Thursday, August 30, 2007

HILLY KRISTAL -- 1932-2007

Back in 1974, Hilly Kristal opened CBGBs, the original New York punk and hardcore club on the Bowery, providing a dirty, greasy home for the likes of the Dead Boys, the Dictators, Television, Blondie, Talking Heads, the Ramones, and Patti Smith Group, among others.

Patti Smith: "All who passed through the portals experienced, as Arthur Rimbaud would say, 'new scenes, new noise'. He offered us artistic freedom and his gruff yet unconditional love. We evolved,we left and went out into the world like prodigal children. When we returned he always accepted us with open arms."

Like it or not, punk rock came along like a brat with a baseball bat to whack the bloated pinata of overblown, overproduced stadium rock. In the days of highly processed cheese like Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles, Punk Rock brought music back to the basics, three chords and a howl.

In 1977, "the year that punk broke," I interviewed Patti Smith Group and the Ramones for a newspaper in Portland. I was nearly decapitated by a flying chair during Smith's encore. This was definitely not the Eagles. The Ramones played triple speed garage rock like surfin' birds with their tails on fire. They seemed certifiably insane. Patti Smith wailed like the Shirelles on acid, infusing Nuggets electric guitars with Beat poetry. Her guitar player, Lenny Kaye, had in fact produced "Nuggets," the influential anthology of psychedelic garage rock. An appreciative crowd threw folding chairs and shoes and "gobbed" the band with spit. These days it's hard to believe, now that you can find CBGB T-shirts at Gap for Kids, what a riot punk rock was in the early days. Thanks to Hilly Kristal, it had a place to be born.

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