There’s a new film coming out about the rise of CBGB as the premier site of New York punk, new wave, and art rock. And I have to agree with Dangerous Minds, it looks like this might just be “AWFUL.” But then again, maybe not. Who am I to make a critical appraisal of a work I haven’t seen yet? Watch the trailer and make your own pre-judgments.
No matter how this fictionalized version of the CBGB story turns out, we are lucky to have copious footage from the real heyday of the dirty Bowery club that made the careers of The Ramones, Patti Smith, Television, Blondie, the Talking Heads and countless other New York bands who rose to semi-stardom, or local notoriety, from CBGB’s famous, filthy bowels. Although Alan Rickman must surely do a fine job as CBGB’s owner Hillel Kristal, there’s nothing like hearing from the real thing, and you can, in the documentary CBGB’s: The Roots of Punk (part one above, part two below).
Kristal, who intended to create a space for “Country, BlueGrass, and Blues,” ended up managing a very different beast when he realized that no one in lower Manhattan cared about his tastes. Instead, to keep the lights on, he was forced to let the lowlifes in, the “derelicts, lost souls… hookers and pimps and junkies,” who came from the flophouses and tenements to hear music that spoke to them.
Sometimes they got it, sometimes they didn’t, but for the musicians who used Kristal’s dive bar as a live rehearsal space, the opportunity to play, night after night, and create their own sounds and identities, the CBGB’s experience was invaluable. You’ll hear a few of them reflect on those heady times in the film, but mostly, CBGB’s: The Roots of Punk is a carnival of vintage performances from New York’s seminal punk bands. Maybe the Hollywood version won’t be so bad, eh? Even so, I’d rather watch, and listen to, the real thing.
Debbie Harry Turns 68 Today. Watch Blondie Play CBGB in the Mid-70s in Two Vintage Clips
The Talking Heads Play CBGB, the New York Club that Shaped Their Sound (1975)
The Ramones in Their Heyday, Filmed “Live at CBGB,” 1977
Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Washington, DC. Follow him at @jdmagness
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