New York clubland pioneer Hilly Krystal died this week from lung cancer just months after he failed to prevent property developers from closing his landmark Manhatttan club.
Opening CBGBs in the Lower East Side in 1973 when the local area was ubiquitously known as New Yorks Skid Row he introduced an open door music policy that eventually led to the club being hailed as the birthplace of punk- a claim he always treated with caution.
Weve never booked just punk, Everybody calls music different things but I never considered Talking Heads as punk, Hilly told Skrufff in an interview in 2003,
Truthfully even years ago Mink De Ville and the B52s werent punk, though they called it New Wave, he added. We used to call groups like Talking Head art rock.
Talking Heads drummer Chris Franz started his career there in 1976 and paid tribute to the club last year, also in an interview with Skrufff.
When we were performing at CBGB's alongside Television, The Ramones, Patti Smith, and Blondie, there was never any doubt in my mind that something unforgettable was going on, he said To me it was obvious that history was in the making; in no small part thanks to Hilly Kristal who owned CBGBs and gave these bands a stage to play on when no one else would.
The club was famously described as a toilet by legendary rock critic Charles Murray in 1975 (It looks as if the proprietors kick holes in the walls and piss in the corners before they let the customers in, he quipped) and increasingly found itself marginalized as gentrification cleaned up the Bowery.
We used to have a flop house above us, we still do though theyve changed it. Now an organisation who rehabilitates people who are lost on drugs, alcohol or life in general, is based there. But there used to be 500 to 600 people living there whereas now theyre down to 30. Theyre trying to get rid of them but they cant, Hilly told Skrufff in the same interview.
The Bowery now has normal, what I call real people living on it. When the club started there were a lot of artists, musicians and writers living here an there was an intermingling of different people. Lots of them were struggling in the arts and the rents were cheap, though right now, no rents are cheap so you have an intermingling of lawyers, with all these people and the different ethnic groups. The Bowerys changed but its good, he added, you still see a lot of younger people and musicians and artists but you dont have the Bowery Bums anymore.
He also reminisced about the punk stars who didnt play the club including the genres two biggest bands.
The Pistols never played at CBs. The Clash used to come in a lot, then Johnny Lydon came in after they broke up and sat in the corner for two weeks, he chuckled,
And Sid Vicious came in, and I kicked him out a couple of times. Vicious was a perfect name for him; he had problems, he recalled.
Punks legacy here is about people taking hold of their music and making it their own way. Its a young peoples music, Im not young, but its music for young people to spout off to say what they feel, to explain whats bothering them. Thats very important and thats what punk is, he concluded.
Hilly Krystal was 75.
CBGBs 1977 Links:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=agXsxYiMZZA (Talking Heads)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Be7Nt5qnBsw (Ramones @ CBGBs, 1977)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v4tURuzVf8E (Blondie @ CBs 1977)
Jonty Skrufff (Skrufff.com)