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Monday, October 16, 2006
Belongs to the museum, its rotten soul been sold:
The world's filthiest madeleine: Three stories about CBGB, now that it's a museum in a literal as well as figurative sense.
1) It's January of 1996. Snow has blanketed the city. Mio is too excited to sleep, owing to the Hysterics playing their first show ever -- at CB's! -- in the morning. The rest of us sleep pretty fitfully as well in my mother's basement, but for us, the ragged upstart crew unfortunately named Prozac Nation, that's owing to the tequilla we've been passing around.
I get a phone call. It's Sammy Generic, Mio's drummer and not someone I like at all. Sam is arrogant, overconfident, impatient, pretentious and way, way too much like me. With typical exasperation, he wants to know if he can borrow a cymbal stand from me, because don't I know the Hysterics are playing at CB's tomorrow. Sure, Sam, whatever you need. I'm not going to let Mio's big day get ruined, and, besides, I want to see the Hysterics at CB's.
Next morning Prozac and Mio get on the D train to Broadway-Lafayette and trudge through the snow to meet the Hysterics before soundcheck. Like a drug dealer, the first thing Sam asks when he sees me is if I have the stand, which I very obviously do. Good. Transaction sealed, the Hysterics disappear into a self-righteous pre-show huff, leaving Prozac exactly where they (except for Mio) want them: outside, in the snow, frigid, and definitely not inside CBGB.
One thing. Sam? Yeah? Can you get me and Michael and Colin into the show, seeing as I just got you that cymbal stand? You know we're not 16 yet, so we can't see you guys if you don't get us in.
2) It's about a year and a half and a lifetime later. Sam is my best friend and I'm here on a mission. There's this really interesting band called Catharsis -- I think they're from Georgia or one of the Carolinas -- coming through CB's, and the singer is the guy who does Inside Front, which is charting a completely unfamiliar political path within HC. Find out for the not-yet-titled Paperweight what they're about.
CB's is not a comfortable fit for Catharsis. The singer peels off his shirt to reveal the living evidence of malnutrition. His skin is pasty, caked with the filth of dried sweat and engine grease, and his hair is starting to mat. He looks like Charles Manson. As soon as Catharsis hit their first song -- which I seem to remember, surely incorrectly, as "Choose Your Heaven" -- the singer is crawling through the audience. And I mean crawling in that CB's filth, belly nearly scraping the floor, as if he was scavaging for his dinner. His real dinner is the bourgeoise NYHC bovines, who don't appreciate a feral singer, snapping at his mic cable as if it were the leash preventing him from hunting the crowd, spitting on them -- wet, meaty gifts from his lungs -- in lieu of between-song banter. I fall in love.
After they're finished, I go over to the singer, whose name is Brian, and we agree to meet in their van. It's summer, and the lot of them -- drummer Alexi, guitarist Live Fast Dan Young (RIP), bassist/future guitarist Matt and roadie/future bassist Ernie -- are shivering cold. Brian has a bag of pistachios that's feeding the entire crew. The rapidity with which he can switch from snarling to compassionate is absurd, and yet it doesn't appear remotely insincere. He motions me to the bag of pistachios and asks, "Have you eaten today...?"
Now we're talking absurdity. For the rest of my life, this exchange will be ambiguous. Was Brian, who writes essays and songs against the mechanistic ritualization of everyday life, ritually asking me, a comfortable middle-class HC bovine, if I was going capital-H hungry as a way of assuaging his conscience that Catharsis is more than entertainment for the overfed bourgeoisie? Or was Brian trying to tell me, as his comrades often put it, that another world is possible? Ambiguous, but fucking hilarious.
For the rest of my life as well, Brian would be good to me. In another year, Brian would put up Derek Moore, Sam, Eric Boehme and myself in Chapel Hill when the Refused played its triumphant 1998 American tour, during which the greatest rock and roll band of its time self-destructed. More recently, Brian allowed me to visit him in his hometown two weeks ago to help me reconfigure the broken pieces of my life. CB's, I'll always thank you for making the introduction.
3) It's last year, before everything collapses. At this point, she and I are still living at Rhode Island Avenue. For some reason I'm flipping through a copy of the Village Voice, and I don't know why. But suddenly I see it, in the music ads. Gorilla Biscuits are reuiniting to play a final show to benefit CB's defense fund. She asks me if I think we should go. I think a moment. No. Not only is GB not worth seeing, they're really not worth seeing 15-plus years after the fact, and for that matter, it's long past time for CBGB to die. We keep our money, letting Hilly Kristal take his fill from others.