Punk revival?

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 September, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 10 September, 2005, 12:00am

The club feels derelict, as if it was once gutted in a fire. The building's plumbing innards are exposed; every wall and much of the floor is caked in many years of posters, stickers and graffiti. It is not difficult to spot the odd cockroach, either.

Welcome to New York's CBGB, one of the birthplaces of punk music and the movement and style that went with it. But this is a place whose days may be numbered. Its landlord, a non-profit agency that houses the homeless in a hostel above the club in Lower Manhattan, wants to raise CBGB's rent closer to market rates, and the venue's owners say they cannot afford it.

Enter some unlikely allies for the club, which was originally meant to be a country and blues venue (the name stands for Country, Blue Grass and Blues). In the mid-1970s it showcased new wave and punk acts such as The Ramones, Talking Heads and Blondie.

New York's 63-year-old mayor, Mike Bloomberg, who is just about the last person one would associate with hard rock of any kind, let alone punk, has been holding up a 'Save CBGB' T-shirt and has described it as 'a great New York City institution'.

A Manhattan Civil Court judge said in a ruling last month that the club is a landmark and 'a major cultural institution that provides a venue and a voice for a unique and original genre of music'.

And a local councilman has even suggested the city reconsider providing new funding for the homeless agency if it doesn't listen to the community's wishes and allow the club to stay open.

But one wonders, really, whether they know what they are supporting. The audience last weekend was a combination of flabby punks from a previous era, trendier tourists taking a gander at a sight mentioned in the hipper guidebooks and various younger misfits.

It is a long time since this place gave birth to anything particularly new or interesting in the music world.

Almost every other word that comes from the stage (or at least those that can be deciphered) is four letters; nihilism, sometimes verging on fascism, abounds; and even the band's names often could not be reproduced in a family newspaper.

That it's a homeless charity that may kill off CBGB because it can rent the club out for much more than before says a lot about today's New York. But it is an even greater irony that the establishment is being summoned to save America's crucible of punk music - Mr Bloomberg says it pulls business into the city.

It's all enough to make a punk rocker cry.