Patti Smith: What Remains is Future

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CBGB, New York
CBGB, New York

A badge from Patti Smith's celebration of the last night at CBGB reminds us of the importance of looking forward

On the night of October 15th 2006, I witnessed what would be the last concert ever held at New York’s legendary CBGB music club. With tears in her eyes Patti Smith read aloud names of musicians and friends who’d graced the stage since it first opened in December 1973.

In the Babelogue intro to her ‘78 classic Rock N Roll Nigger Patti had proclaimed: “I haven’t fucked much with the past, but I’ve fucked plenty with the future,“ prophesying in just a few words the impact her music and that of her fellow CBGBians would have on generations to come.

It was four years after Woodstock, the Vietnam War was nearly over, Watergate had destroyed America’s faith in its government and Disco had begun to echo through the clubs and dance floors of New York. Outside of a scattering of garages and loft spaces the emerging young rock bands had no place to call home in the burgeoning downtown scene of the early 70s.

“I haven’t fucked much with the past, but I’ve fucked plenty with the future" — Patti Smith

Set against a backdrop of trash cans, tramps and hustlers CBGB opened on the Bowery at number 315, providing a creative haven for a whole new generation of young artists. Bands such as Television, the Ramones, Blondie and the Patti Smith group were all early regulars at the gritty little venue. An array of hungry young musicians trying to find their own voice, their own sound. It was a place to try, to fail and to grow. These early performances would define CBGB for decades to come. That night in 2006 wasn’t simply a concert, it was part celebration, part eulogy and part send-off. CBGB didn’t end that night, it gave all that it stood for back to the people and out into the streets. CBGB lives on in every town and every city where there’s a group of young musicians with a new thought, a new vision, trying to find a place to belong. Just as the words read on the small badges that Patti and Lenny Kaye passed out to the audience at the end of the night: “What remains is future.”