What a special end to my birthday week concert celebration by spending it with Patti Smith on the final day of CBGB’s. Already this month I’ve seen the Continental close and now a few blocks away, the birthplace of punk shuts its doors. I was not sure what to expect from this night. I was recovering from a week of heavy drinking and going to shows every night this week so I was already pretty numb. However, by the time I approached the Bowery, I was startled to see a line around the block and a media frenzy in front of the club. There was electricity in the air. It took almost an hour to get in the small club, and when the wristband went on me I realized that it would be the last time this would happen, the last time I’d glance at the beaten up TV and the last time I’d come through these doors.
Even though there was still a good number of people on line behind me, the club was already filled. I mean PACKED. Reports stated that there were over 500 people present for a club that holds about 300. Fans ranged from young to old and there was no room to move. I arrived in time to hear Patti’s first set which consisted mainly of her songs, old and new. She was very comfortable on the stage she helped make famous.
During the break between sets I muscled my way up to the front. The bathroom in the back was strategically closed off. I could have imagined people doing crazy things in there one last time. People could not move in or out and if you left, your spot was quickly filled by 2-3 people. It was overall very uncomfortable. Did I mention it was packed?
Patti took the stage again and changed into a beat-up ripped shirt. The second half consisted of covers from all the bands that helped shape the landscape of punk and rock n’ roll and ones that graced the tattered stage of CBGB’s. Patti would name the song after she performed it giving credit to the artist. My personal highlight was when she covered “Sonic Reducer” by the Dead Boys. There were special guests sprinkled throughout the night including Flea who played bass on several songs. We sang happy birthday to him, which will be an awesome memory, and he absolutely killed when he covered the Ramones songs. I was elated when Richard Lloyd took the stage and played a few tunes as well.
Midway through the set she apologized to the crowd that she had to use the bathroom. This became a perfect opportunity for Lenny Kaye and the band to go into a rocking medley of Ramones songs perfectly stitched together. The crowd jumped and sang along.
Although she didn’t share too many memories, she did tell a great story on how she got her apartment and dedicated “Space Monkey” to Michael Stipe. Later, 3 hours into the set, Patti stuttered on stage and mentioned that she needed to drink some coffee, which got a chuckle from the crowd. At points she seemed completely drained but then she became enraged and passionate onstage.
She concluded the evening by playing a passionate version of “Gloria” and went into “Elegie” and dedicated the song to all those that couldn’t make it. She read off many names of the musicians and pioneers that gave it their all for the music and the scene and garnered applause from the crowd. Patti started to cry, laugh and sing during the funeral march played behind her. She stated that the club was just a place, not a temple, and music will go on. I was very moved and tried to soak in these last moments of the club.
“You just got a place, just some crappy place, that nobody wants, and you got one guy who believes in you, and you just do your thing. And anybody can do that, anywhere in the world, any time.”
The club ends it’s 33 year run, and Patti pointed out that it was the same age as Jesus. Nearly 4 hours later, I left the graffiti laden and spit stained doors one last time. I lingered around for a few hours outside (as did many others) and lamented on all the good and bad times I had at the club. It was such a big part of my past and my outlook on life and music. It’s sad to see things disappear like this from your life and I say goodbye to something that shaped me to who I am today. What better way to do it than a monumental concert and with Punk’s most celebrated poet. Several hours later they take took down the tattered awning and it’s official. CBGB is no more. Goodbye old friend.