Thursday, August 30, 2007
Hilly Kristal RIP: Patti Smith on the founder of the legendary New York punk club, CBGBs, who has died, aged 75
"In 1974, there was nowhere for a young rock band with any innovative ideas to play in New York City. Sometimes we would get a slot opening a folk act or a cabaret act or a transvestite singer. That’s as much as you could hope for. Max’s Kansas City had a little stage upstairs. Mostly it was folk music. We were lucky ’cause we got a lot of chances ’cause Phil Ochs liked us, ’cause we were all anti-war. Sometimes we’d play in an art gallery or somebody’s rooftop, but there wasn’t really any place to explore what you were doing night after night.
“Then I met Richard Hell and he told me he had this band Television, and he really wanted me to see it, at this place called CBGBs, which was down on the Bowery near where William Burroughs lived. I knew just where it was ’cause I used to visit William all the time. Easter of 1974, I went in there with Lenny Kaye to see this band, not knowing what to expect, ’cause what was CBGBs? It was this crappy little place with a bar and a stage, and there was about nine people there, (CBGBs’ founder) Hilly Kristal bein’ one of them, me and Lenny bein’ two of them. I saw Television. And I said: that’s it. This is what we are doing. This is present-future. Truly, the group was so great. So we traded off – Max’s Kansas City gave us the chance to play for a couple of weeks – we asked Television to come and play with us. People liked it, then we went back to CBGBs. We weren’t the biggest people that came out of CBGBs, but I do know that we were the first band to fill it. After we filled it, it was hardly ever unfilled.
“What Hilly did was give us a place where could do what we wanted – I could explore all the poetry, and rock’n’roll I wanted. I didn’t have to watch my language, I didn’t have to watch my concepts. I could talk about political or poetic or sexual things – whatever excited or interested us. Hilly slept in that place in a cot, lived in the worst circumstances for years. And that was his life. He put up with so much crap, and the place was noisy, smelly, and not much money was made. Our tickets were $2, and he gave us a portion of that.
“Hilly went for years to shepherd us."