Posts Tagged ‘Culture and Entertainment’

Arguably one of the world’s most famous rock clubs was opened in December 1973, when musician/actor/nightclub manager/concert promoter Hilly Kristal took over the Palace Bar.  CBGB’s or CBGB OMFUG which stands for “Country Bluegrass Blues, Other Music for Uplifting Gourmandizer (a voracious eater of, in this case, music)” was located at 315 Bowery at Bleecker Street.

Hilly Kristal was a lifelong lover of folk music and originally intended his club to feature its namesake musical styles.  Instead, amusingly, it quickly became a forum for American punk and No Wave bands such as the Ramones, Misfits, Television, The Voidoids, The Cramps, The B-52’s, Blondie, Swans, and Talking Heads.  Within months after CBGB opened, local musicians and poets became curious about the bar.  Tom Verlaine persuaded Kristal to book his band, Television, and others followed suit, including Patti Smith and her band, which had a seven-week residency in 1975.  Record executives soon joined the neighborhood punks.  Hilly Kristal was quick to recognize the new scene’s potential even though he professed a dislike for some of the music.  From the beginning, Kristal decreed that bands had to perform original material and, while this policy fostered creativity, it was also a way to avoid paying performance royalties.  By early 1974, as Richard Hell later wrote in the New York Times, CBGB “housed the most influential cluster of bands ever to have grown up – or to implicitly reject the concept of growing up – under one roof.”  Beginning in the early 1980’s until its later years, CB’s would transition from the Punk scene and become known for its Hardcore punk bands such as Agnostic Front, Murphy’s Law, and Cro-Mags.

Adjacent to his club, Hilly Kristal established, the “CBGB Record Canteen” (record shop and cafe) which was open for many years.  Eventually, in the late eighties, the record store was closed and replaced with a second performance space and art gallery, named “CB’s 313 Gallery”.

This iconic venue became famous not only for the bands that played there but also for its grimy decor with walls covered in band stickers and flyers and its notoriously foul bathrooms.  The club’s interior served as both a relic of rock history and a kind of living museum of graffiti.  In some ways CBGB ended its life as it had started; in its original location and with its original floor plan complete with uneven floors and peeling ceiling.  A virtual tour of the venue can be found here.

Already big names, such as Pearl Jam, Green Day and The White Stripes made appearances at the club in the last few years but the club had lost some of its luster.  In 2005, a dispute arose between CBGB’s and the Bowery Residents Committee, which claimed Kristal owed $91,000 in back rent. That was the beginning of the end for the this loud and trashy mecca, which had played host to an estimated 50,000 bands.  Despite several attempts to save the New York landmark, Patti Smith played the final concert ever at CBGB’s on October 15, 2006, ending its 33-year reign.

Following the closure of the music venue, CBGB Fashions (the CBGB store, wholesale department, and online store) stayed open until October 31, 2006 at 315 Bowery.  On November 1, 2006, CBGB Fashions moved to 19-23 St. Mark’s Place, but it too closed in the summer of 2008.

Although the physical venue has been closed for several years (and several of its contents, such as a wooden phone booth and the outdoor awning can now be found in New York’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Annex) and Hilly Kristal died on August 28, 2007, CBGB’s is still part of the music world in New York.  In 2010, CBGB Radio was launched on the iheartradio platform and in 2012, the CBGB’s 4-day music Festival was born with free concerts in Times Square and Central Park along with events hosted in more than 30 bars and music halls around Manhattan and Brooklyn.   The festival follows Hilly Kristal’s ideology of showcasing emerging artist and also includes music business conferences, rock and roll film screenings, industry panel discussions and more.


“A Virtual Tour of CBGB’s – NYC on October 13, 2006 which is now closed.” http://360vr.com/CBGB/  Accessed November 25, 2012

CBGB. “The History of CBGB by Hilly Kristal”, http://www.cbgb.com/history.php  Accessed November 25, 2012

Hell, Richard.  “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School” New York Times, October 14, 2006, Opinion section, New York edition.

McKinley, James C., Jr. and Stephen Rex Brown “CBGB Is Dead. Long Live CBGB” New York Times, May 7, 2012, Music Section, New York edition.

