Not really a movie as much as it is an educational video with awesome music, CBGB lays out the story of how a down-and-out businessman, Hilly Kristal, turned a filthy bar in not-yet-gentrified NYC into the genesis of punk rock, as well as one of the greatest incubators for popular music in American history.
People usually associate punk music with being loud and angry, but at its roots it was less about screaming and more about simply having something to say, performed by “punk” kids who didn’t try to fit into what popular music was supposed to sound like. Among the thousands of bands to perform at CBGB, one of the biggest was Blondie, who got their start as regulars at the club where they were nurtured by Kristal. In the time between performing on CBGB’s stinky little stage in the 1970s, and making guest appearances at LGBT pride festivals today, Blondie rose to international fame with songs like “Heart of Glass” and “Call Me” and sold 40 million albums. Of course, this was back when bands still worried about selling “albums.” Times change. But the music of Blondie, and other CBGB bands like The Ramones, The Police, and Talking Heads, will live forever. The B-52’s played at CBGB. Madonna played at CBGB.
CBGB, the movie, is a crash course in punk music history. Although the script is a bit boring with lots of blah blah blah, the best moments are the on-stage performances, with delicious lip sync portrayals of singers like gay icon Debbie Harry (above) and pan-sexual Iggy Pop. If nothing else, it is worth watching to see Rupert Grint, a.k.a. Ron Weasley from “Harry Potter,” play the part of a punk rocker who performs oral sex on a beer bottle.
For those who don’t feel like sitting through the movie’s dialogue, we have collected the best bits — the music segments — in videos below. These aren’t the movie clips; they are the actual songs featured in the movie, as a testament to CBGB and how it changed music for the better.
Television, “Marquee Moon”
Talking Heads, “Psycho Killer”
Patti Smith Group, “Because The Night”
Joey Ramone, “I Got Knocked Down”
Blondie, “X Offender”
Blondie, “Sunday Girl”
The Stooges, “I Wanna Be Your Dog”
Dead Boys, “Ain’t Nothin’ To Do”
Dead Boys, “I Need Lunch”
The Police, “Roxanne”