CBGB was the product beyond somebody’s wildest dreams. That someone was Hilly Kristal. He had already filed for bankruptcy twice on two attempts to open his own bar. So what was the most logical thing to do with his broken hopes and dreams? Try again. This time it would be in a dirty old 19th century saloon in Downtown Manhattan. Hilly wanted to open a bar specifically for Country, Bluegrass, Blues, the music he loved. He thought it was going to be the next “thing” in New York. Instead, CBGB became the birthplace of the New York Punk and Art scene. In the seventies, rock music had become very, sophisticated. People like Rush, “Yes”, Pink Floyd, Led Zep, were writing songs, that were ten to twenty minutes long. They were technical musicians. They knew how to play well and thus created “Nerd Rock” (Rock music for the music nerds). But, what about the kids who don’t care about scales, arpeggios, or any of that shit? What about the kids who just want to jam out in somebody’s garage? The Ramones built their foundation on this nostalgia. The name Ramone, from the Ramones, was actually a pseudo studio name (Phil Ramone) Paul McCartney used back when the Beatles were calling themselves The Silver Beetles. Joey Ramone knew the Beatles weren’t great musicians separate from each other, especially not starting out. Paul McCartney like many other musicians at the time learned how to play guitar by talking to other people who were also teaching themselves how to play and sharing whatever they knew in exchange for something they didn’t. Music didn’t have to be complicated, what it needed, was to be fun again. So all four of them, Joey, Dee Dee, Johnny, and Marky changed their last names to Ramone and formed the Ramones. They had similar bowl haircuts with a bit of a dirty edge and wore matching leather jackets.
Hilly Kristal thought the Ramones sucked, but he liked their originality. He was pushing to do something that the hottest clubs in New York wouldn’t do, let artists perform their original songs. In Hilly’s CBGB, you weren’t allowed to play on stage unless your music was original. All kinds of artists, people like Blondie, Patti Smith, The Police, the Talking Heads, Lou Reed showed up and play at CBGB, for some it was their first time performing at all. The Crazy thing that always gets me about working class and self-taught artists is that Patti Smith was Patti Smith before people knew who she was, and she’d still be Patti Smith if we never got the chance to know about her. The Ramones, were the Ramones before the world knew the Ramones. If the world never knew about the Ramones, they would still be the Ramones. The same goes for Hilly Kristal. The man was not afraid of poverty, failure, or being looked at as a fool for following his dreams. CBGB eventually closed down in 2005 due to unpaid rent so yes, CBGB was could be seen as another economic failure, but it was a great success in human history. The world needs more “beautiful losers”, people with dreams who aren’t afraid of working really hard and still being seen as underachievers to the people around them. People who are concerned with winning in the ways that matter.