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Old Punks Mourn Hilly Kristal, CBGB, Punk

Hilly Kristal

Hilly Kristal.Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

It’s hard to believe that the world’s most renowned rock club was started by someone who didn’t care for rock. But that was one of the things we learned at Hilly Kristal’s memorial service at the Bowery Ballroom last night, where Old Guarders like Patti Smith, Joan Jett, and Tommy Ramone remembered Kristal’s quirks: his lumberjack attire, his penchant for bluegrass and brandy-Frescas, and his distaste for loud music. “He was a unique person who appreciated unique talent and innovative acts,” said Ramone. “He knew which performers had something to offer.”

The aging iconoclasts also mourned the passing of CBGB and the Bowery itself, which, according to Tommy’s ex-manager Danny Fields has lately been dominated by “an incredible amount of ugly buildings and ugly people.” Of course, Kristal’s club was never winning any beauty contests: It was “a big, smelly, empty bar,” croaked Television founder Richard Hell, “where winos, barkers, and bikers and hillbillies drank.” But, everyone conceded, CBGB and its inhabitants had a lot more soul than the velvet-roped cocktail factories filled with drunk NYU students that are proliferating in the neighborhood now. At least it was loved; as was its owner. “The land and the king are one and the same,” said longtime doorman Brendan Rafferty. “You can’t talk about Hilly and not talk about CBGB … When [it] closed, I didn’t just lose a job; I lost a home. And when Hilly died, I lost a father.” The sentiment was echoed by all the rockers there: Hilly Kristal was the beneficent patriarch of their cultural revolution. He just didn’t like the music is all. —Alex Littlefield

Related: Hilly Kristal’s Last Interview

Old Punks Mourn Hilly Kristal, CBGB, Punk