[OutVoice] RIP Hilly Kristal

Zecca Esquibel zecca at erols.com
Thu Aug 30 12:13:46 EDT 2007

Although I've always been a staunch defender of Max's Kansas City and
ITS out pater familias Peter Crowley (Max's was ABSOLUTELY considered
EQUAL to CBGB's back then, more for the New Wave groups like Talking
Heads, DEVO and Blondie where CB's specialized in the more raucous
Punk bands), I am very sad to report the death of everybody's uncle 
Hilly Kristal.
Hilly didn't have a homophobic bone in his body and was always personally
very nice to me, letting my bands record at CB's after the club closed 
until late
the next morning. In these days of money, money, money there
will never be another like him. I post a nice obit below.

Love ya, Hilly,

August 30, 2007
Hilly Kristal, 75, Catalyst for Punk at CBGB, Dies
Hilly Kristal, who founded CBGB, the Bowery bar that became the cradle
of New York punk and art-rock in the 1970s and was the inspiration for
musician-friendly rock dives around the world, died in Manhattan on
Tuesday. He was 75.

The cause was complications of lung cancer, his son, Dana, said

Looking more like a lumberjack than a punk rocker, with his bushy
beard and ever-present flannel shirt, Mr. Kristal cut an unusual
figure as the paterfamilias of the noisy downtown music scene. But for
nearly 33 years his club was an incubator for generations of New York
rock bands, and performing within its dank, flier-encrusted walls
became a bragging right for musicians everywhere.

Thousands of bands played CBGB, from its opening in December 1973
until a dispute with its landlord forced it to close last October. In
the 1970s and early '80s, the bar became by default the headquarters
for innovative local groups like the Ramones, Patti Smith, Blondie,
Television, Talking Heads and Sonic Youth, who in the club's early
days had few other places to play.

"There was no real venue in 1973 for people like us," Ms. Smith said
in an interview yesterday. "We didn't fit into the cabarets or the
folk clubs. Hilly wanted the people that nobody else wanted. He wanted

Hillel Kristal grew up on a farm in Hightstown, N.J., and studied
classical violin as a child. He moved to New York and sang in the
chorus at Radio City Music Hall and managed the Village Vanguard
before he opened his Bowery bar. A lifelong lover of folk music, he
kept an acoustic guitar at his desk and named the club CBGB & OMFUG,
an abbreviation for the kind of music he had intended to present
there: "country, bluegrass, blues and other music for uplifting

Within months after CBGB opened, young musicians and poets like Tom
Verlaine and Ms. Smith became curious about the bar as they passed it
on their way to visit the beat writer William S. Burroughs, who lived
a few blocks down the Bowery. Mr. Verlaine persuaded Mr. Kristal to
book his band, Television, and others followed suit, including Ms.
Smith and her band, which had a seven-week residency in 1975. Record
executives soon joined the neighborhood punks as habitués at CB's, as
it was familiarly called.

Mr. Kristal was quick to recognize the new scene's potential, and
though he professed a cantankerous distaste for some of the music, he
had a keen ear.

"He might have tried to give the impression of being outside of it,"
said Tom Erdelyi, a k a Tommy Ramone, the Ramones' first drummer and
only surviving original member. "But I don't think that was the case.
He understood instinctively that what was going on was something
special and important."

Mr. Kristal decreed that bands had to perform original material. His
policy fostered creativity, but it was also a way to avoid paying
performance royalties. Mr. Kristal had other schemes. In the '70s he
ran a moving company that hired some CB's regulars, and in time the
club's distinctive logo became a valuable copyright to exploit for
T-shirts and other memorabilia. By 2005 he was making $2 million a
year through his CBGB Fashion line.

As time left its mark on CBGB's walls in the form of stickers and
taped-up fliers left by musicians and fans — as well as damage to its
notoriously unpleasant bathrooms — the club's interior itself became a
tourist draw, as both a relic of rock history and a kind of living
museum of graffiti. Mr. Kristal, who kept office hours until the end,
answering the phone "CB's" in a phlegmatic baritone, resisted any
changes to the club, a narrow, dark room that still held remnants of
its history as a 19th-century saloon.

In the '80s and '90s, the club began presenting metal bands and
especially young, hard-core punk groups in all-ages matinees. Though
less celebrated than the ones in the club's 1970s glory days, these
shows drew in new generations of fans. They also allowed the club to
book two shows a day, one in the afternoon for fans under 21, and
another at night for a drinking crowd. Critics began to complain that
CBGB had lost its edge.

In 2005, Mr. Kristal became embroiled in a real-estate battle with the
club's landlord, the Bowery Residents' Committee, a nonprofit group
that aids homeless people. The committee said that CBGB owed $75,000
in unpaid rent increases. Mr. Kristal, disputing that claim, fought
the landlord in court and in the news media for months, enlisting the
help of celebrities like David Byrne of Talking Heads and Steven Van
Zandt of the E Street Band and "The Sopranos."

At the prodding of a judge, Mr. Kristal agreed to close the club. Ms.
Smith played its final show, on Oct. 15. The exterior of the club, at
315 Bowery, at Bleecker Street, is now a frequent stop on walking
tours of the Lower East Side and East Village.

Besides his son, of Manhattan, Mr. Kristal is survived by a daughter,
Lisa Kristal Burgman, also of Manhattan; a former wife, Karen; and two

Facing eviction, Mr. Kristal frequently said that he was considering
reopening CBGB in Las Vegas, Tokyo or any other city that would have
him. But in an interview at the club with The New York Times, as
tourists walked in and out and bought T-shirts, he said that he wanted
to hold onto the corner of the Bowery that he had made famous.

"Millions and millions of musicians in this world think of CBGB as a
home base," he said.

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