Sunday, October 15, 2006

CLUBHOUSE. On a cold night in 1977 Peter Doherty and some others took me on my first trip to CBGB. It was a weekday and the show was ill-attended (we took one of the tables up front; they had waitress service). The Erasers and the Feelies played. The first wave of CBs stars had already graduated, though some of them would pop in occasionally. The current headliners were supposed to be part of some Second Wave (they were both wonderful bands, by the way). The talk at our table was scenester in the extreme, so I mostly kept my mouth shut. I had just seen the Talking Heads and the Ramones for the first time, and knew I had some catching up to do. I got the impression that the dank, stale-beer smell was part of the curriculum.

It made sense that the nexus of New York punk rock was such a ratty joint. A greybeard such as I have become will taunt the kids today for their backwards-looking rock gambits, but the old punk scene was full of magpies mining la boue for lost gems, and sometimes turds. This was said to be a rebuke to what was considered the smooth and stupefied state of the lively arts of the time. It was also a form of passive aggression: one could expect outsiders to be uncomfortable. I have a hunch you won't like it here, the potato chips are soggy, they water the beer, etc.

I became a habitue, saw many splendid shows (Ramones, Dead Boys, X-Ray Spex, B-52s) and a lot of lame ones. Eventually I hauled myself up on that stage and played some splendid/lame shows myself. I got accustomed to the smell, the smashed toilet, and the pleasurable clubhouse atmosphere that you get just by showing up and doing a little work. Nostalgie de la boue? No, it was happening right now! I always had a hand to shake or a back to pat or a face reading clearly, "Oh, this guy again" when I walked in the door.

All those hours spent loading in and loading out and drinking and hearing, or yelling, "You rock" or "You suck." Long after I stopped playing regularly, I considered it part of my life, until the day came when I realized I could count the time that had passed since I darkened Hilly's door in years, and if I walked through again it would be as a stranger.

Last autumn I was called back for the great final wave of CBs benefits. I commandeered a corner of a garishly-lit "dressing room" and practiced my parts while the act on the other side of the graffiti-scarred plywood boomed and blasted. I kept a close eye on my equipment. I tried to time it right so I would get back from the bar with a beer before the set started. I taped my set-list to the wall. I wondered what it sounded like out front. I clammed on a change. I struck a heroic pose. I heard people clapping.

That was my farewell to CBGB: running my tired old muscles through the old routine and seeing how ill it suited me, as a lapsed Catholic might take in a Mass and find himself surprised how hollow it all is when you've lost your faith. But it wasn't all bad. Whatever my level of disengagement, it was still a show, and shows are always good, whether they Rock or Suck. And CB's was holding the door open, though the closing bell was insistently ringing. A friend in Seattle wrote me the other day:
Anyway, I have two shows this weekend, and I just loaded in to the second scummy punk bar and am waiting to play as I write this. The odd thing is, and the reason I'm bending your ear, is that it seems that in the Northwest at least, the Eighties Punk Rock Experience has been faithfully recreated. Sometimes I feel like I'm running around in a theme park of my twenties, only I'm not on drugs this time around. It's eerie, but really fun.
So faith abides in some great souls.

The final services are tonight. The furnishings are being hauled to Vegas, I hear, perhaps to become part of this -- not an outrage, just macabre, like the varnished corpse of Elmer McCurdy hanging in a carnival's haunted house.

You won't catch me grieving, quite. Ah! as the heart grows older/It will come to such sights colder. It's another me I would be mourning, and I retain a lively interest in the present one. My sympathies are with those who have one less place to play but, as my Seattle friend and '68 Elvis knew, if you're looking for trouble, you will eventually come to the right place. Hilly's unique rental deal kept overhead low for a long time, so it will be hard to find something like that in New York now. Maybe New York isn't it. But somewhere it is. Somewhere there's always a clubhouse.

No comments:

Post a Comment