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Richard Hell praised Hilly for "letting us be who we really were" and noted that Kristal's honest, down-to-earth attitude "made other rock clubs seem sleazy by comparison."


A Punk-Rock Who’s Who, Bizzers and Journos Gather to Honor the Later C.B.G.B. Owner
Hilly Kristal, the founder and proprietor of the legendary Bowery nightclub C.B.G.B., was remembered by friends, family, and colleagues at a memorial held Monday (Oct. 15) at the Bowery Ballroom. Kristal died Aug. 28 at age 76 after a prolonged battle with cancer.

The event was organized by veteran publicist Jane Friedman and two long-serving C.B.G.B. employees, talent booker Louise Staley and door person BG Hacker. (Friedman compiled the guest list for the club's opening-night party in 1974 and later managed seminal C.B.G.B. acts Patti Smith and Television.) Michael Seier and Bowery Presents offered the room, with all other costs were covered by the Federation of East Village Artists.

Lisa Kristal, the first speaker of the evening, offered some intriguing details of her father's life before C.B.G.B. Hilly sang in the chorus of Radio City Music Hall, organized an early folk music package tour of college campuses, managed famed jazz niterie the Village Vanguard, and played several instruments including violin and guitar. In the years prior to the opening of C.B.G.B. at 342 Bowery, he opened and closed four other clubs, including the short-lived Hilly's on West Ninth Street.

A lengthy succession of speakers offered praise, insights, and humorous reminiscences. Shirts lead singer Annie Golden said that her band's appearances at C.B.G.B. led directly to their Capitol Records signing and her own appearance in the film version of Hair. Cheetah Chrome (Gene O'Connor) said that Hilly "saved my life" when he personally escorted the Dead Boys guitarist to a Queens drug rehab facility.

Former Talking Heads bassist Tina Weymouth read a message from Sire Records founder Seymour Stein (traveling in Russia), who credited Kristal with reviving the presentation of live original rock music in New York in the mid-’70s. Richard Hell, whose band Television was the first of the new wave of NYC bands to play the club, praised Hilly for "letting us be who we really were" and noted that Kristal's honest, down-to-earth attitude "made other rock clubs seem sleazy by comparison."

Vernon Reid of pioneering black rock band Living Colour said: "Tolerance sucks. You 'tolerate' a paper cut or a sprained ankle. Musicians want acceptance, not 'tolerance,' and that's what we got from Hilly Kristal. Living Colour truly became a band at C.B.G.B."

Other speakers included music critics Robert Christgau and Billy Altman, DC-area concert promoter Seth Hurwitz, Jane Friedman (with a message from Patti Smith, on tour in Europe), former Ramones manager Danny Fields, BG Hacker (with a message from Blondie drummer Clem Burke), Hilly's cousin Annette Lipson, producer Mike Thorne, Punk magazine founder John Holmstrom, Joan Jett manager Kenny Laguna, and writer/producer Genya Ravan ("I'm a recovering alcoholic—I learned to drink at C.B.G.B.!").

From among the many musicians who appeared at C.B.G.B. during the club's first and most influential five years, we heard from Television guitarist Richard Lloyd, Ramones founding drummer Tommy Erdelyi, Sic Fucks vocalists Tish and Snooky Bellomo (with a message from singer/actress Ann Magnuson), and Sic Fucks lead singer Russell Wolinsky (with a message from Dictators vocalist Handsome Dick Manitoba).

Notable by their absence were Hilly's former wife Karen Kristal and son Dana. In a message delivered by writer George Taab, Dana Kristal stated that for years he's played in an ongoing Monday night chess tournament and that his late father "would have wanted me to keep playing."

Surprisingly, only one piece of live music was performed at the event. Following the last speaker, ex-Patti Smith Group guitarist Ivan Kral accompanied himself on acoustic guitar for the poignant and wistful ballad "Wasn't It Great" while Annie Golden held the lyrics for him.

In the crowd: photographers Roberta Bayley, Stephanie Chernikowski, David Godlis, Bob Gruen and Ebet Roberts; promoter Steve Weitzman; record biz veterans Howard Thompson, Harvey Leeds, Sue Drew, Michael Hill and Bar-None's Glenn Morrow; music PR folk June Hony, Mark Satlof and Lauren Zelisko; BMI executive Leslie Morgan; scribes Holly George-Warren, Tim Holmes and Jon Pareles (N.Y. Times); Ira Robbins and Dave Sprague of Premiere Radio Networks; Bush Tetras' Cynthia Sley, Ivan Julian (Richard Hell & the Voidoids), legendary U.K. promoter Giorgio Gomelsky and keyboardist Martin Rev of Suicide.

For photos and more highlights from the event, see veteran Shore Fire publicist Mark Satlof's wonderful account on his blog at shorefire.com here.

Thanks to New York Rocker publisher Andy Schwartz for the report.