Op-Ed: Resurrect CBGB? No, Just Learn to Live With the Dead
Publisher: Selena Press
Publication Date: March 1, 2012
There are only a handful of rock nightclubs in the history of New York City where musicians actually took their art to extraordinary places — before almost anyone knew who they were, or what it was they were giving to us on stage. Among them was the highly regarded Luna Lounge, the Lower East Side club I was fortunate enough to co-own from 1995 to 2005. Another was CBGB, but I’ll address that club — and its rumored resurrection — a bit later.
Luna was, I believe, one place in a million, one place in time; a simple rectangular box bisected by a wall creating two rooms within one. And, within those rooms, people came to create and connect themselves among friends. Luna was also more than a club; it was a conduit to the consciousness of a certain generation of artists, musicians, comedians and painters who found a home running with a kindred spirit.
New Yorkers already know the elite of the elite, the names of the singers, bands and comedians who performed there: The Strokes, Elliott Smith, The National, Longwave, Kid Rock, Marc Maron, Janeane Garofalo, Dave Chappelle, Sarah Silverman and Louis C.K. But there was more to Luna than being merely a showcase.
Luna Lounge was not a hipster moniker of holier-than-thou disdain but an attitude of acceptance and willingness to engage in an artist’s success, especially if that artist was proving their talent among peers.
When I heard someone was floating the idea of reopening CBGB, I found myself asking: What is it that can actually be re-opened? A crappy old wood bar with worn out tables and chairs? Drywall covered with outdated posters in tribute to bands that no longer exist? A dilapidated stage and blown out speakers? Some old awning? Disgusting urinals?
A club is more than a name; it’s a moment in time brought forth by an inspired soul found among the creative forces of that time. And within the context of that moment, other inspired artists merge with an intrepid entrepreneur and help to create a scene. Then, someone will discover the value of what is happening there and endeavor to give it a name (in the case of CBGB, “punk rock”) so that those who need comfort in categorizing such things will come forth and buy drinks at the bar.
If CBGB reopens, people will come not to be part of a scene but to bask in the light that comes from being some place that was once a pantheon of the gods; a place these gods have forsaken. People will text and take photos from phones and have no awareness and no connection to the meaning of the place in which they are standing; a vague knowledge of having lost out on something but no understanding of what it is that they missed.
Whatever was there is gone and what’s left is hollow and cold, a cynical nod to the past or a sense of frustration among old friends who quietly gather from time to time and remember what once was.
Rob Sacher talks about the first time The Strokes played Luna Lounge, which was one of the New York band’s first shows. YouTube/MusicMiniz
Can you bring back CBGB’s renowned owner — and my mentor — Hilly Kristal? What about Louise Staley, who booked so many bands who appeared at CBs? What about the angry sound engineer and the nice one, too? What about the bartenders who worked there over the years? And even if someone could raise Hilly back from the dead, just what is it that he would say to us now? Would he be happy or would he react like the monster Dr. Frankenstein brought back from the earth?
There is no way to raise the dead, no way to resurrect a club without the soul and the spirit of the creator of that endeavor, and the scene that grew around him. Someone may buy the name, even buy the walls, but no one can buy into a time that is glorious, though frozen in the past. Don’t burden yourself with a tether to some idea or concept of a bygone age.
Take what has come for what it was, something iconic in the history of nightlife in New York City. And then let it go. Let it go. Let it go.
Rob Sacher was the co-owner and creator of the club Luna Lounge on Ludlow Street in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, and before that of the New York City clubs Sanctuary and Mission. He has written a memoir about life as a club owner, “Wake Me When It’s Over,” which he is funding through Kickstarter.