Apologies for the relative slowdown in posting here, but I’m afraid I’m currently sick as a dog. Who, exactly, gets sick in the middle of July? This idiot, evidently. I’ll spare you the details, but suffice to say, they’re not pretty.
In any case, over the course of the weekend, there was a development that prompted a flurry of outrage all over my social media platforms, with lots of folks tagging me for, I imagine, the sole purpose of triggering my frothy-mouthed incredulity.
I’m talking, of course, about the new Target on Avenue A lamely appropriating the surface-level iconography of CBGB for their grand opening. You can read that whole sorry story here.
Now, once again, I’m currently achey, feverish and wheezing like an asthmatic leper, so summoning the energy, over the past few days, to furiously slam away at my keyboard about this affront was just not on the menu. More to the point, however, we’ve all been here before, and as recently as this past February, when the same new building, I believe, branded its residential complex EVGB (“East Village’s Greatest Building"…..dicks). What I had to say in that instance is pretty much the same as what I have to say in this instance. Just leave it alone, already.
Appropriating CBGB and/or other vestiges of the East Village’s former character/sensibility/cool cache is assuredly nothing new, and I totally get why people are upset about it. I certainly know why it bothers me. But as the story started making the rounds, I was struck by some of the different reactions. Over on Facebook, I’m friends with Bliss Blood, the former lead singer of the Pain Teens, who had this to say:
CBGBs was a dump. Why act like it was cool? It was shitty and filthy with terrible sound and their policy of booking totally different bands to get "turnover" on the door is one reason why there was little scene cohesion in NY. I've toured the world and practically any other venue anywhere was better than CBGBs. And their policy of not having a backline and making all the drummers set up their kits in the hallway leading to the bathroom—stupid!
Now, in my particular tenure of darkening the doors at CBGB, I was never more than a patron, while Ms Blood was a performer (and a feral one, at that — check her out on that very stage, below), so I cannot speak to her grievances about backline and drum-kit concerns with any authority, although don’t remember ever thinking the sound was that bad. But, I tried to counter her statement by suggesting that there were really two issues at play here.
Regardless of the actual, arguable merits of CBGB (versus its rhapsodized legacy), the club itself was indicative and symbolic of a place/culture/sensibility/aesthetic that has been wiped off the map by gentrification. While Target is certainly not the first entity to lamely exhume its signature trappings (see also John Varvatos, Daniel Boulud, etc.) its failure to appreciate why the appropriation might upset a few people is telling. It essentially makes mockery of something generations of NYC folks hold sacrosanct. If that feels histrionic, so be it. Dump or not, the place was signfificant. It's not for Target to trivialize.
In terms of her point about CBGB being a “shitty,” “filthy” “dump,” I really do think one would be strenuously hard-pressed to make a credible argument to the contrary. But, of course, for many, that was part of its charm. I do vividly remember seeing certain acts play CBGB for the first time and make a few telling remarks on the state of the place. I remember Gavin Friday making his solo debut in 1989 there and being particularly uncharitable. That always struck me as odd, though. I mean, the place really was a rundown hole in the wall. That’s not praise nor vilification — that’s just an observation. What had they been expecting?
The by-now-belaboured takeaway, once again, is the recognition of what CBGB launched, and what it came to represent, regardless of its sorry state of affairs towards the end of its tenure at 315 Bowery.
But in pedantically parsing and reverently re-hashing all this for the umpteenth time, I realized something pretty vividly.
I am getting kinda bored with talking about CBGB.
I don’t mean the bands and the stories and the amazing music that still sounds so vital today, but I’m tired of having to take umbrage every time something like this happens. Yes, I’ve devoted countless, weepy posts to the place here on Flaming Pablum over the past thirteen years, but let’s remember — it’s now been gone for, what, twelve years? I would indeed like to see the corporate entities trying to cheekily mine its enduring cool to cease, desist and fuck off, but also — maybe it’s time we ALL just left it alone.
It was great. The scenes it fostered, the careers it launched and the music that came out of it were all legitimately the stuff of legend. But, things changed, and mistakes were made. The club, arguably already in a downward spiral, closed. It’s gone, and it’s never coming back. It should be celebrated, yes, but let’s also look to the future.
Of course, this could all be the Tylenol talking.
Here, meanwhile, are the Pain Teens at CBGB in 1992.