FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Disney-fication of CBGB

There is something obscenely wrong with what sits in the former location of CBGB. Some of what defined the legendary rock club remains; a few walls are still covered with fliers and graffiti. But the stage has been replaced with a tailoring shop: the kind you see at Brooks Brothers. And the floor where kids once danced to Television and Bad Brains is now filled with clothing racks adorned with $1600 leather jackets.

That’s because the place that was ground zero for the New York punk, hardcore and No Wave scenes, is now home to a boutique for high-end fashion designer John Varvatos.

Varvatos, who has designed for Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein, seems at least somewhat aware of the hallowed ground on which he now stands. He has attempted to integrate the look and feel of CB’s into his new store. He promises to hold a fundraiser for young musicians in May. Varvatos told the New York Post: “I wanted to combine music, fashion, memorabilia, and really make it a cultural space.”

The question is, whose culture is he talking about?

There’s always been an attraction among the affluent toward the culture of the “underclass.” The austere, bohemian ethos of living outside the accepted parameters of society is enticingly romantic and edgy. And yet, anyone living in an urban area today can rattle off the laughable ways in which yuppie-dom has tried to appropriate this lifestyle: “loft” style apartments, complete with exposed concrete and piping sold for 400 grand; pseudo-hipsters who spend $75 to make their hair look like they just rolled out of bed. And from Williamsburg in Brooklyn to the Mission District in San Francisco, the once safe-havens of Bohemia are being encroached upon by developers and spineless city councils. Their promises to retain the “flavor” of the neighborhoods ring hollow.

Enter Varvatos. In trying to pay tribute to the iconic CBGB, he has made it impossible for any of the former regulars to return, even if they wanted to. His idea of a nod to the Ramones is selling special edition Chuck Taylor All Star tennis shoes… for $110!

Robert Hollander, a resident and community activist in Manhattan’s East Village, hit the nail right on the head: “It’s kind of ironic because they’ve made this gesture to preserve a little bit of history, but the reason CBGBs is gone is because places like this have opened up in the neighborhood.”

Indeed, CB’s has been one of countless casualties of the new urban policy. When owner Hilly Kristal closed the club in October 2006, it was against a backdrop of skyrocketing rents, forced evictions and police crackdowns. The city’s willful neglect in the 70s and 80s had allowed the Lower East Side to become an incubator of punk rebellion and artistic experimentation. “The sense of self and new energy was instantaneous,” says Patti Smith, “the confidence it inspired was strong, and the sense of community was immediate. William S. Burroughs lived down the street. He came all the time. We gave him a little table and a chair, and he’d sit there. All of our friends came — Robert Mapplethorpe, Jim Carroll. CBGB was the neighborhood — the artists and poets and musicians — and we all inspired each other.”

The gears shifted in the 90s. As more developers made their way downtown, squats were cleared out to make way for condos, apartments that had gone for a few hundred were suddenly worth thousands. True to form, CB’s landlord started demanding tens of thousands in fabricated back-rent from Kristal. Callous seems to be an understatement when talking about shutting down this kind of cultural hub, but this is the NYC of Giuliani and Bloomberg. And policies designed to mow over working people’s very right to exist certainly don’t give two thoughts to the culture trampled in the wake.

Herein lies the sick irony. The very same exorbitant rent that forced Kristal to shut it down is mere pocket change to Varvatos. Alice Cooper, whose gold records now adorn the walls of the new Varvatos boutique, thinks it’s a chance for the rabble that frequented the club to move up the world: “now all the old CBGB punks will become the best dressed CBGB punks in the world.” As most of these same punks were pushed out of the neighborhood long ago, it’s hard to believe they’d come back to pay $130 for a t-shirt.

It’s only one of the myriad cultural tragedies in the age of the Shock Doctrine. An artistic community that altered the course of history is brushed aside and replaced with its feeble, Disneyland equivalent.  It’s happening in every city, to every artist that lives on the fringe. No matter what Varvatos says about paying homage, his store’s mere presence can only be a reminder of the creativity and enthusiasm crushed under the iron heel of the free market.

