Watch the YouTube clip of Patti Smith performing "Elegie," the last song from the last show ever at CBGB
Words by: Gabriela Kerson
Patti Smith :: 10.15.06 :: CBGB :: New York, NY
Sunday night, October 15th, fall had brought a slight chill to the air, the Mets were hopefully on their way to The Series, and the legendary CBGB was closing. That's right, Hilly Krystal's CBGB & OMFUG (which of course stands for: COUNTRY BLUEGRASS BLUES and OTHER MUSIC FOR UPLIFTING GORMANDIZERS) was shutting down.
After years of battling the law, financial stonewalling, and six weeks of final performances, the ultimate night had arrived. The line snaked around the block - but not of people trying to get in. The mammoth stretch of faces was for those on "The List." This, the final show in one of the world's most infamous venues, would feature none other than Patti Smith. Tickets sold out in seven minutes. The small venue was perfectly filled, and those who got through the door were either rabid fans or hand-picked by owners and management. Those in line were the kind of people who never wait to get in anywhere, and my anxiety about not being granted entrance, or even worse - missing the show because I was in line, were assuaged as Rolling Stone reporter David Fricke walked past me to the back of the line.
During the summer of 1974, David Byrne (pre-Talking Heads) was living on Bond Street off of Bowery and used to walk over to CBGB's to play pool. That same year, Patti Smith and Springsteen were in town, composer Phillip Glass was driving a cab to pay his bills, the Ramones played their first gig, and Tom Verlaine of Television walked by and tugged on Hilly Krystal's pant leg as he hung the famous "CBGB and OMFUG" sign and asked if his band could play there. It was a haven for these artists. In a time when cover bands were expected, Krystal would only allow those with original tunes to take the small stage.
Patti herself moved from New Jersey to New York City at the tender age of twenty, after giving up a child for adoption and deciding she wanted to take a shot at stardom. It took ten years. At thirty, when most struggling artists have made it or given up, Smith's talent was recognized on a national level for her stage presence, music, and poetry. Since then, she has collaborated with Springsteen, Sam Shepard, and the Blue Oyster Cult, to name a few. She spent the late Eighties and early Nineties living in the suburbs of Detroit with her husband and escaped the dismal fate of many of her peers. To quote journalist Deborah Frost, "No one else was driven to so publicly battle with such private demons as Smith. Sex, god, and not least of all her lost child. She made peace with them at the historical moment that feminism and punk liberation trumpets were being blown. She walked away, rather then burning out."
Patti Smith :: 10.15.06 :: CBGB
As my group walked in after an hour and a half of waiting, Patti said "Through the night I might have to look at some paper." We walked through the crowds and cameras, past the always belligerent security staff and found space in the back. We could see the stage through the crowd. "I did this song 33 years ago about age," and then her voice faded away as her lips continued to move. The crowd, not be able to hear her, began to chat and socialize - until she again began to sing.
The fifth song was introduced as "the first song I ever performed at CBGB's." Her black suit jacket and large white cuffs and collar of her dress suit recalled the early Eighties. She began a capella and then stopped and said, "I can't play without Jay" (referring to drummer Jay Dee Daugherty). The audience laughed appreciatively. Of the many tribute covers played through the night, the first was "Pale Blue Eyes" by the Velvet Underground.
Patti Smith :: 10.15 at CBGB by Bryan Bedder/Getty
"First time I played CBGB's was Easter 1974" announced Smith. "Lenny Kaye and I came to see Television, there were maybe 10 or 11 people here." Taking his cue, guitarist Richard Lloyd guitarist from Television joined them on stage for a rousing rendition of "Marquee Moon." Smith repeated the lyric, "I got in, I got in, I got in," which was very fitting for the evening.
After "We Three," Lloyd left the stage as Smith introduced "Distant Fingers." "I wrote this song for Tom [Verlaine - Television]. I had this dream, we were playing a giant stadium, and I told him maybe one day our dream will come true."
As the words "I'm so tired, I quit," from "Distant Fingers," hung above the crowd, Smith once again captured the struggle of New York, driving home how exhausting it is to follow, and especially succeed, at one's dreams. As some were drawn in, others were chatting like they do at Starbucks, relegating Smith to the background. The juxtaposition of true fans drinking in words versus hipsters swallowing beers and phone numbers was surreal. Perhaps Smith defines New York in ways she shall never fully understand.
Lloyd's replacement bounced onto the stage and rolled his head as he hit the notes. Impossible to mistake, the new man was clearly Flea of Red Hot Chili Peppers. He and Smith developed a good rapport throughout "Birdland," and then the band took a short break.
Patti Smith :: 10.15 at CBGB by Abbey Braden
When they came back they kicked off with heavy chords, exciting the crowd with the Dead Boys' punk anthem "Sonic Reducer." Flea returned to the stage for "Redondo Beach" and stayed through the majority of the evening, bopping and jamming next to Smith. The other members of her band - Lenny Kaye, Jay Dee Daugherty, and Tony Shanahan - stayed in the background. "Acoustic Monster" began softly; the guitar ripped, the drums were driving, and the lyrics were deep and insistent. Flea's head popped as Smith pulled the mic off the stand and tossed her hair. The next intro began like "The House of the Rising Sun," but changed into "Pissing in a River." "Come back, come back," Smith sang, moving, dancing in a sharp, minimalist way.
A young boy, maybe 9 or 10, squirmed through the crowd, asking an older woman sitting on a ledge how long she had been there. "All night except when I went to the bathroom and saw everybody I've ever known, or wanted to know," she replied. During "Gimme Shelter" Hilly Krystal left the building. Cameras flashed, the audience rose and applauded, and the band played on.
The whole evening was quieter, gentler then one would expect of the punk scene. Their edge has become our safety.
Smith is an activist at heart. She talked about saving the Earth and about changing our political leaders. As the evening ended, she sang "Happy Birthday" to Flea. Then she listed the names of influential rock people who have died, including Lester Bangs, and Joe Strummer, ending with Johnny, Joey, and DD Ramone.
CBGB's :: Doors Closed Forever
"They're all in there."
"Well, good night everybody."
"Good night CB's, 33 years - the same age as Jesus. Thank you Hilly. Good night everybody." The bass faded as Smith said, "Good night, good night. Remember - drink plenty of water, brush your teeth, be happy."
Hours later I leaned on the bar watching middle-aged people with brightly colored hair, drawing out the last, last call. It was a family; their youth and dreams were nurtured by Krystal's club. As much as it was about the space, it was always more about the community. Though CBGB's may move to Vegas to become a rock & roll star, what happened between the dirty walls of this little New York City punk club changed the world forever.
Patti Smith :: 10.15.06 :: CBGB's, NYC :: The Last Show
When the Hunter Gets Captured By The Game, Kimberly > The Tide Is High > Kimberly, Pale Blue Eyes, Marquee Moon, We Three, Distant Fingers, Without Chains, Ghost Dance, Birdland (w/Flea)
Set II (majority of set with Flea on bass)
Sonic Reducer, Redondo Beach, Free Money, Pissing In A River, Gimme Shelter, Space Monkey
Ramones Medley: Hey Ho, Let's Go > Do You Remember Rock N Roll Radio?, Ain't It Strange, So You Want To Be (a Rock 'n' Roll Star), Babelogue > Rock 'n' Roll Nigger, Happy Birthday Flea, For Your Love, My Generation
Land > Gloria, Elegie
With: Jay Dee Dougherty, Lenny Kaye, Tony Shanahan
Special Guests: Richard Lloyd (from Television), Flea (from Red Hot Chili Peppers)
JamBase | CBGB's
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