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Day of the Dead, figure of a bride

Viene la muerte cantando
Por entre la nopalera
En que quedamos, pelona,
Me llevas o no me llevas?

(Death comes singing
Between the nopales (prickly pears)
What have we decided, bald one,
Will you or won’t you take me?)
– Popular Verse

Day of the Dead or los Días de los Muertos, is one of Mexico’s most important festivals.  Death is a prevailing theme in Mexican popular culture and according to this belief, the souls of the dead have divine permission to return each year to earth, on All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day (1 and 2 November).  In most regions of Mexico, November 1 (also known as día de los inocentes “day of the innocents” or día de los angelitos “day of the little angels”) is to honor children and infants, whereas deceased adults are honored on November 2 (día de los Muertos).  This is not a somber occasion but a time for feasting and reunion.  It is a time for families to gather and welcome the souls of the dead on their annual visit home.  Revelers build altars and adorn them with Cempasúchil (marigold) flowers, burn copal incense, and leave fresh bread, pan de muertos, candles, sugar skulls, photographs and mementos of the departed.  In Mexico, Day of the Dead is celebrated over an entire week with the preparation of altars, foods, dance, music and special offerings for people who have died.

Mano a Mano: Mexican Culture Without Borders is a New York-based non-profit organization dedicated to celebrating Mexican culture and promoting the understanding of Mexican traditions.  Every year, they host an annual Day of the Dead festival at St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery (10th Street and Second Avenue in Manhattan).  Thursday, November 1st to Sunday, November 4th, 2012 marks their tenth anniversary and a variety of events and workshops will be offered in the churchyard of St. Mark’s in-the-Bowery.

Assorted Day of the Dead figurines

Although All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day are determined by the Roman Catholic calendar, pre-Christian beliefs and practices still play an important role in these celebrations.  Death, for the ancient peoples of Mexico, signified not an end but a stage in constant cycle, a cycle, which paralleled the yearly sequence of the seasons.  The Aztecs, who rose to power after 1325, regarded life and death as complementary.  Their worldview was based on dualism, a system of balanced opposites. The Aztecs were not alone in their religious beliefs.  As the inheritors of cultural traditions that were many centuries old, they shared their cosmology and their pantheon of gods with the other inhabitants of ancient Mexico.  In New Spain, the feasts of All Saints and All Souls’ combined cultural traits from Europe with pre-existing traditions. This cultural fusion has since been so complete that it would be difficult to determine today which aspects of the festival were introduced from Christian Europe and which aspects characterized the indigenous cult of the dead.

A large component of this tradition is the altar, which embodies the four elements of nature.  Earth is represented by crop (the souls are fed by the aroma of food), wind is represented by a moving object (tissue paper is commonly used), water is placed in a container for the soul to quench its thirst after the long journey to the altar, and fire is represented by a wax candle (each lit candle represents a soul, and an extra one is placed for the forgotten soul).  Families also leave toys for dead children (los angelitos, or “the little angels”), bottles of tequila, mezcal or pulque or jars of atole for adults, foods such as candied pumpkin and sugar skulls.  Pillows and blankets are also left out so the deceased can rest after their long journey.  In some parts of Mexico, such as the towns of Mixquic, Pátzcuaro and Janitzio, people spend all night beside the graves of their relatives.

A common symbol of the holiday is the skull (calavera), which celebrants represent in masks, called calacas and caricatures of skeletons (usually painted clay) depicting everyday life.  The engravings of Jose Guadalupe Posada (1852-1913) are deeply rooted in the Mexican national culture and this tradition.  From 1888, Posada supplied images to the capital’s journal and book trades.  Since the Mexican Revolution, La Calavera Catrina (“skull of the rich woman”, a parody of a Mexican upper-class female), and perhaps his best known image, has become linked with the festival of the dead.  Some people believe possessing Day of the Dead items can bring good luck. Many people get tattoos or have dolls of the dead to carry with them.  They also clean their houses and prepare the favorite dishes of their deceased loved ones to place upon their altar or ofrenda.

Day of the Dead diorama


Sayer, Chloe.  Fiesta: Days of the Dead and other Mexican Festivals. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2009

Mano a Mano: Mexican Culture Without Borders, “Day of the Dead”.  October 27, 2012. http://www.manoamano.us/en/day-of-the-dead-12.html

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