August 23, 2005

CBGB's - a love ending too soon

Being sick as a dog has some benefits. For me it's laying in bed listening to my music until the wee hours of the morning, reminiscing about the place where I first heard most of the music I was listening to. The place was the same club immortalized by The Clash and in a number of movies - CBGB. I've always loved this great rock club because the music played there was always in its original, non-formulaic, cutting edge form. That level of musical honesty was so incredible, it helped inspire and fueled many an artist's creativity including my own.

Part of my love for this place had to do with the small intimate setting; you could practically stand on stage with the band. The rest had to do with being surrounded by people who, like me, were there primarily because of our love for music, not to show off stylish clothes or expensive accessories. No Hiltons or Ricci's were seen there. Just great bands getting established and poets/song-writers trying to get their music recorded. I don't think there was another venue in NYC where a songwriter could try out their music.

For the underage crowd, and for those who felt music was a religious experience CB's had concert sessions on Sunday afternoons. Oftentimes there would be between 10 and 15 bands playing any given Sunday afternoon trying out their material and talent on young minds eager to explore and develop their own relationship to music.

Imagine being able to see Squeeze, Blondie, The Clash, The Talking Heads, The Police, The Ramones, Springsteen and the irreverent Patti Smith on a regular basis as they explored the bounds of their own creativity on the audience, while peers like Lou Reed and David Byrne encouraged them on. To this day I can vividly remember an impromptu duet between Patti Smith and a very young, not yet famous Bruce Springsteen. The song, called "Fire", was one that he wrote early on and had never been recorded. When I heard it I fell so in love with it that I instantly memorized it and sang it all the way home that late afternoon. There's one part that I remember vividly till this day:

When we kiss
I'm on fire
Your tenderness
Gives me desire
I can't resist
Your tender lips
When we kiss
Ooh... Fire

I remember wondering what it would be like to feel such passion for the one you loved while kissing them. I'm still wondering.

Musically, it was an amazing time for me and for women. I got to see women evolve in rock and roll before my very eyes. It was these women rockers who simultaneously gave birth to many new music styles as they emerged into their own musical style without imitating the guys. Women like Debbie Harry & Patti Smith created the path for so that the Sarah Mclaughlin's and Avril Lavigne's of today could perform as headlining acts.

CB's was all about the love of music and talent, not about novelty acts or trendy looks. Too bad I no longer have pictures of me in my hiked up catholic school girl skirt that I wore to the club sometimes because I would go directly there right after school and before evening choir practice. There also nights when I was supposed to be doing sleepovers with friends or at the Library and I would sneak over to CB's to blow off some steam. I remember on a couple of occassions trading in my knee high socks and penny loafers for black fishnet stockings and doc martens steel toe boots and would apply the spray on purple die on my hair to complete the look. Yes, I was a bit of a rebel during high school, but I never went as far as showing up with the torn clothing as some punks loved to wear in those days. My safety pins were all strategically placed, and they made my own fashion statement to punks and designers alike. I was unique even in punk rock circles because I was comfortable and confident in who I was and didn't compromise my values simply to be accepted by my peers.

For me it was a fun, sweet time. Though I was young, I never once got harassed or pressured to drink, use drugs or do anything else for that matter. Life then was all about having fun with new styles of music and exploring the bounds of our creativity. For some of us it was not about making any political statements, but rather enjoying the enormous talent that was found there, which inspired our own work, even with my conservative values. It came through in everything I did, including in my music and poetry. What can I say, I was a complex individual even in those days!

I had some incredible musical memories there and lots of firsts. Like the first time I filled in as back up for a little known band called Essence. Or the first time someone used one of my poems on stage in a song. Yes it was almost 4am, and I don't even have the poem they used anymore, but wow, what a mind-blowing and creatively validating experience that was!

Why the sudden sentimentality for this place? CB's is scheduled to close its doors forever soon, thus making an iconic place inaccessible to a new generation. Recreating this club anywhere else (as has been talked about) will be virtually impossible as the rock club's energy, the very essence of CBGB can never be transported elsewhere. Yet in another way the spirit of the club belongs to all of us collectively, it'll be there whenever we gather together to express our creative vision for the purpose of sharing our talent freely.

[Music takes center stage while the lights dim and fades to black. In the distant darkness you hear Joan Jett's voice pierce the darkness by singing "I love rock and roll..."]

Posted by Michele at August 23, 2005 03:57 AM | TrackBack

It's hard to watch the doors shut on a place like that :-/

Posted by: Harvey at August 23, 2005 11:34 AM

I would have loved to have lived in NY then and known you.

Posted by: Lisa at August 23, 2005 08:29 PM

It must've been so awesome being surrounded by so much talent.

Posted by: chris at August 23, 2005 09:01 PM

Hope you're feelin' better!

It's a serious downer when you see a place like CBGB's closing down. I would have loved to have been there in it's heyday... hell, even now would be cool.

Posted by: That 1 Guy at August 28, 2005 11:10 AM