Listen to Patti Smith’s Glorious Three Hour Farewell to CBGB’s on Its Final Night

CBGB is a state of mind — Pat­ti Smith

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

While plen­ty of punk and New Wave lumi­nar­ies cut their teeth on the leg­endary venue’s stage — Talk­ing Heads, The RamonesBlondie — final hon­ors went to Pat­ti Smith, a CBGB’s habitué, whose sev­en-week res­i­den­cy in 1975 earned her a major record deal.

In her Nation­al Book Award-win­ning mem­oir, Just Kids, Smith described her first impres­sions of the place, when she and her gui­tarist Lenny Kaye head­ed down­town to catch their friend Richard Hell’s band, Tele­vi­sion, fol­low­ing the pre­miere of the con­cert film, Ladies & Gen­tle­men, the Rolling Stones at the Ziegfeld:

CBGB was a deep and nar­row room along the right side, lit by over­hang­ing neon signs adver­tis­ing var­i­ous brands of beer. The stage was low, on the left-hand side, flanked by pho­to­graph­ic murals of turn-of-the-cen­tu­ry bathing belles. Past the stage was a pool table, and in back was a greasy kitchen and a room where the own­er, Hilly Krys­tal, worked and slept with his salu­ki, Jonathan…

It was a world away from the Ziegfeld. The absence of glam­our made it seem all the more famil­iar, a place that we could call our own. As the band played on, you could hear the whack of the pool cue hit­ting the balls, the salu­ki bark­ing, bot­tles clink­ing, the sounds of a scene emerg­ing. Though no one knew it, the stars were align­ing, the angels were call­ing.

Some 30 years lat­er, Kaye pre­pared to bid CBGB good­bye, telling the New York Times, “It’s like it’s grown its own bar­na­cles:”

 You couldn’t repli­cate the décor in a mil­lion years, and dis­man­tling all those lay­ers of archae­ol­o­gy of music in the club is a daunt­ing task.

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

But Smith, who active­ly encour­aged young fans to resist wor­ship­ing at the altar of the club’s rep­u­ta­tion when they could be start­ing scenes of their own, also pushed back against 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’m gonna be some­body, I’m gonna get on that train, go to New York City /I’m gonna be so bad I’m gonna be a big star and I will nev­er return) to the clos­ing in memo­ri­am recita­tion (Joe Strum­merJohn­ny Thun­dersStiv BatorsJohn­ny, Joey, and Dee Dee Ramone…)

Smith took care that oth­er artists who helped make the scene were rep­re­sent­ed in her below set lists, from Blondie and Lou Reed to Tele­vi­sion and the Dead Boys:

Piss Fac­to­ry  0:22

Kimberly/Tide is High 12:40

Pale Blue Eyes 20:30

Lou (Reed) had a gift of tak­ing very sim­ple lines, ‘Linger on, your pale blue eyes,’ and make it so they mag­ni­fy on their own. That song has always haunt­ed me. (The Asso­ci­at­ed Press)

Mar­quee Moon/We Three 29:02

Tele­vi­sion will help wipe out media. They are not the­atre. Nei­ther were the ear­ly Stones or the Yard­birds. They are strong images proc­duce from pain and speed and the fanat­ic desire to make it. They are also inspired enough below the belt to prove that SEX is not dead in rock ’n’ roll. (Rock Scene)

Dis­tant Fin­gers 38:48

With­out Chains 47:50

We had emo­tion­al duties, and I respect­ed that. But I also thought it was impor­tant to do a song like that. (Rolling Stone)

Ghost Dance 55:30

Bird­land 1:00:08

Son­ic Reduc­er 1:11:52

Redon­do Beach 1:16:00

Free Mon­ey 1:20:44

Piss­ing in a Riv­er 1:28:27

Gimme Shel­ter 1:33:50

I was think­ing about the words to that: “War, chil­dren, it’s just a shot away.” To me, a song like that is more mean­ing­ful than ever. (Rolling Stone)

Space Mon­key 1:43

Blitzkrieg Bop / Beat on the Brat / Do You Remem­ber Rock ‘N’ Roll Radio? / Sheena Is a Punk Rocker 1:48:30

Ain’t 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 to Flea 2:21:38

For Your Love 2:22:15

My Gen­er­a­tion 2:27:22

Land/Gloria 2:36:51

Even though I wrote the poem at the begin­ning of “Glo­ria” in 1970, it took all those years to evolve, to merge into “Glo­ria.” And that was pret­ty much done at CBGB. We record­ed Hors­es in 1975, and did all the ground­work at CBGB. (Rolling Stone)

Elegie 2:55:57

As I was read­ing that lit­tle list, those peo­ple seemed in that moment — because of the intense emo­tion­al ener­gy in that room — to be alive. Every­one in the room knew or heard of or loved one of those peo­ple. That col­lec­tive love and sor­row and recog­ni­tion made those peo­ple seem as alive as any of us. (Rolling Stone)

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Pat­ti Smith Plays at CBGB In One of Her First Record­ed Con­certs, Joined by Sem­i­nal Punk Band Tele­vi­sion (1975)

NYC’s Icon­ic Punk Club CBG­Bs Comes Alive in a Bril­liant Short Ani­ma­tion, Using David Godlis’ Pho­tos of Pat­ti Smith, The Ramones & More

Beau­ti­ful New Pho­to Book Doc­u­ments Pat­ti Smith’s Break­through Years in Music: Fea­tures Hun­dreds of Unseen Pho­tographs

Pat­ti Smith’s 40 Favorite Books

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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