The rock club CBGB is now a legend, an ideal, a hallowed foundational stone, but it wasn’t always thought of so reverently. In its heyday, the club was just a claustrophobic, graffiti-covered, piss-soaked downtown NYC dive bar that had two things going for it: a great sound system and a stage where any up-and-coming band could give it a shot.
This led to the creation of a by-God, authentic, once-in-a-lifetime scene, a place where “street rock” became punk rock, new wave, and everything since. A place where the Ramones, Talking Heads, Televsion, Blondie and Patti Smith transcended the Bowery. A place where people found love and salvation in music.
“CBGB: The Comic Book” is a four-issue anthology limited series published by BOOM! Studios that attempts to take the lightning and capture it on the page. Stories of the people in and around the club; the die-hards and the dilettantes, the believers and the bartenders, the guitarists and the gutter-dwellers. The passion, the music, and the fuck ups.
I’m Sam Humphries, a contributing writer to “CGBG: The Comic Book,” and welcome to the third in a series of interviews with the creators bringing CBGB to life on the page. This month I chat with Kim Krizan, a writer of much achievement and uncommon background. In the realm of comics, Kim wrote BOOM! Studio’s “Zombie Tales 2061.” Outside of comics, Kim collaborated with filmmaker Richard Linklater on the acclaimed screenplays for “Before Sunrise” and “Before Sunset,” the latter netting her an Academy Award nomination.
Kim’s story, drawn by Toby Cypress, appears in issue #3 of the series, also featuring a story by Robert Steven Williams, Louise Staley and Giorgio Pontrelli. LA’s own God of Metal, Chuck BB contributes the cover.
Perhaps my favorite moment in Kim’s career is her cameo in Linklatter’s “Dazed and Confused,” where she played a teacher on the last day of school. Unsurprisingly, her scathing and hilarious screed against the spirit of ’76 was a sentiment similar to what you could find blaring out of the amps at CBGBs the very same year. Right on, professor. My thanks to Kim for taking the time to answer these questions.
CBR News: You’re a successful, lauded screenwriter – what attracted you, then, to comics?
Kim Krizan: I learned while writing film scripts that pictures are very powerful. They inform us on a primal level. As a kid I really loved my Snoopy books, because in just a few panels, Charles Schulz would convey something truly hilarious but also totally profound. The great thing about a comic is that the process of getting it out in the world is so fast. You write it, someone draws it and it’s out there in a flash, being read by people you’ve never met.
Your story in “CBGB: The Comic Book” takes a unique turn in that it doesn’t really take place in any of the club’s fabeled “golden ages.” When does your story take place and what made you want to take it there?
When I was asked to write a story about the club, I thought about the fact that CBGB could be said to have given birth to punk rock – a style that inspired and influenced a lot of people. Punk rock crossed the ocean and then crossed back and then swept the world. I thought about the actual ground upon which the club was built and the fact that native people lived on that land hundreds and thousands of years ago. No doubt they pounded their tribal drums on that land. I mean, how punk rock! And so my idea sprang from there.
So you were into punk back in the day?
I remember being with my parents in some airport in the mid-1970s. The song “Torn Between Two Lovers” came on and was blasting all over the terminal. I was basically a kid, but I remember thinking, “Are they kidding? My parents’ generation had rockabilly and Elvis and Chuck Berry and we have this?” It was the most torpid time. Music was just bloated and stupid. But then, right in the nick of time, right before I keeled over and went insane, came punk rock. What a breath of fresh air. It had energy and anger and it didn’t rely on some corrupt industry – the individual had the power to express herself or himself, to write songs and communicate with people in a dynamic way. Of course, things fall apart over time and music got really stupid again, but I still totally believe in the spirit of punk rock, which to me is the knowledge that the average individual has the power to express herself or himself. They don’t need some middleman.
Did you ever get a chance to check out CBGB?
Yes. In 1990 I was visiting a friend in New York City and we went to CBGB and saw Babes in Toyland, which was an all-girl band. Courtney Love was a member at one point. They stood there in their babydoll dresses and made the most godawful noise. It was sort of great.
What other CBGB-era bands did you see?
I saw The Clash at the US Festival in 1982. Their set was absolutely blistering. Joe Strummer insulted the crowd (“You Beverly Hills elites! Go back to your swimming pools!”) and it was pandemonium. Everyone started booing and leaving, but my friends and I loved it and kept moving closer and closer to the stage. Finally, someone pulled the plug, but it was amazing – a totally thrilling moment in time. Let’s see – I saw Devo. I saw Blondie, of course. And when I was twenty, I was in a car accident that wasn’t my fault so I got insurance money and used it to fly to London to see Siouxsie and the Banshees. That was the beginning of goth. On that trip I also saw Dylan at Wembley Stadium.
In addition to your careers in film and comics, you also have a background in music. Tell us about the bands you started in Austin.
I would not call it “a background” at all! It was more like I thought it would be fun and funny to have a band. I had ideas and I wanted to live them out. The first incarnation was Femme Iron and the second was called Wet. I thought it would be great if females played cockrock songs, like “Tush” and “Hotblooded.” I was the singer and I also wrote songs. I sometimes wore a leopard cavegirl outfit. It was all under the cover of irony, but mainly it was fun and ridiculous.
From that side of the microphone stand, what is it about a club or scene like CBGB that engenders such a groundswell of creativity?
It’s just a beautiful accident of frustration meeting fulfillment.
Do you think any other club in the world could justify an anthology, or is there something special about CBGB?
Well, CBGB was pretty special, but The Whiskey, the famous L.A. club on Sunset Boulevard, was another iconic spot, as was Armadillo World Headquarters in Austin, Texas.
Fuck, marry, kill: comics, music, and film, and why?
Clearly some boy made up that drinking game. Girls don’t divide things up that way – at least I don’t – but let me try to at least partially answer your question. As far as comics go, I know this guy named Mosher and with him I’ve either done or seriously contemplated doing all three of those action items. As for music, I dearly love the band X. I saw them at the Roxy in Los Angeles in the early 1980s and that was it: eternal love. I know every note of every song. John Doe, Billy Zoom, D.J. Bonebreak and Exene – I’ll marry them all. And as far as film goes, there is only James Dean. I saw the movie “East of Eden” when I was thirteen and I couldn’t speak for days. James Dean is the Alpha and the Omega.
Okay, fantasy time. If you could book the club for a night with bands from any era, what would be your dream CBGB lineup? And who would be your dream date for the night?
The Sex Pistols would have to headline. The Clash, naturally. And X. I think some of the best songs were created by the Buzzcocks, so throw them in there. I never got to see Elvis Costello , so he needs to make an appearance too. And can Bob Dylan and Tom Petty take me to the show? I love them both.
If we can add another notch to your resume, you created an original cocktail for the launch of your book “Zombie Tales,” and not only was it delicious, but it packed a punch.
When I asked you if I could “make you a zombie” I meant that literally.
What cocktail is most emblematic of the CBGB spirit?
Cheap beer was what everyone drank in those sweaty punk rock clubs. It was a very populist movement, so no one drank fancy liquor. I happen to disdain beer (my drink of choice back in the day was champagne) so let me make up a new cocktail that speaks to the situation. Okay, mix beer with a shot of tequila. If you want to be truly punk, go for cheap beer and cheap tequila. Then, because of my comic book story, garnish the drink with a feather. Let’s call it a CBGB!