The legacy of CBGB further unwinds into nothingness with Target’s East Village appropriation

I try my best not to be too terribly sentimental about things. I understand that, no matter how much we might try to stop it from happening, everything changes. I know, eventually, everything wonderful and meaningful is destroyed and replaced.

As I’ve discussed here before, though, there are certain things I find it difficult to let go of. And one of those things is CBGB, the filthy, little East Village bar where a disproportionate number of my favorite bands got their start. I’m not sure why I’m so invested in the legacy of a bar that I never even stepped foot inside of until a decade after it stopped being relevant, but I can’t help it. And, I should add, I know it wasn’t by any means a paradise, even during its heyday. But, for some reason, I’ve invested a lot of myself in the mythology of this place, where outcasts and artists came together to launch an assault against the prevailing corporate culture of the day. [The building, I think, should have been preserved at Greenfield Village, right alongside Thomas Edison’s laboratory, and the Wright brothers bicycle shop. Instead it now houses an upscale clothing store.]

I didn’t leave Georgia for New Jersey until ’78, and, by then, all of the good stuff at CBGB, which was about a 50 minute drive away from where my parents decided to move us, had pretty much already happened. Punk, by then, was evolving into something different. The bands like the Ramones, Television, and Talking Heads, all of whom would come to mean so much to me in my later adolescence, were already giving way to the next wave, led by the likes of the Sex Pistols. And that wasn’t really my scene, at least in the fourth grade. [I can still remember being glued in horror to my friend David Spivey’s television set suburban Atlanta, watching news coverage in January ’78 of the Sex Pistols arriving downtown to start their their U.S. tour. In retrospect, David and I should have hauled our ten year old asses down there and been part of history, but, at the time, I was absolutely terrified at the thought of them being just a few miles away.] But, as a kid growing up relatively isolated in rural New Jersey, this music, and the mythology of CBGB, would come to mean the world to me.

At any rate, the evolution of CBGB is something that I’ve lamented here several times in the past, marking with outrage each poorly executed step in the commoditization of this thing that I perceived to be so important. Here’s an excerpt from something I wrote a few years after the bar closed its doors in 2006, as CBGB’s “unwinding into nothingness” accelerated.

…Now, of course, Hilly is dead, as are many of the people who helped make CBGB infamous, and the bar itself is an upscale clothing store, where you can buy $165 t-shirts. I suppose the beauty of life is that it’s always evolving, and I guess that’s especially true in New York. Change happens. And that’s how a little country, bluegrass and blues dive came to be home to some of the most important artists of the late 20th century. While it breaks my heart a bit to see the whole thing unwind into nothingness like this, I think I’ve come to terms with the fact that nothing good last forever. And that’s probably for the best. All we can hope for is that, on occasion, we’re around when one of these fleeting opportunities to arise from that nothingness presents itself, and nudges us all onto a slightly different, more interesting course. And that, I think, is what happened 40 years ago in New York…

Well, apparently I hadn’t really come to terms with it after all… Today, as I was looking at this photos from the East Village Grieve, I found myself right back in the same place that I was about half a dozen years ago, when I’d first heard that Nordstrom was selling official, $100 CBGB t-shirts.

If it’s not clear from the photos, these are images of a new Target store that opened yesterday at 14th Street and Avenue A, in the East Village, not far from what CBGB once stood. As you can see, the faux, 70’s era streetscape they’ve incorporated in their design is built around a sterile, white version of the venue’s iconic awning, on which “CBGB” has been replaced by “TRGT.”

Beneath “TRGT,” as you can see above, it says “BANDS.” From what I just read on the Stereogum site, this was explained inside, where Target employees were handing out “free boxes of Target-branded Band-Aids and exercise bands.” And, continuing the theme, they also apparently had a giant fake Target-red guitar outside that you could take your photo with wile wearing a foam “rock on” hand over your own. [I think it would have been more appropriate if they’d had an inflatable Stiv Bators that you could have performed fellatio on, but what do I know.]

I don’t have anything to add. I just wanted to note it in the official record that this had happened.

In conclusion, I’ll just say this… Everything gets destroyed. The lucky ones are those who live long enough to see it happen to that which they loved.

