Of CBGB’s and the way-back machine

journalsA while back, I unearthed a plastic bin filled with journals I kept when I first moved to New York as a confounded young boy. Thousands of hand-written and typed pages. I had forgotten about them and their reappearance knocked me on my ass. Looking back, it’s astonishing how naïve I was in the ways of love and life. But I suppose that’s a claim we can all make.

Occasionally, I’ll arbitrarily pick a book, crack it open, and post what’s within. It’s surprising how entertaining the seemingly mundane can be. Well…entertaining to ME, anyway. Admittedly, I have a bias. Caveat: I offer these unedited and make no excuses or offer any apologies for the offensive material and coarse language. I wasn’t a fully-formed human being yet and it shows.

*     *     *

August 23, 1992

I’m miserable, bored, lonely and tired of all the rejection. I’m sick of not having any friends. Sometimes, I stare into the mirror for a long time to see if I can see what’s wrong with me. Fuck this town. But moving isn’t the answer, either. I’m better off bored and lonely here than bored and lonely someplace else.

Last Wednesday I walked over to CBGB’s because both Austin and Cindy’s bands were playing on the same night. How convenient is that? I hate walking into that place alone. There’s Cindy’s band clique and there’s Austin’s band clique and I don’t feel particularly welcome by either one, so I sat at the bar alone. I think they all think I’m creepy. And sitting at the bar drinking alone exacerbates my creepiness. I looked like the house leper. I ended up staring at Hilly Kristal all evening and if there’s anyone in that joint who’s creepy it’s THAT GUY, not me. Cindy said he’s a cheap bastard who doesn’t pay the bands, even though he charges a cover. He considers it a privilege to play there. Fuck, Hilly, it might have been a privilege in 1979, but it ain’t no more. Pay the fucking bands, man.

[Note: CBGB closed in 2006. The site is now a John Varvatos boutique, which makes me deeply sad.]

At least Cindy and Austin were happy to see me. Cindy’s kind of ordinary looking, but when she’s on stage playing her bass I want to rip her clothes off and ravage that flat chest of hers. Girls who play bass are HOT. Today, we rode our bikes to the park and sat in the grass. It was nice out and even though she didn’t get back from a gig until early this morning and looked like a corpse, I tried to kiss her anyway. She started to but pushed me off and said to stop because I have a girlfriend, meaning Bonnie, which isn’t really true. We rode to an outdoor cafe and had a couple bottles of beer, which I paid for.

We rode back to Cindy’s apartment and there was a big Puerto Rican street festival in front of the Nuyorican Poets Cafe. Her bedroom window was right above the stage so we had a perfect view of the bands and beautiful Latina dancers. There was a huge 12-piece orchestra with a big horn section. We sat on her fire escape and drank beers (which, again, I paid for). Even though I made a failed pass as her, there was no tension between us, which can sometimes happen. We enjoy each others company. I was drunk when I left and let me tell you something, riding a bike down Church Street into oncoming traffic with a beer buzz no fun.

Last Friday I was supposed to go to the laundromat but Bonnie called so I took the N train uptown instead. I don’t recall the exact sequence of events but eventually we wound up in bed. I exhibited an almost bizarre degree of control. First fast and then slow. She said slow was driving her crazy. I have no idea how I was able to hold out but I did. I never finished because I didn’t have a rubber. She, on the other hand, had a tremendous orgasm. Afterwards, we walked to the Evergreen Diner and I was laughing because she could barely walk. It’s just a few blocks away and when we were done eating, she told me she had to take a cab home because she still couldn’t walk. I started laughing and she got really mad at me, so now we’re on hiatus. Way to go, Mr. Sensitive.

*     *     *


The Bryant Park Hotel and Empire State with holiday lights.
Wednesday, December 18, 8:45 p.m.


The New York Times with taxi cabs.
Wednesday, December 18, 9:05 p.m.

