Sunday, October 13, 2013


(Admittedly, I watched a grainy copy on Youtube)

          I wasn’t there from the beginning like some people (Binky for one) because I was in a folk-rock band; the club was already headed in another direction by 1976.  Nobody I hung around with went there – partly because we were penniless. Finally one of my bands played there in 77 and after that I could get in free most nights; it was a clubhouse once you played there (unless Lisa was at the door). 
First show I saw at CBs was Richard Hell and the Voidoids.  That was when the stage was still on the left side – the right side had the pool table.  Later, the pool table moved to way up near the entrance, on the left, the stage moved back and to the right wall.  I told Bob Quine he was great and he said they (and he) had sucked.  No egotist was he.  Later I saw Ivan Julian and the Outsets (the other guitarist with Hell).
I saw Talking Heads just after Jerry Harrison joined, Patti Smith before she had an album out, The Ramones (how do they memorize these sets?), The Planets (wow!), Tuff Darts (after Robert left, darn it), Wayne County (what?), The Miamis, The Cramps (whoa!), Alex Chilton, The Fall, The Nitecaps, Bad Brains (another jaw-dropper), Blondie, Violent Femmes, etc.  Anybody else remember Humans From Earth, Tragic Flaw, The Erasers, Helen Wheels, Bush Tetras?  All great, all different.  How about “Suicide”?  There was a band he took a chance on!  They were famous for getting booed offstage.  They played there a lot, too. 
Wish I’d seen the Police, Devo or the Butthole Surfers there, but of course most bands who weren’t well-known would play at 2 AM on a weekday night.  I had to work in the morning.  By then, I wasn’t penniless.

The movie – for me it was overwhelmed by the allusion to comics that came from Punk Magazine, and by dwelling on Alan Rickman and his dog so much and the people and music so little.  There were so many kinds of music…DNA, Walter Stedding?  Rhys Chatham?  They had to keep it simple to make it a movie, but I’d have loved some sort of list of bands (not the one too tiny to read which is used in the background at one point).  Does anyone else remember Hilly announcing the acts onstage?  I never saw him do that…I do remember David Byrne shouting (as if there was no microphone in front of his face) “The name of this band is Talking Heads!” which became the name of their first live double album.
Um…I never heard of anyone doing an audition for just the staff – there were Monday Night Auditions every week.  If you had a lot of friends, or were good, you’d be back on a “real” night.  I’ll never forget having to guard our equipment for six hours, from sound-check to show-time.  And if the next band climbed onstage before you were all packed up?  Goodbye wires and pedals…

I heard the Police drew about ten people their first gig there.  (In Austin they got only three, but one was a DJ who started playing “Roxanne” a lot and broke them into having a hit in the States.  A lesson there, eh?)
          I’m not sure the Dead Boys were as dominant a band as it seems they are in the film.  (But watch them live at CBs in 1977 on Youtube – 20 minute set that kicks ass.)  Hilly managed half a dozen over the years, I think.  Remember “The Big Fat Pet Clams From Outer Space”?  He managed them.  They were older guys, and not very original or good.  I thought they sucked.  What was he thinking?
          Hilly was gruff and growly, muttering and shouting, but not as cocky and weaselly as Rickman.  Nice dog.  The shit – ugh.  It could be dark in there, and everything was painted black.  Anywhere it was just sheetrock (like the “dressing room”) was covered in magic-markered band names.  So were the toilets downstairs.  One toilet was smashed or out of order. Men’s room mirror - smashed.  Men’s room door was torn off, never replaced.  It smelled down there…actually you could smell it almost as soon as you passed the stage on your way back.
          Just inside the front door was a bottle-neck space for customers to get their money out, show their IDs, and pay at a little table and chair.  (Coat check?) Pay phone to the right, pinball machine right behind ticket-taker.  Very long bar.  Lead singer of The Revelons, another great band, was a bartender.

          No mention of the “Live at CBGBs” double album produced by Kim King?  It sold a bunch!  Lot of good bands on it – Miamis, Mink DeVille, Tuff Darts (with Robert!), and a few others.  But no Ramones, Blondie or Heads – already signed, so no go.
          Odd, the music they chose for some scenes.  First time we see Patti Smith she does “Because the Night”?  That was years later.  No keyboard visible on that or on Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer”, though you can hear one…
          I remember lots of lights and deafeningly loud bands – hard to get that effect in a movie - probably impossible. And the crowd right up to the stage on both available sides – people hanging off the walls (standing on pipes and on each other) and those odd life-sized posters of people like Sarah Bernhardt and Chaplin onstage became more and more covered with graffiti.  No stickers on the walls for decades, as Jahn mentioned. That place got Packed on a busy night.  Wall to wall people, all night.  Lucky thing it had a high ceiling (which we don’t see in the movie) cause the smoke didn’t hang right in your face (everyone smoked back then). 
          No mention of him investing in a $100,000 sound system and equipment to tape live shows.  Best sound of any club in the city.
          Too bad they didn’t have someone play James Chance or Lydia Lunch!  I suppose they’d have to pay a fortune to mention The Plasmatics, who were one of their biggest draws.  They didn’t mention the marathon all-weekend benefit show to raise money for Johnny Blitz’s hospital bill!  There was a commemorative t-shirt – saw it for years after.  It had a list of all the bands on it – dozens of the best.  Must be worth a dollar now!  Faded in the wash, I suppose…

          There was quite a while when a band had to make a choice – if you played at Max’s you couldn’t play CBs, and vice-versa.  Heartbreakers were Max’s, Sid Vicious was Max’s, Iggy was Max’s.  (And by the way, in “Sid and Nancy” they show Sid doing shows to an empty house near the end – never happened!  The place was packed every show, all the way to his last.)
          So – I enjoyed the movie up to a point, but I kept seeing Rickman and his dog instead of things I was more interested in.  A boy and his dog.  
Dennis Dunn, unmentioned ace lighting man, I salute you!  (He was there for years – and his brother was sound man a long time.)  So was Rudy (of The Hard).  I salute you all.
          I do hope the Kristals make money from the movie.  It was one of the great clubs, and we’ll ne’er see its like again.  Here’s to Hilly and the 70s!  Gone, gone, they are gone.

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