annals of musical history, there are shrines of such monumental importance that
it only takes one word to describe them. The Filmore. The Garden. Graceland. In
one particular instance, it only takes four letters to bring a smile to faces of
punk and new wave fans everywhere.
CBGB stood on the same hallowed ground for over 30 years, unfortunately
succumbing to the ravages of financial complication and gentrification, causing
this once proud venue to turn its eyes westward to the land of hedonism and
kitsch, Las Vegas.
As for our own experiences at the legendary establishment, we have Kern, who'd
never set foot in New York City and found the closing of CBGB to be bittersweet.
He never had the chance to stand in its crowds, breathe its rarefied air, or use
their infamously disgusting restrooms. He's chosen to remember it the way he
believes it should have been: a slightly dangerous haven for the musically
adventurous known for its raw, creative mystique, and a hungry desire to take
every convention of its time and rip it into tiny, unrecognizable shreds.
Jeff Roesgen's visits to the club can be isolated to a handful of punk shows
that took place over 15 years ago. For him, the place had no preserved
aesthetic. Nothing about CBGB seemed to celebrate itself; in fact, if anything
it seemed trodden, a place where music made a good home for a while.
Judy Ain't No Punk only went to CBGB twice, both times before she was legal (to
vote, much less drink). The first time, she was ostensibly there to see some
obscure band whose music she'd never heard, and who broke up soon after that
performance. Really, though, she was there to commune with punk rock history. It
was just the way she hoped it still would be, as described in books like Legs
McNeil's Please Kill Me — walls plastered with 30 years' worth of flyers,
bathrooms scummy to the core, kids with spiky, dyed hair packed close together.
(As it turned out, one of the bands on the bill that night, not the one that
initially interested her, was the nascent Yeah Yeah Yeahs.) Even though she
moved to New York after college and has lived there for a year and a half now,
she hasn't been back to CBGB. Frankly, the majority of bands booked in the
venue's last few years were local neo-"punk" (whatever that term means these
days) groups, more fashion and snarl than substance.
While an address is temporary, the music within it is not, and to that end we
have assembled this final mix tape; a dream set list representing CBGB's golden
days (1975-1983) as our way to bid this fine institution the fond and proper
farewell it so richly deserves.
Hell and The Voivoids - "Blank Generation"
Perhaps my favorite
song from the late seventies, Richard Hell's "Blank Generation" is a perfect
slice of post-punk glory, channeling the spirit Hell's presence brought to early
Television material to its full glory. The film of the same name is one of the
best rock 'n' roll movies ever made, capturing the astounding charisma The
Voivoids had back in the day. This is absolutely necessary listening for anyone
who digs Television's classic Marquee Moon LP, especially cuts like "See
No Evil." – Chris Gliddon
2. Bad Brains - "Banned in D.C."
D.C. wasn't prepared
for the hardcore bombast of Bad Brains. Most of the city's notable clubs issued
a collective and unofficial ban on the band citing vocalist HR's penchant for
hurling himself about the stage and into the crowd during performances. "Banned
in D.C." documents the band's furious ascension to icons of the underground in
spite of the rancor from their hometown. Thanks largely to Hilly Cristal, the
exiled Bad Brains incubated their sound in Manhattan's lower east side where
they initiated the American hardcore punk scene. In the song HR claims, "You
can't afford/ To close your doors/ So soon no more," and we understand that
"Banned in D.C." is more a statement of consciousness than a cry for vengeance.
– Jeff Roesgen
Patti Smith - "Birdland"
By 1975 the emotive forces for
what would become punk had been established; it only required that someone
articulate it all. Of the many affecting pieces that Patti Smith recorded at
that time, "Birdland" stands alone as a near perfect slice of sonic poetry. The
song, like much of her early work, seems to assemble itself in the listening.
Richard Sohl's piano provides a gentle frame while Lenny Kaye lays squelches of
guitar that build as Smith tells her tale of a boy driven to such despair that
he glimpses heaven. Patti Smith's early records and performances show us that
punk was never solely anger or fashion, but a viable fragment of a vast human
experience. – Jeff Roesgen
4. Flipper - "Ha Ha Ha" and "Sacrifice"
While I innocently stacked Legos, or whatever the hell else children did back in
1983, I was blissfully unaware that a thousand miles away, one of the finest and
most underrated albums of San Francisco punk was being unleashed on an unwitting
public. Blow'n Chunks, the second album recorded by SF misfits Flipper,
was recorded live at CBGB in November of 1983 for New York label Roir Records.