As for the commoditization, I guess it’s just the nature of capitalism. If I were so inclined, I could see some beauty in the fact that what happened at CBGB in the mid-70s is still reverberating over 40 years later. I’m not seeing it, though. From my vantage point, they’re just stripping off the veneer, pressure-washing it with bleach, and repackaging it for a generation of mindless, professional consumers. And that makes me incredibly sad, as, to a large extent, what happened at CBGB was a direct response to the corporate influence over popular culture.

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  1. Posted July 22, 2018 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    As I know someone will say something, I should probably reiterate that I’m well aware of the fact that CBGB was far from a paradise, even at its most relevant. I know the venue itself sucked. I also know that their booking practices almost assuredly reflected the racism and sexism of the day. I’m not attempting to hold the CBGB scene from between ’73 and ’77 as some kind of paradise on earth. People were fucked up. Hilly was trying to sell beer. And these young kids, many of whom were junkies, were just trying to get laid. And, despite their anti-corporate motivations, they wanted fame and fortune. I get all of that. History is messy, dirty and ugly. Even with all of that, though… holy fuck… the music that came out of this scene was incredible.

  2. Posted July 22, 2018 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    The “Stiv Baators” link, by the way, will take you to a photo of him receiving oral sex from a CBGB waitress while on stage. It’s not graphic. I just thought that I should note it, as I think it’s the first time I’ve posted an image of someone performing oral sex.

  3. Jeff Gaynor
    Posted July 22, 2018 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    Oh, sure, Mark. Give the thing about the Stiv Baators link away and now it must be going viral, as it’s not letting me in … oh wait, there it goes. Oh my! I never!

    As to spelling, you might have been confusing Stiv Bators with Ulaanbaatar.

  4. Posted July 22, 2018 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    I was never a big Dead Boys fan. I think, once punk started veering off in that direction, it lost some of it’s appeal for me. I did, however, like Bators in Polyester.

  5. Lynne
    Posted July 22, 2018 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    This is the nature of things. There is often a creative class of musicians and artists. They don’t make much money at it so they either do it part time while holding down another job or they full time and live an impoverished life in parts of town richer, more established people are frightened of. If a scene experiences any kind of success though then the more suburban mainstream types come flowing in and because they often can’t handle grittiness things get sanitized. The artists move on. I guarantee there are other dive bars out there which have scenes that are just as cutting edge and exciting CBGB back in the day, they are just not located in places older people may know about.

  6. Eel
    Posted July 22, 2018 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    We live in an upside down nightmare world. They fucking remade Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with Johnny Depp.

  7. Jcp2
    Posted July 22, 2018 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    If you appreciate American R and B from the nineties, you won’t find it in current American artists. Those original songwriters are writing for K pop groups. BTS is one thing that my kids and I both can listen to.

  8. Iron lung
    Posted July 22, 2018 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    Lords of the new church were a better band than the dead boys

  9. Jean Henry
    Posted July 22, 2018 at 8:45 pm | Permalink

    The East Village died 20 years ago as far as I’m concerned. I spent a lot of time there from 82 on. Target is the symptom not the cause. The CBGB’s thing has been done before; its been sold and packaged for a while. (That commercial ambition is also part of the foundation of Punk– see Malcom MacLaren et al) . The tenements images draped on the outside of the new Union Square Target are ill conceived and ironic. What people seem to be upset about is the buildings more than the culture, which as I said has been gone for decades now. I love old things and old buildings but I’m sort of tired of people confusing buildings with culture. What killed culture in the East Village was high rents and greater personal safety in the area which attracted the kind of kids who can afford to live in Manhattan these days. That led to the bigger buildings, not visa versa.

