Hilly Kristal's Last Interview

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Kristal in CBGB circa 1970. Photo: Stephanie Chernikowski/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Hilly Kristal went to the emergency room at New York-Presbyterian last month with a cancer complication. The CBGB founder was admitted to the hospital, and the next morning he spoke to New York contributor Arianne Cohen from his hospital bed. Kristal's long, rambling, reflective discourse may have been his last interview:

I was always in very good health. And I think anybody looks forward to living forever. Unfortunately, I found out I have cancer. So, some of the things I looked forward to, some of the adventurous things, I can't do. I can't climb Mt. Everest no matter how much time I have. I can't walk the Rockies. There are a lot of things I can't do because I'm not physically able. Unfortunately that's how it is. I'm 75; when I was 73, I was in wonderful health. But I think I'll be all right. I'm trying to read a lot more. It doesn't take that much energy to read.


There's something called neuropathy in my feet and hands. So I have a little bit of that. I have trouble playing the guitar, and sometimes it's painful. I go into work. I take the chemotherapy. We have to take care. It doesn't mean you're going to live a long time. But if you take care, so far, so good.


We all have regrets. I'm not satisfied with anything that I've done or not done. With the club, I did most of the things I wanted to do. But I regret that I don't have much time to go places or the money to do things that I'd like. But I'm an optimist. I will make time to do more things. Lately I've gone to China, to Spain, I've gone all over and spent time in different places. I'd love to travel more.

You get married to be married forever, and I regret the fact that my marriage wasn't that kind of marriage.

I wouldn't have believed that my spirits are as good as they are. I can swim. As long as somebody puts me in — the ocean is a tough place to swim because I have to get past the little waves that knock me out. They bump into my legs, because my legs are so weak. But I can swim.

I have lung cancer and cancer of the bones. I did what I could do. I think the most important thing was keeping CBGB as it was, as long as I could, so that it gave new musicians a chance. That's the main thing. I still could do it. I think the real problem is not my physical problems but that the landlord tripled the rent. He charged $65,000 a month. I couldn't pay it. But I think I probably will open in Las Vegas, and I'll probably do something in Buenos Aires and Tokyo. I'm not going to own them, but they'll have to operate them in the same way I do. I want time for myself. Then from there, who knows.

You have to just keep going. Right now I'm in a situation where I don't have a club, but in five or ten minutes I'm having a meeting with a partner to open a CBGB in Las Vegas. It's been a very difficult thing in the last year, losing the club because of the finances. Actually, we were doing well; it's just one of the mistakes I guess I made was not caring too much about finances. I was more interested in the artistry. And trying to develop other people.

I was very healthy. I didn't think I was gonna get sick.

You have to work hard but not bury yourself in the work. You have to have passion for something you want to do. And you have to work at it. If you don't have the passion for it, I don't know. But you can't neglect making a living. And have to realize as you get older, put that money aside a little bit. Don't let your passion lead you astray. Make sure it's a pragmatic thing. Don't go crazy with lack of success. As you grow up, there are many things in life besides what you do as a living, and you have to take care of yourself. And if you have a wife and children, that's important, very important. You can float away into nowhere into space. Some do that their whole life. Otherwise you just float to nowhere.

Earlier: RIP Hilly Kristal