee with a Polaroid, explaining: “I’m sentimental…”

But Smith, who has actively encouraged young fans to resist worshiping at the altar of the club’s reputation when they could start their own scenes, also pushed back against the sentimentality, telling the crowd: “It’s not a fucking temple – it is what it is. .”

That may be, but her three-and-a-half-hour performance, above, was still one for the history books, from the opening reading of Piss Factory (I’ll be somebody, I’ll get on that train, I’ll go to New York / I’ll be so bad I’ll be a big star and I’ll never come back) on conclusion of the recitation in memoriam (Joe StrummerJohnny ThundersSteve BatorsJohnny, Joeyand Dee Dee Ramone…)

Smith made sure to include other artists who helped create the scene in her lists below, from Blondie and Lou Reed to Television and the Dead Boys:

Piss Factory 0:22

Kimberly/Tide is tall 12:40 p.m

Light blue eyes 8:30 p.m

Lou (Reed) had a gift for taking very simple lines, “Hold on, your pale blue eyes,” and making them enlarge themselves. That song has always haunted me. (The Associated Press)

Marquee Moon/The Three of Us 29:02

Television will help clear the media. They are not theater. They weren’t even the early Stones or the Yardbirds. They are powerful images that arise from pain and speed and the fanatical desire to create them. They are also inspired enough under the belt to prove that SEX is not dead in rock’n’roll. (rock scene)

Distant fingers 38:48

No chains 47:50

We had emotional obligations and I respected that. But I also thought it was important to make a song like that. (The rolling stone)

Ghost dance 55:30

Birdland 1:00:08

Sonic Reducer 1:11:52

Redondo Beach 1:16:00 a.m

Free money 1:20:44

Peeing in the river 1:28:27

Give me shelter 1:33:50

I thought about the words to this: “The war, children, is only a short distance away.” To me, a song like this is more meaningful than ever. (The rolling stone)

Space monkey 1:43 a.m

Blitzkrieg Bop / Beat on the Brat / Remember Rock ‘N’ Roll Radio? / Sheena is punk rockyear 1:48:30

Is not it strange 1:55:20

So you want to be a rock’n’roll star 2:02:11

Babelogue/Rock n Roll N – – – – – – 2:10:17

Happy birthday Blech 2:21:38

For your love 2:22:15

My generation 2:27:22

Earth/Gloria 2:36:51

Even though I wrote the poem at the beginning of “Gloria” in 1970, it took all those years to develop before it coalesced into “Gloria.” And that was largely accomplished at CBGB. We recorded Horses in 1975 and did all the ground work at CBGB’s. (The rolling stone)

Elegy 2:55:57

As I read that little list, those people seemed alive in that moment—because of the intense emotional energy in that room. Everyone in the room knew, heard of, or loved one of those people. That collective love, grief, and appreciation made these people seem as alive as any of us. (The rolling stone)

Related content

Patti Smith plays at CBGB’s in one of her first recorded concerts, joined by the seminal Punk Band Television (1975)

Iconic New York punk club CBGBs comes to life in brilliant short animation using photos of Patti Smith, The Ramones and more by David Godlis

A beautiful new photo book documents Patti Smith’s breakthrough years in music: it contains hundreds of unseen photographs

Patti Smith’s 40 Favorite Books

Ayun Halliday is the chief primatologist East Village Incas zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto and A creative, not famous, activity book. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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