    Those kinds of kids rarely make culture. But it’s happening elsewhere. Manhattan is still remarkably diverse (the numbers surprised me), I guess due to public housing and a few areas that remain unsafe enough to resist gentrification. Some places in New York City broadly are still producing culture. I’ve seen some of it and the rest is likely beyond the scope of our vision still. Hip Hop culture is the new punk. And it’s making $$. That financial success is leading to a broader cultural impact beyond music into film, TV, literature, dance, theater, fashion. The new Harlem renaissance is upon us. There is now a self-named afro-punk movement. For those nostalgic about the uber white and male punk movement (Detroit was an exception there actually), there’s a good show up at Cranbrook, Too Fast to Live, Too Young to Die: Punk Graphics, 1976-1986.
    They’re going to be screening the Death documentary too.
    I never considered Union Square the East Village anyway. It was always commercial.

    This is the kind of thing people like to get outraged about. It makes good press and affords us all the opportunity to talk about things we miss that are long gone.

  10. Jean Henry
    Posted July 22, 2018 at 8:55 pm | Permalink

    My sister lived on 7th St between C&D from ’86 until the ’97. Iggy Pop had an apartment on Thompkins Square, and I saw him almost every time I visited. He was a fixture then. Here is a great little video of him giving a tour of that area. This is the East Village I knew. It’s all fancied up now. Nothing really remains except the projects and the culture alive there.
    Iggy left a fe decades ago too.

  11. Jean Henry
    Posted July 22, 2018 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

    The kind of people who populate the East Village now refused to go beyond 1st street (or downtown period) back when that area was alive culturally v commercially.

  12. Iron Lung
    Posted July 23, 2018 at 7:21 am | Permalink

    Ohhhh yawwwwwwwnnn moooannn mooooannnn

    “Things aren’t like I used to think the world was like when I was 17”

    CBGBs was a dump and Hilly Kristal was simply a typical indifferent music promoter who ran his business of the desperation of bands who had nowhere else to go, i.e. the worst kind of capitalist.

    If Kristal had moved the operation to Vegas as he intended to, I guarantee you that Mr. Maynard’s nostalgia for a non-existent past wouldn’t be so strong.

  13. site admin
    Posted July 23, 2018 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    “CBGBs was a dump and Hilly Kristal was simply a typical indifferent music promoter who ran his business on the desperation of bands who had nowhere else to go”

    Did you not read the post, Mr. Lung? Mr. Maynard said as much.

  14. Iron Lung
    Posted July 23, 2018 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    Yes, but still does not prevent him from waxing nostalgic on a place that should have been shuttered ages ago.

    I personally hate nostalgia, it keeps us from truly appreciating the present.

  15. Jean Henry
    Posted July 23, 2018 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    Punk was never anti-materialist. Everyone was just broke. However, I am nostalgic for a time when NY, especially downtown, was a place any kid could go and live for almost nothing and try to make it. Some did. Many did not. But now Manhattan is not accessible for young differently ambitious, not-already-wealthy people to move to. Much to its great loss. There are other places. And there is still culture being made in NYC by those who grew up there and are able to stay.

  16. Jean Henry
    Posted July 23, 2018 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    Target doesn’t matter to young creative people any more than Macy’s, Gimbel’s, Bendel’s and Saks did back when. It’s just the new department store. It’s amazing any exist anymore. NYC’s strength is in the intersection and literal smashing together of people from many cultures and backgrounds.

  17. Iron Lung
    Posted July 23, 2018 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    A big shocker, most people in the world just live their lives and don’t care about underground music or shitty clubs…. at all.

  18. Jean Henry
    Posted July 23, 2018 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    Sometimes missing one thing allows us entry into appreciating the present. Sometimes it’s a barrier. Some of us get good at walking away from things. I look back to try to identify what really mattered and made a difference then, to try to carry over some of what worked. It was never the buildings. That was the point I was trying to make.

    I do prefer old things. I like the embedded history. I try to remember that for many looking back is unpleasant. I try not to ignore the horror. Make America Great Again is an appeal to nostalgia that denies who wasn’t ‘winning’ in those eras.

    Those who want to ‘save Ann Arbor” or “defend Affordable Ypsi” by closing gates behind them are appealing to the same kind of nostalgia, just targeted to a different demographic. It’s the opposite of progressive or inclusive. It is not looking ahead to a positive future but is defensive of the past. That’s a useful tension, but cities need to move ahead.

    CBGB’s was destined to become a theme park had it been preserved.

