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The Country, BlueGrass and Blues club : CBGBs (315 Bowery, opp Bleeker St)
When CBGBs opened in the early 70s, the lower Bowery was one of Manhattan’s worst “skid row” districts. Hilly Kristal originally opened the club as a bikers’ bar. When that failed, he relaunched it as a country and western club.
However, the club’s moment of greatness arrived when a small circle of pale, leather clad East Village rockers adopted CBGBs as a meeting place.
CBGBs “punk” scene grew quickly around bands like The Ramones, Blondie, The Talking Heads and Television.
When the Ramones’ first album was released in 1975 (the record cover pictured the band lurking in an alleyway behind CBGBs, looking simultaneously dumb and menacing in leather jackets and torn jeans), it was heralded as a minimalist punk masterpiece.
CBGB's remained open for business for more than thirty years, and booked the best indie bands that the city had to offer. However the rising tide of gentrification and development in the area eventually took its toll, and CBGB's closed its doors for the last time in 2007.
The Bunker (222 Bowery)
After 25 years of exile in Paris, London and Tangiers, William Burroughs returned to New York in November 1975, and moved into the windowless locker room of an abandoned YMCA building, which he christened the “Bunker”.
Together with Jack Kerouac and Allan Ginsberg, Burroughts co-created the Beat movement in the 40s and 50s. In the 60s, his experiments with cut and paste writing techniques provided inspiration for avant garde writers and artists.
Burroughs possibly holds the record for inspiring more band names than any other writer.
Burroughs lived at the Bunker for 6 years and over that time pop stars, punks and junkies (including David Bowie, Joe Strummer, Lou Reed, Mick Jagger, and Andy Warhol) sought him out.
However, by the end of 1981 Burroughs had started to tire of the drugs and the rising New York rents, so he moved westwards with his manager/assistant James Grauerholz to Lawrence, Kansas, where he lived until his death in 1997.
The Dom / The Electric Circus (23 St Marks Place)
In the mid 60s, the Electric Circus was a fashionable disco and The Dom was a popular bar located in the downstairs section of the building, featuring avant-garde jazz and rock shows (including garage-art band, The Fugs, which were founded at the Dom in 1964 by Ed Saunders and Tuli Kupferberg).
Andy Warhol unveiled his Exploding Plastic Inevitable to the world at The Dom in April 1966. The EPI was a multi media “happening” which featured dancers, experimental film, psychoactive light shows and a dash of S&M, with “ultrasonic” accompaniment by the Velvet Underground.
In more recent years, the building has been used as a local community center.
The Physical Graffiti Building (96 St Marks)
This building was featured on the cover of Led Zeppelin’s 1975 album Physical Graffiti. In the 90s, a used clothing store opened in the basement, appropriately named “Physical Graffiti”
Fillmore East (105 2nd Ave)
Brash young rock entrepreneur Bill Graham had run a hugely successful West Coast dance-hall business in the 60s, specialising in psychedelic music. With the opening of New York's Fillmore East (previously known as The Village Theatre) in the late 60s, he successfully expanded his operations to the East Coast.
However, Graham closed both Fillmores (West and East) in 1971 and went on to become one of the major promoters of the American stadium rock circuit, taking rock music from smoky bars and dance halls into huge sports arenas.
John Cale and Lou Reed’s Apartment (56 Ludlow St)
Lou Reed was a struggling young Tin Pan Alley songwriter, with a heroin habit, some unconventional musical ideas, and probably not much future in the pop business, when he met avant-garde art musician John Cale in 1965.
Although the two musicians came from opposite ends of the musical spectrum, they hit it off, and decided to form a band that would meld pop music with modern literature and the most extreme avant-garde musical ideas of the time. They named the band The Velvet Underground, inspired by a pornographic novel that Reed had found on the street.
Reed moved into Cale’s Ludlow Street flat, which they shared for most of 1965 while they developed their unique “wall of noise” sound. The flat was located in a slum tenement that had no heat or hot water. The building was crammed full of struggling artists and other dubious characters (and at one stage the mafia established an amphetamine factory in one of the downstairs flats).
In the winter of 1965, Cale and Reed moved into a nearby loft at 450 Grand Street, along with guitarist Sterling Morrison (the loft was used during the day and in the evenings as a gallery/performance space).
St. Mark's In-The-Bowery (131 E.10th St and 2nd Ave)
The two hundred year old St Mark’s building has been used as a poetry performance venue since the 1950s, when Beat writers regularly gave readings at the church. The many musical events held at St Marks include Patti Smith’s first rock concert in February 1971, accompanied by guitarist Lenny Kaye (who formed the core of Smith’s band, and then went on to compile Nuggets, the very influential collection of 60’s psychedelic garage bands).
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