CBGB – ONE MORE TIME!
By Madeline Bocaro
On April 17, 2008 we stood outside under the new black 315 Bowery awning as ropes were put up, and limos pulled up. I don’t know where these people thought they were, but I was at CBGB! The CBGB gallery next door (now Morrison Hotel Gallery) exhibits a huge poster in its window announcing Bob Gruen’s exhibit Rockers, featuring Sid Vicious smashing a condiment-loaded hot dog into his own face, sporting a badge that says, “I’m A Mess”. A guy approaches me asking, “Where’s the Bowery Hotel?” and I recognize him –former T. Rex/Led Zep publicist, B.P. Fallon.
Elements of heaven and hell and surrealism permeated the evening. Up walked the cowboy from The Village People. The only logical explanation is that he probably has Alzheimer’s and wandered into the most inappropriate place for him on earth!
D Generation are magnificently sound-checking inside while way too many security staffers are strategizing the guest list/wrist band coordination. When I roll my eyes, someone asks, “Wasn’t it ever like this before?” I reply, “There hardly was a door – people just stumbled in and out of the cavernous hole all night long.”
Tonight, we enter and there’s an eerily empty space to the right where dear old gray-haired owner Hilly used to sit and stamp hands. But the place is pretty much intact. It feels the same. It even looks the same, but a bit cleaner. All the graffiti and historic crap stuck to the walls has been preserved under glass, with lots of cool rock posters and framed photos everywhere. Alice Cooper, T. Rex, the Jam and Iggy Pop music is playing. It feels like the lyric in Bowie’s song “Heroes”, “We can steal time, just for one day.” A new bar is placed right where the old one used to be, and as we enter deeper and see the stage, it’s just like old times – except the infamous bathrooms are gone. (There were Port-O-Pottys set up outside).
The new tenant, designer John Varvatos has retained the spirit of the old place. It could’ve become a Starbucks or a bank, but here we are – at CBGB again! A huge chandelier hangs overhead with a thousand tiny lights, each one representing another in our galaxy of dearly departed star veterans.
It’s an opening bash for the Varvatos boutique (not a garment in sight) and a benefit for VH1’s Save The Music. The cavalcade of stars begins. First up is a group of kids under age 12 – maybe even 9 – Care Bears on Fire. If I didn’t feel old when I walked in, I sure did now. Next was another group of teen boys, Pop Girls etc.. They were the pimply cretins of the class whom all the girls ridiculed, dressed in pointy boots and too-tight jackets.
Up next was the D Generation reunion – the first in 10 years. My god did they rock! Incredible memories of how great they were. “No Way Out”, “Frankie” and “Degenerated” floored everyone! Bassist Howie Pyro flew in from L.A. I reminded guitarist Danny Sage that he once told me I’d see them at Madison Square Garden, and I did – when they opened for KISS in 1996. He yelled down to me from the stage at MSG, “I told you!!!” Now he said, “Look where it got us, right back here!” A wild blast from the past.
I guess Debbie Harry had better things to do that night, but Clem Burke backed up the Losers Lounge with some singers who did T. Rex, Blondie and Bowie songs. Then came the redemption of Ronnie Spector! She looked incredible and sang her gorgeous rendition of Johnny Thunders’ “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory”. Ronnie wiped away tears and said, “This place started it all – so many faces are running through my mind like – Joey Ramone…” At least SHE remembered! Then she sang the most beautiful “Be My Baby” knocking down the confining wall of sound…just her pure “Woah oh oh oh oh.” It was heavenly. I’ve always admired her – a true pop diva from another era who stepped down from her throne to appreciate and befriend the underground creatures of CBGB.
MY STORY about Johnny’s song: https://madelinex.com/2022/04/23/a_memory/
Then, they announced Ian Hunter. I wasn’t ready for another of my most precious heroes so suddenly, but out he came amidst the loudest cheers of the evening for “Once Bitten Twice Shy”, “Central Park N’ West”, “Roll Away The Stone” and “All The Young Dudes.”
Alan Vega from Suicide, still ever so insane did a mystifying version of ? And The Mysterians’ “96 Tears” – at once classic and ridiculous. Joan Jett, looking amazing, did “Bad Reputation”. The Dead Boys’ Cheetah Chrome came out for “Sonic Reducer” and the Stooges’ “I Wanna Be Your Dog”. The Dictators’ Handsome Dick Manitoba, MC5’s Wayne Kramer and others jammed on “Kick Out The Jams”. Then came Slash and Perry Farrell, and later members of Cypress Hill. The evening became confusing as it derailed and degenerated from Degeneration to this. But at least we know that a stage still can be pulled out at any time, and anything can happen in this preserved prehistoric cave where we all grew up.