CGBG: The House That Punk Built


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Spiked-collar necklaces, black leather jackets, Mohawks, and loud, out of control music. No, I’m not talking about your high school days. I am referring to the 70’s and 80’s world-wide subculture, punk. The style sprung up in conjunction with the ‘punk rock’ music genre which drew influence from early garage rock. Early innovators of the genre like the New York Dolls, the Ramones, the Sex Pistols, and the Clash were performing the music even before it had a name!


The punk ‘revolution’ began to sprout up in the early 1970’s in the UK, Australia and United States. This movement was centered around anti-establishment mantras and ideals, as well as overwhelming anarchism. Some individuals were involved with trends like environmentalism, animal rights, anti-sexism, and others. Generally, the notions of “fight the power” and “don’t let the man get you down,” rang prominently throughout this era.


“The issue of authenticity is very important in the punk subculture.” They even developed a particular fashion and style trend. They would wear black leather or jean jackets, ripped jeans, t-shirts, and combat boots. Pins and chokers became the jewelry and mohawks or spikes became the go to hairstyles. As with many counter-cultures, the punk’s desire to “never sell out” or move against the current seems ironic, given how many followers the movement had.  


The music also had a lot to do with characterizing the sub-culture. It was unrelenting, loud, and aggressive. There was a lot of power-chord infested songs, with pounding drums and shouting anti-establishment centered vocals. As this movement grew, more areas and clubs began to cater to the participants. As Ramone’s drummer stated, people needed “pure, stripped down, no B.S. rock and roll.” A club that hosted many shows and helped to launch the careers of various bands was called CBGB.



CGBG was a popular hole in the wall in Manhattan, New York that hosted many bands and concerts from 1973-2006. Hilly Kristal, the founder of CBGB’s originally had a certain vision for the musical styles of his club: Country, BlueGrass and Blues. However, certain people had a different view for what would sell. The venue “became a forum for American punk and new wave bands like the Ramones, Blondie, Talking Heads, Misfits, Joan Jett, and others.


As the years progressed, so did punk music. The music began to evolve and new bands emerged. In the early 1990’s the club “became closely associated with bands like Sum 41, Green Day, Korn and Guns n Roses.” In fact, my acts have been given the opportunity to play the iconic venue over the years. But defining the punk era becomes CBGB’s biggest claim to fame.




The sub-culture and subsequent music genre would still have hit the US without CGBG. But, the effects would not have been as powerful. The American, punk warriors the Ramones may not have gained as much popularity which would have greatly stifled the movement. Due to some controversy over the rent, Kristal was forced to close the doors in 2006. The club had one more shining moment in 2012, as it was “reborn as the largest music festival in NYC.” After that, CBGB “was registered as a historic site in 2013 and continues to be a great tourist attraction and topic of conversation among music and history buffs.


-Patrick Ortiz