Hilly Kristal, founder of the landmark rock club, CBGB, died Tuesday, August 27. Sadly, lung cancer took him out. He was 75.
Opening the club in 1973, Kristal became the proprietor of punk rock in America, facilitating its historic beginnings with appearances from The Ramones, The Talking Heads, Television and Patti Smith to name a few.
Not being a fan of the music that made his club popular, (CBGB stands for “Country Blue Grass Blues,” and was originally meant to host such bands), Kristal’s only real rule for any band playing there was that they had write originals. He didn’t want any cover bands playing there. As a result, he wound up booking a lot of bands that other venues wouldn’t touch; relative unknowns that would wind up changing music’s soundscape forever, while harboring the unhappy miscreants that these bands spoke to.
It was during the late 70s that an overall disenchantment with music led to an increase in aggression and a decrease in extravagance. Arena bands and progressive acts were viewed as full of themselves and boring and disco was enough to make any music enthusiast give up and slice their arms open with broken vinyl. Seminal acts like The Velvet Undergound and The Stooges were some of the first groups to air their overall displeasure with the socially conscious hippie acts that would later cash in all their hope and flowers for a shot at the big time. These fractured rhythms and this aggressively ear-splitting discord culminated in what eventually turned out to be “punk,” and CBGB became its soapbox.
In 2006, a rent dispute led to the closing of CBGB. Patti Smith took the stage for the club’s final performance, thanking Kristal for helping start it all and doing his best to keep it alive.
With the club gone, Kristal’s death would almost seem like a footnote or an afterthought. But, Kristal made that club important. The bands made it historically relevant, but Kristal allowed that to happen. Keep this in mind when you throw on Rocket To Russia, or Talking Heads ‘77, or Easter, or Marquee Moon; keep in mind that, without Hilly Kristal, they may never have reached your ears.
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