Thursday, December 24, 2009

Cbgb`s Last Days

CBGB`s Last Days —  by Chris Harris

NEW YORK — The smell is bad enough to test anyone's gag reflex.



Worse than the stench of death, it's a putrid mix of decayed wood, decades-old dust, mold, vomit, sweat, stale beer, rat feces, a million cigarette butts and fruit so rotten that it actually smells slightly sweet.
This is the smell of CBGB's last hours.
It's an aroma this reporter won't soon forget. Nor will the team of 10 construction workers who've been hired to painstakingly dismantle the iconic birthplace of punk rock, piece by dingy piece, for reassembly at some undetermined future time and place.
The End Of An Era: CBGB Dismantled
For days, these guys — each armed with crowbars and wearing white surgical masks — have been unscrewing, unhinging and unbuilding one of rock music's most revered landmarks. They're doing so in an environment that's the very definition of hazardous, knowing all the while that they're always just one misstep away from a tetanus shot, or worse. Lord knows what lurks beneath the surface of this proudly filthy club, which hosted music, booze and fans — and all the substances that come with each — nearly every night from its opening in December 1973 till its swan-song show on October 15.
Let's just say the club smells its age. There must be at least four dozen flies buzzing around. At points, the stink is so intense that some of the workers can't help but dry-heave. "I've never smelled the smell we're smelling today," one of them says. "It's like a mix of Sprite and sh--."
Everything must go. The historic plywood stage that the Ramones, Blondie, Talking Heads, Bad Brains, the Police, Sonic Youth, the Pixies, Soundgarden and tens of thousands of others have sweated and spat upon. The battered bar where countless fans and musicians have imbibed all manner of intoxicants. The rickety wooden loft that held the lighting board, the graffiti- and sticker-coated wall panels, the neon beer advertisements caked with moss-like dust, the stained urinals from the men's restroom — a room where even the bars of Dial soap left at the sink have been tagged by Sharpee-wielding vandals. It's all being removed, wrapped in plastic and loaded onto two storage trailers that will sit in New Haven, Connecticut, until Hilly Kristal, the only proprietor the club has ever had, decides where he wants to attempt to re-create CBGB.
As his club is dismantled around him, Hilly sits in the same place he's been for much of the last 33 years: at his ancient desk near the club's entrance, as seemingly oblivious to the sounds of hammering, splintering wood and wrenched nails as he was to the thousands of soundchecks that took place over the years.

New York is becoming increasingly inhospitable for the kind of artists that play at the club, so Hilly's looking at opening a new CBGB in Las Vegas. He says he likes the music scene there and some city officials have said they'd welcome him with open arms. It won't, however, be located on the glitzy, hedonistic Strip; Kristal says he's found a very different location he likes downtown, along Fremont Street. There, he'd like to reconstruct the club not as a carbon copy of the original, but rather to "preserve certain elements of it that people strongly associate with CBGB," explains B.G. Hacker, one of the venue's managers. "The bar and the stage are critical. Everything else is just atmosphere." Plans call for a CBGB museum to be installed in the new club, with some artifacts contained behind glass. The only thing holding up CBGB's transplantation to Sin City is the lack of a financial partner, Hacker said. Kristal, who is 76 and battling lung cancer, cannot do it alone.
First, though, there's the matter of an October 31 deadline. The club spent many months embroiled in a very bitter, very public dispute (see "CBGB Owner Relocating Club — Urinals Included —' To Vegas This Spring") with its landlord before both sides reached an agreement that mandates Kristal completely vacate the premises by that date.
To help him with the five-day process of packing up the club, Kristal has hired Aurora Productions, a New York theatrical production management company that specializes in the construction and disassembly of Broadway stage sets. They're breaking everything down, and once Hilly has secured a destination, they'll rebuild it as best they can. Days before the dismantling commenced, every square inch of CBGB's interior was photographed to help with the impending re-creation; each piece of the club that's removed is labeled, so the team that does the rebuild knows what goes where. The process is something between a crime-scene investigation and an archeological dig.
"I found a joint!" one of the workers yells. He holds up an ancient, almost translucent marijuana cigarette, found when a wall behind the stage was ripped down. "We haven't found any hypodermic needles yet, but we're looking," he adds.
Beyond the obvious health risks associated with this kind of job — of which there are plenty — the most challenging aspect of the project is determining just how the club was put together in the first place, so that the workers can take it apart without destroying anything. Kristal approached Aurora for the task about a month before the job began, and they in turn hired the movers and the 10-person construction crew.
"They needed someone abnormal, people who can take things apart and care about how they will be put back together," explains Aurora's Tuesday Curran. "It's an interesting project, and it was a challenge for us. We just have no idea what anything's going to do. When we build a stage, we know how to take it apart — we built it. This is taking longer than expected because we're doing it blind, to be honest."
The workers quickly learn to expect the unexpected. Behind some walls, they find nothing more than fiberglass insulation. Sometimes, they find more — beer cans, for instance. "Dude, it's Joey Ramone's beer can," one worker says with a laugh, reasoning that, since Joey drank Bud Light, it must have been his. That's the running joke during the dismantling: No matter what is found — a lighter, a key, a ladies slipper — it must have belonged to Joey.

