Legal battles may mark end for legendary rock club

It captured the essence of an era when rock felt new. It launched the careers of Blondie, the Ramones and Talking Heads. And 31 years after opening its doors and leaving an indelible mark on the music world, CBGB is in danger of closing.

The New York rock club, which was a staple of the American ’70s punk scene, is in litigation with its landlord, the Bowery Resident’s Committee (BRC). If the two parties don’t reach an agreement by Sept. 1, the doors to CBGB may be closed forever.

The closing is an abrupt but predictable end for the legendary club, which has struggled recently to find the success it so routinely manufactured. In the last decade, CBGB has seen its role shift from trendsetting venue to cultural icon. As the heyday of punk rock receded, so did the relevance of CBGB.

But the closing is not an attempt by founder Hilly Krystal to bow out of the rock game gracefully. The dispute is about money, not music.

Last month, BRC took CBGB to court, alleging the club owed $90,000 in back rent payments. On Aug. 10, a New York state judge ruled against BRC, a non-profit homeless shelter, and did not hold the club liable for the back rent. But the legal battle for the venue was just beginning.

With its lease set to expire at the end of August, CBGB still had to worry about pacifying BRC if it had any hope of keeping its doors open. The club drafted a new lease agreement that supposedly addressed BRC’s concerns and presented it to the organization. BRC has not yet responded, leaving CBGB to anxiously await news of its fate, while attempting to keep the spirit of its past alive.

In an effort to save the club, artists whose careers were made by CBGB are teaming up with those who grew up idolizing them for a series of benefit concerts. The goal of the concerts is not only to spark awareness and rally support for the club, but to raise money to cover legal fees.

In an Aug. 19 Village Voice article, Geoff Rickley, lead singer of the band Thursday, explained his own involvement in the benefit concert circuit.

“I think that just because they haven’t had the best shows in a while, that doesn’t mean we should just let something as important as a long-standing venue that’s not owned by Clear Channel go out of business,” Rickley told Voice reporter Tom Breihan.

“I walk by CB’s all the time, and I almost never see anything on their bill of shows anymore that looks even remotely interesting,” Rickley said. “It’s hard to find spaces for venues or find people who are willing to let you do avant-garde or off-the-beaten-path rock shows. CB’s can still be a great club if it stays.”

Whatever the fate of CBGB this week, its place in rock’s history was cemented long ago in the hearts of the fans.

“The Bowery was, to repeat, a drab, ugly and unsavory place,” Krystal wrote in his online history of the club. “But it was good enough for rock ‘n’ rollers.”