46 thoughts on “Of CBGB’s and the way-back machine

  1. Funny, I used to hang at CBGB’s in the early 90’s too. Occasionally by myself when I couldn’t convince my friends to go out, but mostly with my best idiot friend. I was the oblivious guy who never knew who Hilly was, but loved bands like Alice Donut. So it became a default hangout. Even though I was living on Long Island. I’d drive into the city right from work and crash with aforementioned idiot. Sometimes not even bothering to change out of my monkey suit. Ruined a few in those years too just from accidentally wading into a mosh on the way to the worst bathroom in the world*. Ah…thank god those days are over. 🙂


    • I remember Alice Donut, but just barely. Did you know Travis Pickle, Very Pleasant Neighbor or Jiggle the Handle? (That last one is the best name for a band ever. Pure genius.) I always got the sense that I (we) were there after its prime. I’m still glad it was part of my misspent youth, though. Wouldn’t trade it, etc. My understanding is that Varvatos preserved the bathroom and scarred walls. Why would he bother? Nobody who can afford to shop there would ever have spent :30 seconds in CB’s.

      • I’ve heard of Travis Pickle and Very Pleasant Neighbor. I think I even saw the latter at CB’s one night. Did they go by VPN for a while? Jiggle the Handle isn’t ringing any bells, but it is a great name for a band.

        My favorite show there was The Cramps in 1993 or so. I wasn’t a big fan of their music or anything, but the crowed was filled with awesome freaks.

        And yes…I always knew that the joint was past it’s prime when I was going there. Can’t believe Varvatos kept the bathroom. Did you ever go later in the 1990’s when they had the lounge downstairs/next door? I think it was called CB’s Underground or something. That was the true end of the end.

      • Yes!!! VPN! Talented bunch of guys and girls. What about Chris Rael and his Fang Records bands? I always hoped one of them would break out and make it but I’m not sure any of them did.

        I wasn’t a Cramps kind of guy. The dudes listening to The Cramps were the same ones who took my lunch money away in junior high. So I stayed away.

        Yeah, I went to the lounge. It was next door. I actually didn’t mind it at all. It was just another place to hang out and listen to music. What about Ear Bar? Lakeside Lounge? Pyramid? Mercury Lounge? Save the Robots? All gone; none forgotten.

      • Was the Ear Bar a different joint than the Ear Inn down on Spring St? Because that’s still there, still featuring some music. Haven’t been in ages though.

        The only reason we went to see the Cramps was because it was some big anniversary week at CB’s. Went 3-4 times that week. Worth it to see the Ramones, even though it was jam packed and we waited forever to get in. There was a documentary shot during that week, but I’ve never been able to find it. Cramps fans are…interesting.

        I don’t think I’ve seen Chris Rael, but I’ve heard of the Church of Betty. I think they were performing in Charleston SC on one of my recent trips down there. He’s married to a performance artist named Penny Arcade, and I just read an article about her somewhere about a month ago. Rael does all the original music for her shows. So he’s still around.

      • This is too weird. The girl I wrote about in this post? Cindy? She played bass for Church of Betty for a while. She also had her own band. Chris is a really talented guy. I’m pretty sure he and Penny aren’t together anymore but I could be mistaken. Penny was just in a show on the Lower East Side that closed a couple of weeks ago. It got good notices in the Times.

        It WAS the Ear Inn. We used to call it Ear Bar and the name stuck. Funky place.

  2. Worthy of note here sir, is the fact that although the musings of a much younger self would have us believe that you were a diamond in the rough in regard to parlance, the clear thinking you of today is still very evident to see. It took a while, but eventually you overcame the need to fit in and become yet another bland, shapeless human form that one associates with sheep in a flock. Instead, you blossomed, shed your clinging vine and became an individual that soon realised that not all men are bound to be followers. Interesting to see that your rapid appreciation of the female complexity of emotions soon kicked in and secured you many an unclaimed field, of which every man has a right to plough, if not always sow.

    • Spending all that time alone provided a most valuable lesson. It taught me how to be happy with just myself. It’s one of the most useful life skills a person can develop. I still use it today, even when I’m surrounded by family.

      Sometimes it seems I was unfair or cruel to women but within these pages are plenty of instances whereby I was the one being taught what an unkind heart is capable of. The wheel turns.

  3. Staring at yourself in the mirror, wondering what’s wrong with you. I used to do a lot of that.

    When are we ever “fully-formed”? Would we want to be? And how would we recognise it? Your 1992 self sounds as clear-sighted as your are now.

    It will be said many times now, but it will bear repeating–these old journal extracts are a treat.

    Happy Christmas to you and yours. It’s been a pleasure. Here’s to more of the same in 2014.

