Once I started rock writing for the Village Voice, covering rock concerts and such, I started leading an exciting double life. Back and forth to the city and SUNY Purchase I went, with occasional visits to mom in Douglaston, Queens -- where, oddly enough, the Christgaus, parents of fellow rockcrits Bob & Georgia (his sister), resided.
At any rate, I would occasionally haunt the offices of the Village Voice to see what life there was like -- and to possibly scarf up some more work (or would it be “scare up” ? -- in my case, probably both). Luckily -- don’t they say luck is 98% showing up? -- I met some cool & talented editors and writers, like Richard Goldstein, Karen Durbin, Jamaica Kinkaid, Guy Trebay, and James Wolcott. At times I felt a little out of my element, but as I aspired to be witty and urbane and very grown up, it was good to hang with older people -- even if most of them were only five or ten years my senior!
So. Having read some press about this interesting place, CBGB’s, then meeting another writer who offered to bring me along -- that’s how I got to “CB’s” and got into the habit of being there, early on. Although rather independent in thought and action, it’s comforting to go with somebody initially who knows the scene and is respected. You gain good rep by association that way, and have someone to “fall back” on if the insecurity or the dark ponies start waltzing around in your head (and believe me, they did!).
My initial impression of that dive, CBGB’s -- and oh brother, it was definitely a dive -- was that it didn’t smell good (sweat, beer, piss, dog poop -- yes, there really was dog poop on the floors, sometimes); was long, dark, mysterious; and seemed like a living, breathing thing or a “sentient entity.” I swear, the place had a schizo-affective personality and moodswings galore. Like the whaling ship, Pequod, of Moby Dick, its walls and ceilings pulsated with a quasi-sordid emotional history, the vibe of a past mostly violent, sad and pickled. However, the present and the future shimmered hopefully like a glistening patina of sweat trickling from the upper lip of a punk rock drummer, maybe Tommy Ramone or Billy Ficca. Then again, those guys on drums or offstage were too cool to break a sweat (and I do mean that they were damn nice guys, too).
The gatekeepers of the portals of the infernal early CBGB’s were either BG Hacker or Roberta Bayley. I guess I didn’t rub them the wrong way because I always got in -- generally as a comp (member of “the press”) or with a paying friend.
At any rate, Wolcott said it quite well in his excellent new book, Lucking Out, My Life Getting Down and Semi-Dirty in Seventies New York. I’ll continue with a quote from him next blog. . .