  19. Jean Henry
    Posted July 23, 2018 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    “A big shocker, most people in the world just live their lives and don’t care about underground music or shitty clubs…. at all.”

    They may not matter to most people when they are happening, but the culture that arises from such places does infiltrate and energize the majority culture eventually.

    Fringe culture making matters. Few recognize it at the time. Imagine American music without the Delta Blues, New Orleans Jazz, Boogie Woogie piano, Appalachian music, Old R&B, Punk, Hip Hop, club dance music… etc etc

  20. Iron Lung
    Posted July 23, 2018 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    “defend Affordable Ypsi” by keeping people they don’t like out at any cost preserving it for educated white people.

  21. Jean Henry
    Posted July 23, 2018 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    I grew up in a homogenous place where many don’t dance much less make music, where there is no encouragement of the arts beyond pat community theater and there is little creative culture beyond handcrafts, and even that is a very rigorous discipline, where your stitches are checked for uniformity etc etc. You can feel the dearth of artistic culture there. The absence is palpable. (Maybe that’s why I focused on food and sewing…) Shitty clubs and alternative culture do matter.

    I will say that many well known, subversive artists grew up in my home area and moved to NY as soon as they could– Jeff Koons, Keith Haring, etc. So maybe there is an inverse cultural impact to growing up in a repressed place that people feel a need to escape.

    Of course Poison and Taylor Swift are also from my area, so there’s that. Not a musical hot spot. as much as I like me some TS on occasion.

  22. Mr. X
    Posted July 23, 2018 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    Maybe I read the post wrong, but I don’t think Mark was lamenting the fact that the bar is closed. He says in the post that it was already irrelevant by the time that he discovered those bands in the 80s. I think his issue was Target aping the CBGB scene with no understanding of its relevance.

  23. Jean Henry
    Posted July 23, 2018 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    “I think his issue was Target aping the CBGB scene with no understanding of its relevance.” Why would this surprise anyone? Remember grunge fashion on the runway? Its funny when culture becomes commodified. Who cares really. Maybe someone makes a buck who didn’t before. And it’s totally normal for what was once avant-garde to become the old guard. My kids listen to old punk and new wave music and think it sounds like pop music. It doesn’t jar their ears or startle them as new in any way. At least most of it.

  24. Mr. X
    Posted July 23, 2018 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    “Why would this surprise anyone?”

    Who said that they were surprised? I believe Mark said he was disgusted, or maybe upset, not surprised.

    “Who cares really.”

    Based on what he’s written here, I’d say Mark for one.

  25. Jean Henry
    Posted July 23, 2018 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    I guess I should have asked why does Mark care? What needs to be preserved and what is lost?

  26. Iron Lung
    Posted July 23, 2018 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

    In theory, punk rock was anti-nostalgia. In practice, it was something different but it was decidedly against monuments to the past. Punk rock definitely does not need a curated museum to tell us what it was like.

    I don’t find Target’s superficial “tribute” any less disturbing than Elvisfest.

  27. Lynne
    Posted July 23, 2018 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    Elvisfest is probably more fun but having never been to the Target store in question, I can not say for sure.

  28. Eel
    Posted July 23, 2018 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    “punk rock was anti-nostalgia”

    What? The Ramones, who discovered punk, were trying to be bubblegum pop surf band.

  29. Iron Lung
    Posted July 23, 2018 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

    “In theory, punk rock was anti-nostalgia. In practice, it was something different”

    Perhaps, you cannot read.

  30. Iron Lung
    Posted July 23, 2018 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    Punk rock did not begin or end with the Ramones, however.

  31. Iron Lung
    Posted July 23, 2018 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    I did not learn to like the Ramones until much later in life. When I was a kid, and even when I saw them, I just thought the were an inept major label pop band. I still think that, but my tolerance for pop music is more than it was back then.

