Robert Lund - Man About Town
The Club Cycle
The big talk around town these days has been about the closing of two of our favorite venues, CBGB's and the Continental. Plenty has been written and read about this phenomenon, so I'd like to voice my reaction to some of the reactions I've been hearing. Naturally, I share much of the sadness resulting from the passage of two familiar places to hear rock music, having had countless great times in both of them. But I hear people moaning about the "death of the scene," wondering where we're going to hear bands now, which I think goes overboard. It's never been about the real estate, it's about the music, and there are more clubs opening up downtown and elsewhere these days than ever before.
CBGB's played a vital role in the development of underground rock and punk, and the energy of the scene in its early days is impossible to recreate or sustain. People longing for the "good old days" should really ask themselves if we'd want to return to a time when the only place unsigned bands could play was a bluegrass bar on skid row. Be careful what you ask for! It calls for a certain adjustment to accept the passing of any beloved venue, but CB's has been more like "the former home of underground rock" for a number of years. Shows were always enhanced by the fact that we were rockin' in the place where it all began, and where so much history was made, but that only goes so far. The longevity of punk and rock is unique in the history of modern music - we're still listening to the music that was popular 30 years ago. Compare that with what 30-year-old music meant in the early days of CB's - not much mid-1940's music was around. So despite all the complaining about rapid changes in the scene, we're living in a time of relatively enduring musical style, compared to earier decades. CBGB's is seen by many as a "victim" of greedy real estate owners who demand unreasonable rents which the business can't afford to pay. This city is changing rapidly, constantly becoming more upscale, and affordable rents for people and night clubs are becoming a thing of the past. But this is the reality of ongoing urban change in this society, and we've got to swallow it, adjust, and move on. The heyday of CBGB's will always be cherished, but as it moves into the realm of history and becomes more of a museum, Las Vegas might not be a bad place for it to live on in another form.
While the Continental doesn't share the long history of CB's, it has been a focus for rock musicians for 15 years, and it is a bit sad to see it changing into something else. It's another case of a rock venue being unable to sustain the rising rent payments, but rather than waiting until he's thousands of dollars behind, Trigger is doing what's necessary to increase the income produced by his club and stay in business. I was part of the capacity crowds that celebrated the final three nights of shows on September 15-17, and they were great. If typical attendance at shows were anything like those nights, it could have continued as a rock venue. But in the long run, people come to hear bands, they're done by 1 AM, and they leave. The hard fact is that in order to do enough business to pay the rent, Trigger has decided to cater to more of a lounging bar crowd who'll spend money til 4 AM, and that means a pool table, TV, couches and a jukebox. I have to hand it to him for taking the necessary action, as painful as it might be, to survive in this town. It reminds me of what Jesse Malin has done with Niagra. When I DJ'd there with my son JP about five years ago, Jesse complained that we were playing too much metal for the "yuppie crowd" (a somewhat archaic term now), that I should stick to "pop" for his customers. Shocking as it was, I realized that he had to think like a businessman and deal with the changing demographic of the neighborhood, just as Trigger's doing now. I'm looking forward to seeing what the new Continental turns into. I'm sure the jukebox will be stocked with good music, and there will be occasional acoustic shows, so let's give it a chance.
So while the loss of these two great rock venues requires some adjustment, we've got to keep the spirit alive, and find other places to play and hear music. And we should all try to cough up the price of admission for shows if we want clubs to survive, instead of thinking they'll somehow manage to meet expenses with so many patrons expecting to be "on the list." Change isn't always easy (especially when your dirty old town is turning into Disneyland before your eyes), but it is inevitable. These people who whine that this means there's no place to go any more are like those who swear they'll never fall in love again after another breakup. Life goes on, you just gotta live it! And there's always Brooklyn...