ALEXANDER BILLET is a music journalist, writer and activist living in Washington, DC. He writes the music blog, Rebel Frequencies. He can be reached at rebelfrequencies@gmail.com.

 

 

 

 

More articles by:

January 16, 2019
Patrick Bond
Jim Yong Kim’s Mixed Messages to the World Bank and the World
John Grant
Joe Biden, Crime Fighter from Hell
Alvaro Huerta
Brief History Notes on Mexican Immigration to the U.S.
Kenneth Surin
A Great Speaker of the UK’s House of Commons
Elizabeth Henderson
Why Sustainable Agriculture Should Support a Green New Deal
Binoy Kampmark
Trump, Bolton and the Syrian Confusion
Jeff Mackler
Trump’s Syria Exit Tweet Provokes Washington Panic
Barbara Nimri Aziz
How Long Can Nepal Blame Others for Its Woes?
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: When Just One Man Says, “No”
Cesar Chelala
Violence Against Women: A Pandemic No Longer Hidden
Kim C. Domenico
To Make a Vineyard of the Curse: Fate, Fatalism and Freedom
Dave Lindorff
Criminalizing BDS Trashes Free Speech & Association
Thomas Knapp
Now More Than Ever, It’s Clear the FBI Must Go
Binoy Kampmark
Dances of Disinformation: The Partisan Politics of the Integrity Initiative
Andrew Stewart
The Green New Deal Must be Centered on African American and Indigenous Workers to Differentiate Itself From the Democratic Party: Part Two
Edward Curtin
A Gentrified Little Town Goes to Pot
January 15, 2019
Patrick Cockburn
Refugees Are in the English Channel Because of Western Interventions in the Middle East
Howard Lisnoff
The Faux Political System by the Numbers
Lawrence Davidson
Amos Oz and the Real Israel
John W. Whitehead
Beware the Emergency State
John Laforge
Loudmouths against Nuclear Lawlessness
Myles Hoenig
Labor in the Age of Trump
Jeff Cohen
Mainstream Media Bias on 2020 Democratic Race Already in High Gear
Dean Baker
Will Paying for Kidneys Reduce the Transplant Wait List?
George Ochenski
Trump’s Wall and the Montana Senate’s Theater of the Absurd
Binoy Kampmark
Dances of Disinformation: the Partisan Politics of the Integrity Initiative
Glenn Sacks
On the Picket Lines: Los Angeles Teachers Go On Strike for First Time in 30 Years
Jonah Raskin
Love in a Cold War Climate
Andrew Stewart
The Green New Deal Must be Centered on African American and Indigenous Workers to Differentiate Itself From the Democratic Party
January 14, 2019
Kenn Orphan
The Tears of Justin Trudeau
Julia Stein
California Needs a 10-Year Green New Deal
Dean Baker
Declining Birth Rates: Is the US in Danger of Running Out of People?
Robert Fisk
The US Media has Lost One of Its Sanest Voices on Military Matters
Vijay Prashad
5.5 Million Women Build Their Wall
Nicky Reid
Lessons From Rojava
Ted Rall
Here is the Progressive Agenda
Robert Koehler
A Green Future is One Without War
Gary Leupp
The Chickens Come Home to Roost….in Northern Syria
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: “The Country Is Watching”
Sam Gordon
Who Are Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionists?
Weekend Edition
January 11, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Richard Moser
Neoliberalism: Free Market Fundamentalism or Corporate Power?
Paul Street
Bordering on Fascism: Scholars Reflect on Dangerous Times
Joseph Majerle III – Matthew Stevenson
Who or What Brought Down Dag Hammarskjöld?
Jeffrey St. Clair - Joshua Frank
How Tre Arrow Became America’s Most Wanted Environmental “Terrorist”
Andrew Levine
Dealbreakers: The Democrats, Trump and His Wall
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail