It’s been almost a year since venerable downtown-NYC punk club CBGB shut its grimy doors for good — which makes it almost two years since that other time when CBGB’s definitive demise was announced. But if any one still doubted that the dear old hole in the wall is really, truly gone, never to come back, they got their answer yesterday, when club founder Hilly Kristal passed away at age 75 after battling lung cancer.
Sad news, for sure. And though this phrase has been used more than enough in relation to CBGB, Kristal’s death really does represent the end of an era. Without him, of course, the world outside of lower Manhattan might never have heard the Ramones, or Talking Heads, or Patti Smith. But there was something admirable in the way he kept CBGB’s legend alive long after those artists departed for bigger venues. After all, CBGB was hardly about the music in those last few years. It was about Kristal’s sheer, blessed obstinacy, hanging on well past the point when his club was breaking relevant new acts. He could have let CBGB slip quietly into memory and made money licensing t-shirts, but he told his landlords to piss off — over and over and over again. How punk-rock is that? We may have mourned CBGB’s physical location long enough last year, but it’s high time to toast the guy who made it what it was.