CBGB’s House Photographer
Seminal New York music venue CBGB (country, bluegrass and blues, since you asked) opened in 1973 at the meeting of Bowery and Bleecker Street, and was run by Hilly Kristal. During the late ’70s, CBGB was the epicenter of the punk and new wave music scenes. David Godlis was its primary documenter. Here he talks exclusively to Retronaut about his photographs.
“In 1976, three quarters of the way through the 20th century, New York City, once a thriving metropolis, was destitute. ‘Ford to City: Drop Dead’ was the headline of the day. The music scene, like New York, was also sorely in need of repair. But in the most unlikely of all places — in the slumping New York City’s infamous Bowery, among the skid row bums on loser’s lane, far away from the Upper East Side and Upper West Side of Manhattan — a group of like-minded musicians and artists had their sights set on the future. In a small, dingy club, they would rewrite the past and set a template for the last quarter century in music, fashion, art, literature and film.
“CBGB is where I landed when I arrived in New York in the winter of 1976. I was curious about these bands with odd sounding names like Blondie, the Ramones, Talking Heads, Richard Hell and Television, so I went down to the Bowery to find out what was happening. It didn’t take long before I began to photograph what I saw and heard there. Shooting with available light under the Bowery street lamps using a handheld Leica and Tri-X film to give everything a look that felt like you were there, these photographs document those nights between 1976 and 1979. During the pre-MTV, pre-digital era of rock ‘n’ roll — once upon a time on the Bowery.”
CBGB closed in 2005, following a huge rent increase. Hilly Kristal planned to relocate the club to L.A. “We’re going to take the urinals,” he said at the time. “I’ll take whatever I can.” Two years later, he died of complications from lung cancer.
CBGB’s very last New York gig was played by Patti Smith. The club’s awning is now in the foyer of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Cleveland.