Fading Rock Landmark Faces Last Hurrah

By Ariella Cohen

Published September 09, 2005, issue of September 09, 2005.

The stage lights are in danger of going black at the legendary New York rock club where The Ramones, Blondie and the Talking Heads got their start.

Widely held to be the birthplace of punk, CBGB occupies the ground floor and basement of a homeless shelter on the Bowery. But now, the Bowery Residents’ Committee — a publicly funded organization that operates a homeless shelter above the club and holds a 45-year master lease on the building — says that the rock club is not a suitable tenant for the space.

CBGB’s owner, Hilly Kristal, the BRC’s executive director, Muzzy Rosenblatt, and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who came out last week in support of the club, are all Jewish.

But when you get down to it, the battle for the Bowery haunt comes to not much more than a good old-fashioned grudge match. “Essentially, Muzzy doesn’t like Fuzzy,” explained Kristal, a hirsute 72-year-old who still runs the club. Yet, for Kristal’s younger acolytes, the fight strikes at something deeper. Thousands gathered last August 31 at nearby Washington Square Park for a rally/musical tribute to the club.

“[CBGB] is not historic. It’s sacred,” said E-Street Band member and “The Sopranos” star Steven Van Zandt, speaking from a stage on which Blondie and Bad Brains later performed.

“We’re not going without a fight,” said Van Zandt, who was joined at the rally by “Sopranos” co-stars Tony Sirico and Joe Pantoliano, who, true to their on-screen personas, talked about settling the dispute with violence.

Though the club’s lease officially expired at midnight on the eve of the Washington Square Park rally, the soon-to-be homeless club is keeping its oil burning with nightly benefit concerts.

“God willing, it will be saved,” said Donna Gaines, the author of “Teenage Wasteland: Suburbia’s Dead End Kids” (Pantheon Books, 1991).

“CBGB is tradition,” film director Jonathan Demme said. “And New York cares about keeping traditions alive.”



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