CBGB Festival Hits NYC This Week, Featuring Cheetah Chrome

As I left BINGO last night, I stared across the street at Daniel Boulud’s DBGB Kitchen & Bar and the John Varvatos store and all the new construction near Joey Ramone Place, East 2nd Street. I was looking back, something I always do with caution. I miss a lot from those days of yore, but not the seriously rough streets or the death-by-needles and the AIDS-related disease that decimated a generation. I don’t miss the poverty, the desperation. I do miss many great friends and clubs and bars. Although I always leaned to Max’s Kansas City for my action, I do miss CBGB.

The club started in 1973, and a million bands later shuttered on October 15th, 2006, with Patti Smith doing the honors. The house that Hilly Kristal ruled left a legacy of showcasing budding stadium acts as well as countless bands that went nowhere, and tons in between. It was a watering hole where rockers came to listen to rockers. It had rock chopspurity despite all its impurities. It died hard, fighting court cases, landlords, and headlines. It has been missed. Somebody is doing something about that.

Starting Thursday, the CBGB Festival hits NYC. The three-day event features over 30 venues hosting innumerable bands, film screenings, a music and film conference, and a spirit festival. I could go on, but it’s easier to let you go here for the breakdown. There’s even rumors that a CBGB club may happen down the road. I contacted Dead Boys guitarist author, gentleman, and old friend Cheetah Chrome for his two cents on all this.

The festival is upon us. What does it mean to be playing in a festival that includes blasts from the past and still-kick’ers’ like Richard Lloyd, David Johansen, Glen Matlock, Tommy Ramone , and so many more?
Well, it’s great. I love to see the old gang whenever I can. I have a feeling this time it’ll be tempered by the people who aren’t there just as much as the ones that are, though. A lot of the old gang aren’t going anywhere, and they’ll be missed.

We had tea a few times in the booths of Max’s Kansas City. What were the differences between CBGB and Max’s –  besides the bad food?… actually, it wasn’t that bad.
CC) Well, the food was a huge difference; believe me, I know – I lived on Hilly burgers and chili for six months! To me there wasn’t a whole lot of difference between the two. That seemed to be more of a New York thing, after the big incident between Dick and Jayne; we missed that, we were on the road. So we just happily went between the two. There was a real sense of family at both. Of course, after the split, the CBGB family sort of banished us for awhile…luckily, me and Hilly got past that and were close right up until his death. 

I saw you post somewhere:
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it-"
George Santayana. What needs to be remembered and heeded from those CBGB days?
Beware of men named Seymour bearing contracts. Read anything you sign before you sign it. Look down at the floor ahead of you wherever you walk. Smell chili before you eat it. And the soundman isn’t out to get you.

Who are you looking forward to seeing at the festival?
Everybody the night I’m playing, I’m leaving the next morning! I won’t have time to see anyone else! I wish I could see Bebe Buell’s set, but I’m needed at the film festival at that time.

On Facebook and probably in other parts of your life that I am not seeing you are very outspoken and political. Since your Dead Boys days and through your rock history how have you strived to tell your public your viewpoint, and how important is it to mix sounds with enlightenment? What lyrics need to be heard?
The last two MC5 albums; everybody seems to have missed them the first time, and they’re just as relevant today. Steppenwolf’s Monster album. Rage Against the Machine.

Bebe Buell told me how smart Stiv Bators was. Tell me about him, the Dead Boys, and while you’re there …how did you survive those times?
Stiv was very smart and very fun to have long conversations with about politics and conspiracies, movies and music, you name it. He was the closest thing to a brother I ever had, and he taught me quite a lot. Dead Boys was a pretty special bunch, all very quick and funny as hell.  I miss those times a lot.

How I survived I can’t figure out; I figure God must have kept me around to raise my son – I doubt it has anything to do with me. I’m not doing anything earthshaking but he very well may someday!

Where are you musically today as opposed to, say, 1984, and what’s new that you like?
Same place pretty much –doing solo gigs and I hate all the new bands!

This CBGB Movie Looks Kind Of Ridiculous (But You’ll Probably See It Anyway)

So the poster for CBGB, Randal Miller’s upcoming cinematic take on the legendary club and its owner, Hilly Kristal, was released today, prompting another NYC cultural institution to declare: "If you’re the type of cynical punk asshole who thinks the movie about CBGB can’t be anything but terrible, well GOOD NEWS, the movie’s poster essentially proves you right." The whole thing has a very Rock of Ages-meets-Purim Carnival feel about it (Paste‘s Bonnie Stiernberg compared it to the "rock and roll" section of a Party City catalog, A+), and even with Alan Rickman, who can do no wrong, the whole thing just seems, well, ridiclous. The poses! Oh, the poses! At least the captions for Debbie Harry and Iggy Pop are things the two of them really said. 

There’s the Justin Bartha crotch-grab, which actually does look like he’s auditioning for Rock of Ages or maybe some boy band. Joel David Moore’s Joey Ramone has this weird Very Mary-Kate thing going on. And not pictured is Johnny Galecki, who although is playing someone on the business side, dude was in The Big Bang Theory, and if there’s one thing that is not punk rock at all, it’s CBS. Rupert Grint really does kind of look like Cheetah Chrome, though. Regardless, even if this movie is as lulzy as the poster makes it seem like it will be, you’ll probably see it out of some morbid curiosity or just to hear some jams. Or maybe it will capture the sort of irreverence and goofiness that existed in the club’s spirit. Whatever. It’s your call. 

If you want to see some awesomeness happening at the real CBGB, here’s Talking Heads performing "Psycho Killer" there in 1975. Enjoy. Happy Friday.

CBGB’s Regulars Talk Biopic Casting

It was revealed earlier this week that a feature film about iconic Manhattan rock club CBGB’s is in the works, but more surprising than the fact that a movie about the legendary venue was in the works was the news that Alan Rickman—the actor a whole generation of filmgoers knows only as Professor Snape—would be playing CBGB’s owner Hilly Kristal.

Whenever an actor is cast to play the role of a real person, it can cause some controversy. And when that real person is as beloved and revered as Kristal, things can get messy. So we decided to check in with some old-time CBGB’s regulars to see what they think of the casting – and how they might do things differently.

James Sliman (former Kristal employee and tour manager for The Dead Boys): “I’m not really that familiar with Alan Rickman’s work, but I’m sure he’ll do a fine job with a good script and the right director… Alan Rickman certainly has the right look for Hilly, but I have to say, I would probably have chosen Philip Seymour Hoffman for the role. I just saw him in Death of a Salesman on Broadway and I know he could actually become Hilly, in all aspects of Hilly’s personality. He also has that downtown New York thing about him. No matter who plays Hilly, I can’t wait to see the film.”

Bebe Buell (model, musician, former Playboy Playmate): "I think I would prefer to see John Mayer in the role, because he’s got Hilly’s height and majestic quality and I’m sure he could pull off Hilly’s baritone voice. He would be my first choice. What many people don’t know about Hilly is he was a great singer & guitar player, so there you go!”

Cheetah Chrome (The Dead Boys): "Wait a minute – the guy who played Snape, is going to be Hilly? The guy is older than [Stiv] Bators would be, is Hilly gonna be 70 through the whole movie? So is Daniel Radcliffe playing Stiv? Hell, get Johnny Depp to play me!”