As it happens, this session yielded two of the most memorable songs of the
band's career; it was as though the same beam of filthy, disheveled light was
filtered through a cracked prism into two very different wavelengths. "Ha Ha Ha"
is an energetic mess, full of slurring hi-hat, sloppy, caterwauling guitars, and
Will Shatter's bratty, disaffected delivery which playfully captures the
lethargic ennui of middle class youth. "Sacrifice", on the other hand, eschewed
the rapid, ramshackle stylings of "normal" punk music, instead carving blocks of
droning Sabbath sludge and dragging Shatter's vocals through the thick,
primordial tar pit of distortion. The pitch black lyrics about the dangers of a
society enveloped by their own blind fear and succumbing to groupthink are
perhaps even far more relevant and haunting today than the night they were
As the doors close for the final time, I lament the fact that I was never
fortunate enough to step across the hallowed threshold of CBGB, but I can at
least take comfort in the fact that these recordings allow me to feel as though
I once stood on those sticky, beer-stained floors and saw a glimpse of a
beautifully uncertain future. – Kern
5. The Talking Heads - "Don't Worry About
Admit it — you've pinned The Talking Heads as apolitical, art school types. They
may have co-existed with punks, but they were far from it. Right? Well, in the
same year that The Sex Pistols from across the pond brought us "God Save the
Queen," Byrne and co. put out a less angry but ultimately creepier political
tune. Melodic and upbeat, "Don't Worry About the Government" laughs in the face
of the American dream. Satiric lyrics like "I see the laws made in
Washington, DC/ I think of the ones I consider my favorites/ I think of the
people that are working for me" are no less relevant today than they were 30
years ago. The best part is that you don't even have to put a safety pin through
your nose to enjoy it. – Judy Ain't No Punk
6. Blondie – "Heart of Glass"
What happens when the prom queen meets a bunch of rockers in mid to late '70s
New York and forms a band? Well, after playing the circuit with a bunch of now
legendary bands, they launch themselves onto the global stage with this near
perfect dance-rock, disco-pop nugget of a song, accidentally creating the
musical template for a number of chart topping early '80s behemoths and
providing fuel for the wet dreams of thousands of music-loving boys throughout
the 1980s (If you've ever seen Debbie Harry in Videodrome, you know
exactly what I mean). – Charles Ubaghs
7. The Ramones - "Judy is a Punk"
It's easy to imagine that it was aimless wandering that first brought The
Ramones to the door of CBGB for an audition. The ratty quartet lacked prospects,
social skills, musical ability, and connections. It seems absurd then that
within a year, the group would be guiding rock music on a new course. Absurd too
that they abandoned the glitz and showmanship of mainstream '70s rock for quick
floors of sound and three chords played in unimaginative combinations. "Judy is
a Punk" epitomizes absurdity. The song tells us the tiny tale of how Jackie and
Judy travel to Berlin and then San Francisco to join the ice capades and then
SLA. Nowhere does the song predict how it would become an anthem, not only for
youth subversives, but also for those who found that modern music had become too
confounding (a.k.a. Led Zeppelin fans). Through the 1970s, the public gradually
discovered that The Ramones appealed to the same side of them that The Beach
Boys and The Beatles had: the side that, however absurd, loved music. – Jeff
8. Jim Carroll Band - "People Who Died"
While CBGB's main constituency consisted of underground rock bands, Hilly
Kristal mentions on the venue's website that it was a magnet for a plethora of
artists and poets as well. Perhaps best known for tales of his lurid descent
into drugs and crime as chronicled in his 1978 memoir, The Basketball Diaries,
underground poet and Warhol compatriot Jim Carroll channeled his ghastly
experiences into the closest thing to a hit single his Jim Carroll Band would
ever have. "People Who Died" is exactly what it sounds like; Carroll's tattered
growl runs down a list of deceased friends and acquaintances and their
respective causes of death over an idling mass of nervous guitar, punctuated by