Patti Smith, Punk Fans Bid Farewell To CBGB
However, as a wall in the club's dressing room is peeled away, workers find two-decade-old beer bottles, hundreds of cigarette butts, bottle caps, guitar picks, nitrous-oxide cartridges, foam earplugs, broken glass, graffiti dated 1979, dead cockroaches, batteries, lighters, a learner's permit belonging to an 18-year-old girl named Christine from Staten Island, set lists, golf balls, fossilized lime slices, broken drum sticks, lottery tickets, empty plastic baggies, spare change, a June 2001 issue of Finally Legal magazine, a sample Ramses Safe Play condom — "for young lovers" — that expired on June 4, 1995, and a flier for early-'90s one-hit-wonders the Spin Doctors so old it reads, "New 8-song tape coming soon."
"This is sacrilegious," comments one worker — a punk fan — as he cuts through sections of the club's wall with a reciprocating saw. "The only thing holding this place together is stickers and fliers."
Indeed, the reason this worker needs a saw is not to cut through the thin wooden panels affixed to the building's brick walls, but because of the many layers of posters and stickers attached to them. Once shorn, the mangled posters — for horrendously named bands like 60 Pound Crush, Haircuts That Hurt, Fantom Frequency and Jaded Faith — look like phone books ripped in half.
The club's famous white-and-red awning — itself a replacement for the original — was removed minutes after CBGB was cleared out following the venue's final concert, which featured Patti Smith; just days before that gig, someone cut out a piece of the awning as a keepsake (see "Flea Jams With Patti Smith, Punks Weep At CBGB's Last-Ever Show"). Still remaining is the awning's metal frame, with the words "CBGB's [sic] Forever" spray-painted on a smaller awning underneath that few probably realized was there. On the metal roll-down security gates at the club's entrance, hundreds of fans have scribbled words of thanks and goodbye to Kristal in permanent marker, pen and even pencil. Others left commentary about the club's closure: "Punk is dead" and "Throw away your antibiotics — CBGB has left the island."


# # #
By day three of the disassembly, CBGB is a shell of its former self. The bar's been amputated from the floor and wheeled out the club's front door, into storage. Stuck to the inside of one of the bar's sections are the petrified carcasses of two mice — so decomposed their tiny skulls are stripped of skin. The workers wrap the bar in plastic, leaving the deceased vermin intact: "It's part of history," one reasons. The walls are bare, the floor is littered with nails and glass shards, and the stage is covered with battered microphone stands and debris. The final section of the bar is removed, revealing dozens of dingy cocktail napkins, stirring straws, fliers, demo tapes and newspapers — including a copy of the New York Daily News from March 10, 1979.
"The only thing holding this place together is stickers and fliers."
Throughout much of the dismantling, tourists are constantly trying to sneak inside for one last look, ignoring the sign on the door that reads, "We're closed." Two men from France show up on the third day, shocked to discover that the club's final hurrah has already happened. Journalists sent to cover CBGB's last gig, they'd mistakenly assumed the concert would go down on the final day of the lease. They settle for a visit to CB's 313 Gallery next door, where drinks are still being poured and merchandise sold during the final week.
CBGB's fabled stage is saved for the final day of the dismantling. "This is it!" one worker declares as he snakes his crowbar beneath the stage's first layer of plywood, "the moment that punk rock dies." He pushes down on the handle, and the nails pop up in a mushroom cloud of thick dust. Each layer is comprised of four pieces of plywood, and one by one, they're removed. Underneath each lies a gaggle of guitar picks and, for some reason, lots of glitter.
"Oh, that's because when Joey Ramone sweats, it turns to glitter," one worker jokes. The removal of the fourth layer turns up a pair of panties and something written on an exceedingly worn section of plywood: "Hey Hilly, how about a new stage?" Some CBGB staffers watch as yet another layer is lifted off, and fight back tears. "This is f---ed up," mutters the one they call Ugly.
By the seventh layer, history is reached: the club's first stage. It, too, is faded, but was once painted dark red. The wood is warped and frail. The workers take a break from what they're doing to stand on it and stare at it. Some of them reflect that the wood they're handling is older than they are.

For the most part, the workers have not taken any souvenirs during the demolition — claiming it would be like robbing a burial ground — but some do pocket the nails that were used to erect the original stage.

On the last day — October 31, 2006 — just hours before Kristal must be out of 315 Bowery for good, he can be found, as usual, at his desk. He's been here for much of the dismantling — in between doctors' visits and other treatment for his illness — but he says he's refused to watch the final days of the club he's spent untold thousands of them in. "I looked out the door," he says, as traffic speeds along a Bowery that's unimaginably upscale from the way it was five years ago, let alone 33. "I didn't turn my back once."
"I've never smelled the smell we're smelling today!"
Anyone who's spent time with Kristal over the years knows that he's always got his eyes on what's coming next. For him, this chapter of CBGB is closed, and there's no use crying over spilled beer. In fact, he's scheming for a return to the Big Apple.
"I'm going forward," he says. "I don't feel that it's sad. We had a hard-fought fight for a year, and I feel [New York Mayor Michael] Bloomberg could have done much, much more [to keep CBGB in New York]. The mayor in Las Vegas wants us. He's going to do everything he can to get us; we just need to raise a little more money. The main thing is to keep it going and make it more meaningful.
"To be out of here? It's a shame," he continues. "It should not have happened this way. [CBGB] should stay here, after 30-something years. But I want to come back [to New York]. When I open in Las Vegas, if it goes as well as I think, we're going to be looking here — and have some places in mind."

short story"CBGB omfug"

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