Punk Spawning Ground CBGB: Coming Back! But Will a New “New Wave” Follow?
What's in a name? Ask the folks who bought the intellectual property rights to CBGB, the legendary New York club that was a beacon of the punk movement in the 1970s before finally going dark for good in 2006… Or did it?
A group of investors has come forward with the intention to reopen the shuttered hotspot in a new downtown Manhattan location, some time after this summer's inaugural CBGB music festival, which will host hundreds of bands at a slew of existing New York venues July 5-8.
Which leads to the inevitable question: WWJD? What would Joey (or Johnny) do?
Look for the CBGB label
Look for the CBGB label
As most music fans of a certain age remember, CBGB was the physically inasuspicious spawning ground in lower Manhattan where the Ramones, Talking Heads, Blondie, Television, and Patti Smith all got their start in the mid-'70s, providing the American equivalent to the Sex Pistols-led revolution that was changing rock across the Atlantic. The club even got a name-check from alumnus David Byrne in one of new wave's greatest hits, "Life During Wartime."
By the 1990s, the club was known for booking too many bottom-of-the-barrel bands and doing less to launch revolutions than to launch lines of merch, as the CBGB's logo became ubiquitous on T-shirts around the world. Wearing a CBGB top became like wearing a Sun Records T-shirt — identifying yourself with the ground-breaking ideals of a golden age of rock & roll.
But is it possible that '70s magic could be recaptured by new caretakers in 2012 or 2013 better than it was by the original owners in the '80s, '90s, and early '00s?
What are the odds a new generation of boundary-breaking rockers declare: "This is the Mudd Club! This is CBGB! I've got time for that now!"
Of course, the legend of the old New York punk scene fades a little bit each year — which is where a movie could come in, as a helpful refresher course for kids and rock & roll seniors alike. Reports indicate that a long-gestating movie drama about the early days of CBGB is finally moving ahead, at least into the casting stage. Get the hottie of the moment to slip into a vintage Debbie Harry outfit, and there might suddenly be a lot of resurgence of interest in the old hole-in-the-wall.
It won't necessarily capture the public imagination in the way a movie would, but the late Johnny Ramone's cobbled-together memoir, Commando: The Autobiography of Johnny Ramone, has just been released. The book release party was held at the former site of CBGB — which has been transformed into fashion designer John Varvato's 315 Bowery boutique.
As interesting as a movie about the golden age of CBGB might be, there's probably also a screenplay to be written just about the legal maneuvers and infighting that followed owner Kristal's death from cancer less than a year after the club closed. His declared intention to reopen CBGB in Las Vegas (!) with all the original fixtures he could drag west never came to fruition, needless to say