Nile Rodgers, rock journalist Legs McNeil and more recall the birth of punk and the gritty, gross glory of CBGB in the first installment of 1973: Shaping the Culture, a new video series from Rolling Stone, presented by HBO’s new show Vinyl.
Hilly Kristal opened CBGB & OMFUG — “Country, Bluegrass, Blues and Other Music for Undernourished Gormandizers,” though McNeil notes Kristal frequently changed the meaning of the “U” — in 1973 in the heart of the Bowery, at that time one of New York’s nastiest neighborhood. The location, however, was the perfect place for an underground scene to develop, and Kristal only booked bands that were ready to take the stage with original material.
“Suddenly rock & roll wasn’t something that just happened in arenas, on huge stages, by people who were semi-godlike,” says Will Hermes, Rolling Stone contributor and author of Love Goes to Buildings on Fire. “You had to pass by the dressing room at CBGB in order to get to the bathroom.”
The stage at CBGB would host everyone from Patti Smith and Richard Hell to the Talking Heads, Debbie Harry and Television — though perhaps no band better represented the club, its attitude and now legacy, than the Ramones.
“When the Ramones walked out in those black leather jackets and those sneakers, I was shocked,” McNeil recalled. “They looked like the SS and they were singing, ‘I’m a Nazi baby/I’m a Nazi, yes I am,” and you didn’t know if they were kidding or not!”