  32. Jean Henry
    Posted July 23, 2018 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

    “Punk rock definitely does not need a curated museum to tell us what it was like.”
    Perhaps, but I enjoy seeing artifacts from the past. The emphasis of the Cranbrook show is on the graphics not the music. In the past year there have been at least three Detroit/ Lansing area shows featuring the local music scene circa the 70’s/80’s. Jim Shaw at the Broad. Detroit Hip Hop at the DIA and now the Cranbrook show. Not sure what to make of it. Eventually, even punks get legitimate. Maybe we’re just old and susceptible to such appeals for nostalgia. And maybe that appeal is ripe for commercialization by museums as well as target seeking to draw visitors. Maybe IL having been deeper in it all is less susceptible. I just always loved the handmade signs for punk rock shows. I’m glad someone saved a bunch of them.

  33. Jean Henry
    Posted July 23, 2018 at 1:19 pm | Permalink the blog that incriminates its audience.

    I believe punk was an art movement. (Many argue with me about that.) Albeit, one that was vigorously about direct experience/expression and anti-institutional. It was going to end up in museums. It’s an interesting thing to live in a culture that embraces dissent. I’m not inclined to be too vigorous in my criticism of institutions that do.

  34. Iron Lung
    Posted July 23, 2018 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    I think CBGBs was a dump that should have been closed decades earlier.

  35. Iron Lung
    Posted July 23, 2018 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    Though CBGBs was associated with the Ramones, etc. later, in the 80s it was associated with old man rock.

    I remember having this travesty of a record in high school and immediately taking it back. It is interesting how history revises itself.

  36. D Rich
    Posted July 23, 2018 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    One of the last bands I saw at CBGB was Anal Cunt. Maybe they can do an in-store at this Target?

  37. Jean
    Posted July 23, 2018 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    Wee we talking about CBGB’s exclusive or about the East Village more broadly? Because the East Village in the 80’s was pretty great. I went to CBGB’s once. I felt I had missed the show even then. Felt the same about the Chelsea Hotel where I had to stay for a night (my cousin’s roommate kicked me out) in 1985. It’s not that there was nothing there. I know some people were still living there, but there was no scene for an outsider kid to observe like in other spaces.

  38. Mike
    Posted July 23, 2018 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

    While stopping by the 1-year anniversary party of Electric Eye Cafe yesterday, I was flooded with memories of The Bad Idea House next door, and the many crazy shows that once filled that living room from 2003-2005. Kitty corner was the original Totally Awesome house (now a vacant lot), next to the party store. When I visited NYC in 2008, I did walk past the original spot of CBGBs and paid respects, hower losing that was nothing compared to our local equivalent, the mighty RAW Haus on Miller and Miner. But, like forests need fires to stimulate new growth, sometimes you have to say goodbye and know it was for a reason. DIY venues constantly pop up, disappear, go into hibernation. The Third Death Star, The Playboy Mansion, The Fortress Of Solid Dudes. Among them, The Far House on Packard and Stone School held steady from 2008-2017 as one of the most reliable, best-attended, well-run and organized basement venue ever. Dare I say, I loved it even more than the RAW. So sad to see it go. Change is the only constant in local music, so I am happy to report Ypsi has a new concert house called The Late Station run by the fine lads in After Hours Radio. Odds are if you went to a party in the mid-naughts you already know where it is (think Popeye’s girlfriend), but if not, hit them up on facebook and they’ll happily give you the address. Be a part of the local scene, and find out the amazing bands that probably live around the corner from you.

  39. Jean Henry
    Posted July 24, 2018 at 6:45 am | Permalink

    “You can argue that the Target in the East Village re-creating the CBGB’s awning as a stunt is in poor taste, but just about every site in the city covered it, so it’s hard to argue against the idea that it worked. The volume of people who desperately wanted to tell you how upset they were over this is staggering. Punk’s not dead, it’s just too busy blogging.”

    I wish I’d written THAT ^^…

  40. facebook stalker
    Posted July 24, 2018 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    As someone on Facebook said, “Welcome to the corporate facsimile of your life.”

  41. nick
    Posted July 24, 2018 at 11:04 am | Permalink

One Trackback

  1. […] You can argue that the Target in the East Village re-creating the CBGB’s awning as a stunt is in poor taste, but just about every site in the city covered it, so it’s hard to argue against the idea that it worked. The volume of people who desperately wanted to tell you how upset they were over this is staggering. Punk’s not dead, it’s just too busy blogging. […]

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