Like I said last blog, Wolcott had a great description of early CBGB’s in his excellent new book, Lucking Out, My Life Getting Down and Semi-Dirty in Seventies New York:
“At CBGB’s, rough democracy reigned. There were no separate tables for press seating (unlike at the Bottom Line), no backstage VIP playpen, no caste system, no dress code, everything informally in flux, not even any strict restrictions on entering and reentering the club, which allowed everybody to circulate, spread their germs. The one checkpoint that had to be crossed was Roberta Bayley’s station at the front of the club. . . Reddish haired, pale, white thin, beautiful, smart, quick, Roberta was (to put it in Mad Men terms) the Joan of CBGB’s, the goddess gatekeeper who had the authority of decree, the power to banish.”
Yup, that pretty much sums it up. I like JW’s comparision of Roberta to Joan of Mad Men. . . and true, Roberta was also at times haughty, standoffish, and severe with people. I probably envied her skill at dealing harshly with people because I had a hard time dealing with anger, confrontation, and unkindness. She put people in their place effortlessly, remembered names, had great skill at dealing with one and all. Put it this way, she could be a smart bitch and I admired that!!
Luckily, I wasn’t much on her bad side, so getting by Roberta and into the club wasn’t a chore. I tried to make small talk sometimes, but I’m not really good at that with everybody and I think she had other fish to fry (I always try to respect when people are busy at their jobs & believe me, working the door at a place like CBGB’s on a popular night could be a Promethean task). I do know Roberta was very highly regarded on the scene, and her photography grew in depth and reputation; she was part of several prestigious photography shows in the past decade, along with shooters-in-arms Stephanie Chernikowski, Godlis, Ebet Roberts, Laura Levine, Joe Stevens, and George DuBose.
Come to think of if, my shyness aside, I really liked hanging out with the photographers, writers, and musicians. All of these creatives were kindred souls to me, and the general zooeyness of a place like CBGB’s was mitigated by these new-chum comrades-in-arts. To be honest, I guess we were kind of an avant-garde in the truest sense: we were on what a friend calls “the bleeding edge,” which precedes the cutting edge: and those on the bleeding edge aren’t as fortunate as the following wave. You see, the cutting edge gets kudos and the cash, whereas bleeding edge suffers derision and a gash. . . back to the topic, now.
Especially in the summer, much of our time at CB’s was spent outside, on the wide sidewalk, milling and/or mulling about. The honest-to-God Bowery bums next door at the Palace hotel would sometimes toss bottles out their window down at the street (maybe not always AT us, but that would depend on how soused or pissed off those Bowery bums got).
With all that intensity and intrigue indoors at CBGB’s, you really needed a break every now & then. Besides, how could anybody hear over all that loud rock music? LOL. Yeah, I might sound like an old duffer but hey, it always felt weird, trying to converse while not really hearing well and worrying about whether your talking into their ear was deafening or perhaps, unwittingly seductive (as in the old adage, “blow in my ear and I’ll follow you anywhere”). Ah, the perils of CBGB-ness!
Out on that sidewalk and inside the club, I met and became good friends with more than a few interesting people there: Stephanie Chernikowski, Fran Pelzman, Mary Harron, Judy Wilmot, Billy Ficca, Fred Smith, Tish and Snooky, and, of course, Chris and Tina. I’d talk to almost anybody, especially if they were nice, and wound up chatting with dozens, maybe hundreds, of others who I might still know by name and/or sight -- but perhaps I should describe the big macher of ‘em all, Hilly Kristal. . . next blog.