On December 1st, the Randall Miller-directed historical film CBGB (2013) was released on Netflix. Let’s just say a lot of old school punk rock fans were vocal about not wanting this film to exist, let alone wanting to watch it, when it was released two years ago. Dead Boys guitarist Cheetah Chrome was okay with the movie, had a favorable opinion of his portrayal by Rupert Grint from the Harry Potter movies (one of two Harry Potter actors in the movie- the other being Alan Rickman as Hilly Kristel), and even made a cameo appearance as a cab driver.
After sharing the news on Facebook that the movie is available on Netflix now, I was barraged with comments. Some comments were favorable, while others said things such as “Fuck this dumb movie and all the people that wanna live life through a movie” and “I think I’d rather poke my eyes out with a rusty ice pick than ever watch one second of this watered-down revisionist abomination of an afterschool special… err, ‘movie’.” No doubt the negative reactions are all about the commercialization of the CBGBs legacy. A while back, CBGBs t-shirts were selling in the shopping malls of Middle America, and it was very common to meet a lot of young people wearing the shirt who knew nothing about CBGBs. After the legendary venue closed down, there was talk of a deal to send parts of the club (such as urinals, pieces of bar, graffiti’d artifacts, etc.) to Las Vegas where it reopen there. The CBGBs legacy and brand are huge.
Question: Why doesn’t Al’s Bar, the west coast’s answer to CBGBs, have the same mythical status in rock history?
was located at 303 Hewitt St., part of The American Hotel, in the “Arts District” of downtown Los Angeles. At the beginning of his career, country singer Dwight Yoakam actually performed within the graffiti’ed and sticker-bombed walls of that cavernous and decayed punk rock bar. Nirvana. Sonic Youth. The Misfits. The Replacements. The Plimsouls. R.E.M. Billy Idol filmed a music video inside the seedy nightclub. Being inside Al’s Bar felt more like
being inside a vandalized cave. Holes in the walls, damaged ceilings and walls, exposed pipes, and gamy restrooms. The sign at the bar, which read “Tip or Die” was a somewhat famous slogan, having been there for years. In 1998, I spoke to the door guy, whose name I can’t recall, and asked about the homeless guy inside using the restroom to wash himself. He informed me that they commonly allowed the homeless inside to wash up in the restroom, it was cool, they knew most of them personally, they weren’t bothering anyone, and they didn’t mind at all. There were plenty of homeless people around too. And heroin junkies. Like CGBGs, it was located in a slightly dangerous neighborhood, and, like CBGBs, the neighborhood is becoming gentrified and the former Al’s Bar is now a yoga center.
Before Jack White created his Third Man Records empire based in Nashville, Tennessee, he had also played there on the way up. Musician Dave Dalton, a
member of The Screaming Bloody Marys from Alameda, CA, said “My old band Cell Block 5 opened for The White Stripes years ago at Al’s bar. I’m still trying to find a poster of that show. I had one and it got lost in the shuffle.”
Probably the best answer comes from Brew Kerr, former guitarist of punk rock band The Hormones (Austin, Texas 1990s.) and bass player for Van Buren Wheels (Phoenix, Arizona 2000s): “I can think of two reasons: 1. It’s heyday was the mid-80’s through the mid-90’s, so the nostalgia machine hasn’t quite yet caught up, and 2. The bands who frequently played there and the scenesters who regularly frequented there haven’t yet compiled a ‘Please Kill Me’ styled docu-novel. It’s memories remain firmly based in integrity. Though I’m sure that’s all bound to change some time in the near future.”
If Brew is correct, we may read books and watch films about Al’s Bar, and we just may be able to buy Al’s Bar t-shirts (with obligatory “Tip or Die” slogan printed on the back) at places like Forever 21 and The Gap someday. – BUCKSHOT
Billy Idol’s “Speed” video (soundtrack from the movie Speed, starring Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock), filmed at Al’s Bar, 1994.
(Jason Smith a.k.a. Buckshot George is the current bassist for the amazing NINE POUND HAMMER. He has played a few other barn-burner groups, but is full-on focused on the vicious drawl of NPH these days. Moreover, ‘Buckshot is a fan of good tunes, coming from that school of ‘if it tickles your ears, then roll with it’ school of thought we love so much at rockandrolljunkie.com. As a regular guest on our podcast, Buckshot has also signed on to do some writing for us. Wicked!)