a Chuck Berry-on-amphetamines guitar lick during the chorus. This high octane
elegy paints a colorful, yet earnest portrait of Carroll's sad, seedy corner of
the New York City of his youth. – Kern
9. The Dead Boys - "Sonic Reducer"
If self-empowerment can sometimes come from the darkest, unlikeliest places,
then the kerosene soaked mantras found in The Dead Boys "Sonic Reducer" would
make up its theme song. Stiv Bators' churlish snarl and the band's
close-but-not-quite hooks grind over the top of Jeff Magnum's charging bass
lines like a scuffed Doc Marten toeing out a spent cigarette, while a flanged
out "Wipeout" flavored drum break leads into the song's fiery climax. When
Bators triumphantly proclaims, "Then I'll be ten feet tall/ And you'll be
nothing at all," it's as though his grizzled words are a scarred, but
helpful hand reaching down to pull anyone who's ever felt like nothing from
their own personal gutter. Somehow ass-kicking and affirming at the same time,
"Sonic Reducer" is a hardcore three minute attitude adjustment that would make
life coaches everywhere piss themselves in fear and shame. – Kern
10. Television - "Elevation"
Though all of the songs on Television's 1977 debut Marquee Moon are
arguably among the most powerful progenitors of the proto-punk movement,
"Elevation" is perhaps the most unsung contribution on that album. While it may
not be as sprawling or ambitious as "Marquee Moon," nor as lively and easily
charming as "See No Evil", "Elevation"'s skittering cymbals and slithering,
mercurial twin guitar lines are the perfect match for Tom Verlaine's cryptic
lyrics and crestfallen vocal delivery. – Kern
11. The Dictators - "I Live for Cars and
Think what you will of me, but I could never truly love The Ramones, and it
isn't just because they called me a runt (see also, clever TMT nom de plume).
You see, kiddos, way back in 1975, a little band called The Dictators released
an album called The Dictators Go Girl Crazy!. Fusing early '60s surf
sounds with sludgy vocals and lowbrow proclivities, these guys made the album I
always wished The Ramones would make--and they did it first! Simple, boastful,
and blunt, "I Live for Cars and Girls" begins with the admission, "I'm the
kind of guy who's into gettin' high on a Friday afternoon" and then makes an
extended argument for why "There's nothing else in this crazy world except
for cars and girls." The combination of working class New York accents and
Beach Boys-style "ooo-weee-ooo-ooo" harmonizing transcends anything The Ramones
ever managed. –Judy Ain't No Punk
12. Mink Deville - "Spanish Stroll"
In the same year that Chevy Chase jettisoned SNL for the promise of Hollywood,
Mink Deville left the lower Manhattan club scene for a major label record deal.
Both events followed each other in similar ways: each with their recent
emergence from anonymity and the belief that fame would elude them if they
didn't immediately jump. In the intervening year between obscurity and fame
(1975), Mink Deville frequented CBGB as one of the club's first house bands.
While their music paralleled the embryonic punk scene, Mink's sound came from
somewhere else. "Spanish Stroll" with its Lou Reed-esque vocal delivery, hints
at Latin rhythm, Stephin Merritt sense of romanticism, and R&B backing chorus
would have little trouble finding a place on Transformer had it been
recorded in a candlelit piano bar in Rio. – Jeff Roesgen
13. Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers
– "Chinese Rocks"
I appreciate Tom Petty more than I probably should, but his Heartbreakers are no
match for Johnny Thunders's band of the same name. I mean, can anyone really
compete with Thunders, Jerry Nolan, and fucking Richard Hell? Now, what would
these three guys sing about? Well... heroin, of course. And they don't mince
words. By the end of the first verse, Thunders is asking us, "You wanna take
a walk?/ You wanna go and cop?/ You wanna go and get some Chinese rocks?"
While The Velvet Underground's "Heroin" is gorgeous and delicate, "Chinese
Rocks"- actually written by Dee Dee Ramone, not Thunders, surprisingly enough-
revels in the grittiest, dirtiest side of addiction. I supposed it's no
coincidence that of everyone mentioned in regards to this song, only Richard
Hell is still alive. – Judy Ain't No Punk