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Hilly Kristal

Suicide's Alan Vega and the Dictators' Andy Shernoff wax nostalgic on the late manager and founder of seminal NYC venue CBGB.

Yesterday (Aug. 29), when news broke regarding the death of Hilly Kristal, the owner, manager, and founder of New York City’s punk rock ground zero CBGB, the music world paid respect to Kristal’s heavy handed contribution to music, and influence on a legendary scene that helped shape today’s musical landscape. And two bands that owe a debt of gratitude for their implantation into CBGB’s DNA is punk rock trailblazers Suicide, fronted by Alan Vega, and the Dictators, founded by bassist and songwriter Andy Shernoff.

“I did a show there very early on… in ’72 or ’73,” Vega reminisced to SPIN.com. “I used to hang out there a lot… there was cheap beer… he [Kristal] was a real nice guy, quiet. I never would have thought that place would have become what it became.”

Vega, whose band became a CBGB staple via Kristal’s “policy,” which forced fresh acts to cut their teeth with mid-week gigs before earning sought-after weekend slots, claims Kristal offered all musicians a chance in his club and that when “he saw something happen he went with it.” Shernoff adds, “He had the vision to see it, acknowledge it, and encourage it. And one thing he certainly did was encourage it!”

And this “something” Kristal “encouraged,” as described by Vega and Shernoff, soon centered the music world’s focus on CBGB, its vibrant scene, innovative music, and skuzzy environs, which many claim to be instrumental in punk’s growth. “It was a dangerous area,” Shernoff told SPIN.com, describing the venue’s seedy, cesspool locale, “nobody from record companies would have gone down to the Bowery.” “There was a flophouse right above it, it was the ultimate end,” Vega added, “they were taking dead people out of there [flophouse] every day. The whole area was crap — it was great!”

As the site of discovery for many bands, including regular patrons and performing artists like Television, the Ramones, and Blondie, Vega confirms CBGB, even amidst its publicized hay day, never lost sight of its goal: showcasing good music. “I don’t know how many times I’d be walking by and hear a great new sound coming out of there and I’d go inside and I’d be like ‘wow.'” And Shernoff cites venues’ refusal to allow bands to “play original music” in New York, further praising Kristal’s acceptance of a wide array of bands, all of which the rocker states shared but one ideal: “one foot in the history of music and one foot looking forward… we had a vision of what we thought music should be.”

And one man, through his steadfast efforts and keen sense of cultural movement, enabled this “vision” to materialize: “How many club owners do we remember anymore?” Vega questioned, summoning Kristal’s unprecedented influence. “He [Kristal] helped create a great scene, it was a moment in history, and things will never be the same after that.” Shernoff agrees, but offers up his interpretation of Kristal’s legacy: “He saw that we had a vision and he let us play.” WILLIAM GOODMAN

Here’s what bloggers are saying about Hilly Kristal’s death:

“We all like the Talking Heads don’t we? Well, you can thank Hilly Kristal.” — Amanda, blog.myspace.com

“This is a sad event, and the loss of probably the most important figure in the punk rock movement.” — intravenusdemilo.com

“Moments of salutation and silence go out for Hilly Kristal, owner of CBGB, the dive bar that changed the world. When the club was forced to close, and now that Hilly has passed, I think of all the times my local clubs wouldn’t give me a gig (and that was/is very often), but I could get one, in NYC of all places, at CBGB.” — Todd blog.myspace.com

“If seediness didn’t liberate the musicians, it did let performers such as Patti Smith and the Ramones concentrate on their noisemaking. They didn’t have to worry about offending patrons, neighbors or the owner. In Kristal they found somebody willing to listen way outside of his comfort zone. He enabled a movement that’s given us scores of great bands through four decades.” — Sean Piccoli, blogs.trb.com

“Rest in Peace Mr. Hilly Kristal. Ya done good kid, ya done good!” — Michael Louis, blog.myspace.com

“Where would rock music be today if there was never a CBGB?” — hilly-kristal.isdead.net

Tags: Music News