    • I’d love to romanticize the notion of what a young, unattached happy galavant I was in the 90’s but I really was a big old mess. The journals reveal many carefree nights, but they also reveal some episodes that were probably best left forgotten. I’ve always considered my porous memory to be one of my best defense mechanisms and these pages betray that.

      Happy holidays to you, too, sir. Make a wish for the new year. You never know.

  4. It’s commendable that you could appreciate the prospect of ravaging her flat chest when you were a young man, relatively speaking. Too many young men have no interest in chests they can’t motorboat. Nice of Cindy to think of Bonnie’s feelings – that’s sisterhood for you.

    • I was wild for a naked chest. I probably had some mommy issues but whatever. When the top came off, I was in heaven. As far as the sisterhood, I should have kept my big mouth shut about Bonnie. I was an open book to a fault. Still am.

  5. Why did you tell me to read this? I was perfectly happy on the day after Christmas. I just posted on a blog that I had no day after Christmas let down. And now this.

    CBGBs. Don’t do this to me. I loved Hilly. I goddamn loved him. I’m sorry, but he was a fucking great guy. That club had the best sound system in New York. I spent so much time at CBs I can’t read stuff like this and not cry. Do you know how many of my life events played out backstage at CBs? Every guy I every dated played there. I have so much graffiti written, carved in knife, (HAD, GODDAMMIT) backstage. And if you were good enough, had enough of a following, he booked you over and over again. I LIVED in that club.

    I met David Bowie there, I swear to you. I was sitting at a table by myself and he came in with an entourage and they just put him at my table. All night. WTF?

    I had my heart broken there. I started relationships there. I got laid backstage. I passed out backstage.Hilly covered me with a blanket. I got into horrible fights there. Sometimes fist fights. Sometimes with chicks. I tied off there. I heard the best music of my young life at that club.

    My home is gone. Forever. They just wiped out an entire piece of my life’s history as if it were nothing. All that’s left are memories.

    • It’s not my falut! I was just a kid! Remember…I didn’t write this last month. This was about 20 years ago. I hung out with a lot of band people and each and every one of them complained about how Hilly treated them. But they ALL WENT BACK whenever they had the chance. So what to make of that? I wasn’t on the inside, by any means. Those were just my impressions.

      I’ve had a lot of brushes with celebrity but Bowie tops ’em all. I can’t beat that one. I never will. He’s the one massive regret I have. I never saw him perform live and now I never will. And I grew up in Cleveland. He was always in and out of town. Toured every album through there and I was a fan. But I just never got around to seeing him. It’s TRAGIC, I tell you.

      My understanding is that Varvatos left a lot of it “as is” as a hommage. You might want to drop by. Or, it might make you wretch. I saw a “punk fasion” exhibit at the MET and they recreated the bathroom at CB’s. It was the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen. I think I have a pic of it I’ll send you. And the people who wore those “punk fashions” would never had gone anywhere near that place.

  6. i missed that scene by a few years, but i did see jimi hendrix in concert twice, so i guess, it all evens out when it comes to down to it. i also seem to have missed part of being young in the big city. getting married at 19 probably does that to you. in ’92, 2 of the coconut krewe were at columbia and probably too poor or too young to get in! happy boxing day! 😉 xoxoxoo

    (the ’92 you was pretty damn smart to keep a journal, sugar!)

    • Let me tell you something, I would consider trading all my experiences for seeing Hendrix ONCE, much less twice. Being young in the city really was great, but there was a lot of heartache, too. Some of it went on and on and on and didn’t seem to have an end date.

      I’m hoping that keeping these journals don’t turn around to bite me in the ass. It could easily happen. I’ve still got half a mind to set them on fire. For real.

  7. the downside, as well as upside, of those old personal journals? they eliminate the prospect of ‘revisionist emotional history. i only have journals that i wrote from the age of 14 until 19. oddly enough, i stopped writing in the journals the same week i met the man who would later become my husband for 25 years. i didn’t know it at the time, of course…

    you wrote clearly, and honestly. called your own bullshit. worked through your demons. healthy stuff. and very good reading!

    • Can you believe I still can’t make up my mind about these stupid journals?! I swear I’m always on the threshold of taking them to the town landfill.

      I didn’t write THAT clearly! I’ve corrected the punctuation, run-on sentences and paragraph breaks as best I could, but the content is 100% pure.

