R.I.P. Hilly Kristal

It’s difficult believing CBGBs closed almost a year ago (mark 10/16 on your calendars). Yesterday, as you’ve likely heard, the man who founded it in 1973 died at 75, after battling lung cancer. Can’t help but wonder if the Hilly Kristal’s passing didn’t also have something to do with losing his life’s work.

We all likely know some version of the story about how when he started renting 315 Bowery in 1969 it was a bar he called “Hilly’s On The Bowery,” but four years later he transformed into a nightlife destination called CBGB & OMFUG, where he was looking to show the stuff that made up it’s name: Country Bluegrass Blues and Other Music For Uplifting Gormandizers. As much as we love that other music, we likely wouldn’t be eulogizing Kristal if he’d stuck to his original plan: After hosting a Television gig in ’74 (followed by Television, Patti Smith, and the Ramones), the momentum carried things toward the space we all got to know and, occasionally, love.

So, what’s in store for the building that used to house CBs now that Kristal’s gone? Via Gothamist:

It’s been gutted and “walls plastered with yellowing flyers and holes in the floor where the bar and stage once stood” are all that remain. Apparently the air inside still reeks of its rock n’ roll past (mold, stale beer, cigarettes). In spite of that, the space will rent for around $200 per square foot — a far cry from what it rented for 34 years ago. So far there have been inquiries from art galleries, retail shops and high end companies, but no takers yet. As for the former tenant, there were talks of reopening the venue in another (lower rent) city, but will Kristal’s death mean that CBGB is officially gone, too?

Since Kristal’s death, folks CBGBs broke have issued statements. Debbie Harry, for instance, said, “I am very sorry that Hilly is gone. He was a big help to Blondie and to the New York music scene for many years. His club CBGB’s has become a part of New York lore and Rock n? Roll history.” And a more effusive Patti Smith told
Rolling Stone

I?ve played a lot of places and it was the only place I?ve ever played that felt like our place. He had put the community on the map. It doesn?t matter where I?ve been in the world, people have CBGBs T-shirts. It?s not just some marketing thing. CBGBs wasn?t just about Hilly or the people who played there or New York City, it represented freedom for young people. To me the name CBGBs could be a slang term at this point meaning freedom. Hilly offered us unconditional freedom.

It wasn’t just Blondie and Smith and the Talking Heads and all those other folks previously mentioned that were affected by the space: How about your neighbor’s kid brother’s crappy band that got to play one Hardcore Matinee and feel kinda cool about it.

Many of us weren’t old enough to attend punk shows in ’73 (or even ’83!), but we do have our favorite CBGBs moments. A private memorial service for Kristal has reportedly been planned with a public memorial to be held at a later date. But hey, why not get started on the public one now? Share.