The Last Days of CBGB : The Dictators, Blondie & Patti Smith

“I got to be a part of something that I wished for the life of me that I‚Äôd been on since the beginning, and the performance wasn‚Äôt some retro tribute thing- it was raw, live, and the songs were just as rife with relevance. I‚Äôve got a 3 dollars, a pineapple and half a box of crackers to live on over the next 3 days, but there are also 4 shows to go to and I‚Äôve got the leftover camera batteries. How f*cking punk rock is that? I‚Äôd like that t-shirt now please.” – Me, October 16, 2006

Bloody hell. Every once in awhile I troll the Punkphoto blog archives and am completely surprised that I actually was at some serious events. Some were so transcending that I actually forgot I was there. In light of this year’s Freefest announcement I went digging for some Patti Smith photos and was surprised to see some posts from the last days of CBGB. I think it was so traumatic to actually get INTO the last 3 gigs that in some ways I blacked it out. Hair pulling, camera bag grabbing, old people yelling – everyone had a different right to be there, and a lot of them didn’t get in which was pretty heartbreaking.

But first off, could we please re-examine my financial situation at the time:
3 DOLLARS, A PINEAPPLE AND HALF A BOX OF CRACKERS TO LIVE ON OVER THE NEXT 3 DAYS, but there are also 4 shows to go to and I’ve got the leftover camera batteries.
Um, wow. That seems very far away. But definitely a big part of my life and I wouldn’t change it for the world and actually these photos were a big turning point in my career. I still remember those effing crackers. NEVER FORGET.

*Anyway* I was on assignment for a UK magazine with my friend TJ, and it was scheduled to go to press 5 hours after CBGB shuttered its doors forever. Granted at that point camera crews and paparazzi were swarming the sidewalk on the Bowery, so we pinky swore in the name of Punk (and TJ’s leather jacket) to resort to guerilla tactics to turn in the best feature of all time. So WE HUSTLED like never before. In the days leading up to the closing events we were allowed to poke around off hours and chat with the CBGB Godfather Hilly Krystal, if he wasn’t lying down in his office (which he often was). By that time he was in the advanced stages of fighting cancer and was exhausted on several levels, including the controversy surrounding the space.

Then came the realization that we needed to get into the actual concerts. It started off with the last hardcore matinee with The Dictators and Agnostic Front, with a show by Blondie the next day, which was followed by Patti Smith‘s closing set on the last night. Honestly I only made it through the first 2 bands at the hardcore show – as you can see from the pics, it was a sausage fest circle pit. It was even more packed for Debbie Harry the next night, and then the mayhem surrounding Patti’s set… I’ll save the finer details for another day. Long story short we busted through a hole in the wall of the basement in the neighboring gallery. GUERILLA TACTICS Y’ALL. Don’t worry, I didn’t scam my way in per se. I signed in once I got upstairs – we needed to resort to the dramatic entry as people without tickets had blocked the front doors!

When we finally did get in, I crammed myself on top of a milkcrate against the wall stage left and my legs fell asleep. At that point I had been standing in one spot for 5 hours! Patti growled at any camera that popped up in her face, so I kept mine hidden, until Flea hopped on stage towards the end. Then I started snapping. Wouldn’t you? The rest, as they say, is history.

Definitely read David Fricke‘s interview with Patti Smith the day after the show here. Captions from what I remember are below.

RIP Hilly September 23, 1931 – August 28, 2007

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