  8. Your journal ramblings are rather eloquent. I took keep a journal but it’s much more spastic and rambling than this. I am afraid to go back and read them… I keep them locked in a safe and the thought of opening it gives me acute anxiety. Though… I have a story I want to write for the first week of January and it is only chronicled in a journal from sometime around 2008 I think, so I will have to do some digging. It will likely send me tailspinning into a depression, ha.
    It certainly is interesting to look back and see how we have changed though…

    • I am conflicted about these journals. There’s a whole slew of things I wouldn’t want my wife or, especially, my daughters to read. But every time I go to set them on fire, I start reading, get sucked in and change my mind. Anxiety is right!

      You’re right about seeing the arc of our lives. I’m a mess today but I was an even BIGGER mess back then. Weren’t we all?

  9. Thank you for taking us on a journey way, way, back, to your past, my friend. You can’t move forward unless you know where you’re going – and where you came from.

    • Hello, Hook. Nice to see you, sir. Hope you had/are having a nice holiday season.

      These journals are a blessing + a curse. I love the walks down memory lane but sometimes I have my heart broken anew. Some stuff is best forgotten. I’ve done a few of these journal-excavation posts. If you’re interested, here’s a pretty good one.

  10. At first I was thinking how ballsy to post a blog when you were a kid and feeling so alone, but then you told a story about breaking a girl off so good that she couldn’t walk straight. Outstanding work, sir.

    I enjoyed the blog. I’ll be back.

    • Hello, Dr. Noisewater. Welcome. Consider what a young idiot I was: in my opening paragraph I complain that I’m alone and bored. Then I go on to list a host of very satisfying encounters. It just goes to show you…everything is right in front of you if you take the time to look.

  11. Great stuff, Mr. I hope you and Bonnie made up.

    Hope, too, that you had a splendid Christmas, and wish you all the very best for next year.

    • I’m glad you asked that question! I bumped into Bonnie last spring in a theater. We recognized each other straight away, despite all the years that have peeled away. Ready for this? She married a billionaire! Someone quite famous in the business world. She certainly traded up for me from an economic standpoint! We had a lovely discussion. No hard feelings at all.

  12. You looked like the “house leper” of CBGB. What a disgusting visual. I saw Hendrix in Detroit, 1970. My first concert. I feel your pain. It’s that Ohio upbringing we have. The later Bonnie encounter reminds me of the Harry Chapin song-“Taxi”. I love your old journals

    • That beats the hell out of my first. Mine was Alice Cooper touring Welcome to my Nightmare, which was well past his Killer prime. Opening act was Suzi Quatro. Remember? Thanks for your kind words. The journals are a source of tremendous joy and angst.

  13. Pingback: Group Therapy: December « HACKER. NINJA. HOOKER. SPY.

  14. As someone commented above, “worst bathroom in the world” is an understatement. I’m pretty sure they were built that way deliberately, as opposed to just decaying like that.
    I never spent a lot of time at CBGBs, but it was a great room.

    Your entry could be a verbatim by a later generation’s Holden Caufield.

    • Thanks for the Holden reference. That’s pretty clever. I’m exactly like Salinger except for the part about being pursued by The New Yorker and the astonishing talent and wealth and fan base. I’m just as crabby, though. I’ve got that going for me.

  15. Happy New Year, Mr Banish!!
    I think Bonnie lacked a sense of humour…. I have been in a similar predicament and laughed like a drain…. this probably put the kibosh on me marrying a billionaire though.

    • Hello, dear and happy new year to you. Thanks for the ping. It’s always nice to see your avatar pop-up in a comment notification email.

      When I write a post and even *I’M* bored by it, it’s time for a sabbatical. My reading/commenting has been sporadic as well. I blame post-holiday winter ennui. I’m always so sad to see Christmas/New Years end. Most people are relieved but it gives me the deep blue blues.

  16. I have stacks of journals too but I think they’re mostly outlining questions I should have had the answer to or mistakes I should have known better than to make haha. But this excerpt from your journal was super interesting. I marvel at your willingness to tell such a personal story about a sexual encounter. You’re one the coolest Mark. For serious.

    • Have you a mind to destroy your journals? I’m constantly fighting with myself over whether or not these things should exist. What if something happens to me?! I don’t want my daughters reading this stuff! But they ARE interesting and have historic value (to me).

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