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Some places have a special heritage in rock and roll: Woodstock, the Fillmore, and punk rock's major birthplace, the CBGB in New York. Although the CBGB closed back in 2006, today I'd like to remember the venue and especially the man behind the venue: Hilly Kristal. A few days ago, Kristal passed away at 75 after a long bout with lung caner.
The CBGB was apparently originally opened as a country/bluegrass/blues venue back in 1973, something I was unaware of as I always associate it more with the early punk movement. Although it has often been described as more than just a little grimy, especially the bathroom, the CBGB was a rock and roll icon, as was it's owner. There were lots of bands known for their shows at the CBGB including Blondie, Sonic Youth and of course the band I will always associate with this venue: the Ramones. It developed into one of the major punk venues over the years as well as a place where new bands could come to cut their teeth and gain some support.
I was not lucky enough to even see a show at the CBGB, but it's legend proceeds it and is well etched into my mind. Although stadium shows are great, there is something far more rock and roll about a "dive" of a club, with a stickers and memorabilia all over everything than any stadium will. As a venue, I'm sure it will be missed, but not nearly as much as it's owner.
Hilly Kristal ran the CBGB for 33 years including fighting very hard with his landlords to keep it open in the last few years. I have a lot of respect for Hilly Kristal, not just for owning and running such a legendary rock and roll venue, but also for taking chances on unknown bands, new musical styles and giving the bands more artistic freedom. Who knows if bands like the Ramones or Sonic Youth (and so many other bands) would have gotten nearly as much exposure without their time at the CBGB. Reading some of the comments on Rolling Stone from artists who played the venue and knew Kristal, they are a testament to just how much he cared about the music and how much his help was appreciated for giving bands a chance. Read some of these comments here: http://www.rollingstone.com/rockdaily/index.php/2007/08/29/patti-smith-debbie-harry-steven-van-zandt-on-hilly-kristal-and-the-significance-of-cbgb/#more-3658
There aren't too many people willing to do what Hilly Kristal did for rock and roll. He provided not only a venue, but a community where artists could express themselves and those who were interested could come see some new music and have a good time... all in the form of a dirty dive of a club, called the CBGB. I pass along my condolences to his family and friends, as well as to every artist who got to play the club and to everyone who even attended a show there.
Consider this a small tribute to the man behind CBGB's, Hilly Kristal.