Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Pilgrimage to CBGB's

I originally wrote this article for an avant garde artistic type website, but I had a falling out with the douchebag who ran it.....I figured here would be a good place to resurrect it.

New York Bound
by Charlie Numbers

I took a trip from Chicago to New York City destined to see the famous rock and roll club CBGB's, before it was to be closed down forever. The excuse for this trip was a punk rock festival called "Fuck You Fest".The anticipation of what lay ahead was overwhelming, I wanted to catch a glimpse of the place where so many revolutionary acts got their start. The famous stomping ground where so many bands gave everything they had night after night to get their music out to the city and ultimately the world, in the middle of the cold anonymity that envelopes New York and the inhabitants of the city. Legendary bands like the Ramones, the Dictators, and Blondie, in the late 70's, and The Cro Mags, Warzone, and The Bad Brains in the 80's were musical staples of the club and along with "Max's Kansas City", another NYC club located in Manhattan, became known as a rock and roll mecca. It may be an over-used cliche, but if the walls at CBGB's could tell stories, they would be among the most triumphant and tragic that you could think of! The countless bar fights and couplings....the times where the performer held up the show because he was down the street copping dope…..the slices of live music that seemed to transcend time and space to provide a true ecstatic experience for those in the audience watching and participating, many of whom were flying high on a mixture of chemicals, and finally, the tragic deaths which befell many of the people who helped build the legend of CBGB's.

My first night in town I wandered around The Lower East Side taking in the grit and grime, thinking to myself how this was nothing compared to how it must have looked 20 years ago when the neighborhood was completely different and ungentrified. I walked through Washington Square Park where I was offered a cornucopia of narcotics, half of the proposals surely came from undercover officers as they have a small substation built along the edge of the park. Besides, I was already good, having brought a small amount of weed with me from back home. One thing I noticed is how much more crowded New York is compared to my home town of Chicago. The city is densely packed with people, and I suppose it's this in part which contributes to the folklore that New Yorkers are impatient and inhospitable. I found this to be thoroughly untrue as I was helped with directions in an amicable manner numerous times. I found food to be cheap and delicious with many, many different options to choose from. Dry goods however like cigarettes, disposable cameras, and other accoutrements seemed to be overpriced though, actually it seemed as if many of the store owners were sizing me up and making up the prices as saw fit….which struck me as funny. In spite of the fact that New Yorkers were nice for the most part, but I learned that when it comes to money they don't fuck around. You have to be on guard or else you run the risk of being short changed, ripped off, mugged etc.

I started to make my way over to CBGB's. Tonight I was going to see the hip-hop group Non-Phixion. I had become acquainted with a couple people who worked security there prior to my trip. They very graciously added me to the guest list and to my delight, set me up with some drink tickets which would exponentially increase my enjoyment of the evening. When I walked through the doors of the place, one of the first things I noticed was how the walls were almost completely covered in the club's history. Layers upon layers of stickers, handbills, and most of all, graffiti cover nearly every square inch of the interior. I wouldn't say the venue was packed, there was a good amount of people there, but there was still enough space to move around. I remember it becoming pretty hot and humid over the course of the evening. I also noticed that the club itself had a comfortable home-like vibe, however the crowd for the evening was kind of weird. The majority was made up of soft looking post-adolescent males trying their best to look tough and ice-grill everyone in sight. My friend working security dubbed it "The night of caucasion guilt" which amused me to no end.

The opening acts were decent enough. After a small joint and a couple drinks the deep bass chest-rattling bass of the sound system started sounding better and better to me. I took a few bathroom breaks and noticed that once you went down those graffiti-encrusted stairs, the indoor smoking laws of New york ceased to exist which was fine by me as I took advantage of smoking a couple quick cigarettes in the midst of the thick clouds of blunt smoke which emanated from a couple small circles of people. Finally Non-Phixion came on and delivered an entertaining set, which the audience ate up. I snapped off a couple pictures on the disposable cameras I brought. I found out later that for some reason, taking pictures at Non-Phixion shows was taboo, possibly due to the paranoia of the group members themselves. In a couple shots you can actually see a couple people turn around and glare at me which gave me a laugh later on. My security guard friend told me the next day that a couple people at the late show got jumped for taking pictures. Those were to be the only fights of the night besides a few small scuffles with people in line for the late show as the early show got out. I ended up grabbing some food, taking the subway back to Sunset Park, Brooklyn where I was staying, and passing out with the events of the evening running over and over in my head.

The next day I woke up early and struck out again for the Lower East Side. I spend the afternoon exploring St. Marks place…checking out record and clothing shops, and wandering around taking everything in. The person I was staying with took me to "Manitoba's" which is a bar owned by "Handsome" Dick Manitoba, a member of the seminal punk band "The Dictators", who were a staple at CBGB's throughout the 70's. Dick was a man of few words when I met him, but it was really cool to shake hands with the legendary singer of one of your favorite bands. After I had a drink at his bar, and right before the sun set I made my way to Tompkins Square Park. The park itself had changed dramatically since the 80's and 90's, when homeless people had virtually taken over the park and camped out in cardboard villages. This culminated in a riot between the homeless people and police, which started the change in motion which transformed the park into something completely different. As the sun began to set, I sat on a bench and rolled a joint, dwelling on the history of my surroundings. There was next to nobody around so I sparked up the joint and snapped off a couple quick pictures with my camera.

Once again I made my way to CBGB's, where I bought a wristband and made my way to the front. The crowd today was a lot different than last night, mostly hardcore kids, skinheads, a few punk rockers and normal people. I started drinking right away, bourbon and cokes consumed a bit faster than normal as I was a bit anxious. My friend that works there was working again tonight and introduced me to a couple skins from Baltimore and DC.…one of which was the singer of the band "86 Mentality" (the main band I came to see) and the others were members of the Oi band "The Dead End Boys". Assorted members of their crew were hanging out as well and everyone was very personable and cool. One of the cool things about punk rock is that most of the time there isn't any difference between the people in bands and the audience, nobody is put on a pedestal (ideally). If you like a certain song by a band you can go up to them and talk about it. It's not like in the normal music world where it's cool to act like you're above your audience. Some bands played including 86 Mentality. I moshed a little bit (especially for the 86 intro), and had couple more beers. As the night wore on I got a bit more drunk and ended up taking a girl back to where I was staying, missing the last couple bands. In retrospect, I probably should have stayed.

The next day I did some final record and clothes shopping around The Lower East Side. I made sure to eat a New York hot dog and a couple slices of New York pizza. I know I'll catch a lot of shit for this but I prefer New York pizza over my hometown deep dish. I went back to the apartment where I was staying to pack my bags and say goodbye to my host. I bought him a bottle of Courvosier to show my gratitude for him putting me up for the weekend. I took a cab to the airport, went through the rigors of airport security, and boarded my outbound plane to O'Hare airport in Chicago.It's kind of funny that I spent my vacation hanging out in the exact same neighborhood the whole time, but I don't regret it one bit. I did everything I set out to do and then some. I saw a historic landmark while it was still open for business, and I'll never forget everything I experienced at the club and on the trip in general. As the plane took off my mind was once again racing with thoughts of the weekend.

No comments:

Post a Comment