Man’s Opinion: Plains Punk
By Ivan Calhoun
I live in New Mexico, a more cultural centerpoint than you might realize. 45 miles from my house is Santa Fe, the second largest art market in the US after New York City -- but for music, New Mexico is not so much. Recently while driving on the Eastern Plains between Clovis and Ruidoso taking care of things for my daytime job, I had to depend on the only source of available music to while away the time -- my iPod. I really wonder often how an iPod works, not technically but when in shuffle mode. Sometimes it seems magical what it picks to play and in what order. That day, on exceedingly arid stretches of straight brown flanked road, my iPod served up an homage to a place I still kick myself about. It was music from Manhattan in the 70s and 80s. It was music from CBGB’s.
CBGB was a music club in Manhattan whose name stood for Country, Blue Grass, and Blues. Funny thing, despite the name, it became the principal birthplace and home for a time of punk music and so it had a second tagline of OMFUG -- supposedly ‘Other Music For Uplifting Gormandizers’ (voracious consumers of music). At the time, I was a skinny teeanager growing up on the Texas Panhandle but thankfully exposed to Patti Smith, Television, some New York Dolls, Blondie, the Talking Heads, and especially of course the Ramones during late night Saturday rock radio shows (usually the King Biscuit Flower Hour). And when my iPod became important to me as an adult I did not realize how much that music scene had become such a part of me. More influential than the hair band era of the 90s in Los Angeles (I lived there at the time) or Seattle’s Grunge period, New York City punk was the music I downloaded.
This career of mine has allowed me to work in New York on numerous occasions. It’s been cool as on many trips there I’ve been asked to consider staying on a fulltime basis but I’ve never been able to be in a position to take advantage of those offers. But more unfortunately, every time I went to Manhattan or Staten Island or West Paterson, New Jersey to work, I figured I’d get over to CBGB the next time I was in the area to check out the place and catch whoever was playing that night. I kept thinking that until 2006 when I saw a news report that CBGB was closing down. Literally, it was ‘Dang!’. I had taken it for granted that the place would always be there.
One of my favorite songs of all time is the Ramones’ ‘My Brain is Hanging Upside Down’. When I really need a charge, I get off shuffle on the iPod and pull up all the Ramones’ tunes I have on the device – it means that song will come up. After hearing it I feel like I’ve got 8 more hours of energy which I really need when doing unfun stuff like my tax return. When I heard the song during the movie ‘School of Rock’ I unconsciously came out of my seat. And to me, I so wish I had heard it there at CBGB when I had the chance and most of the Ramones were still alive. I screwed up never taking an evening off to get over to the club either in its heyday or towards the end in the early 2000’s.
But there might now be a small bit of consolation. A side thing I do is write screenplays and in an early season of HBO’s ‘Entourage’ there was a terrific storyline about the characters being interested in a screenplay about the Ramones. I thought it was a brilliant idea and since it was a fictional premise for that show I thought maybe I should give it a go as a screenwriter. I’ve completed a couple other writing projects since those HBO episodes instead and so never got around to it. Then I read an interesting story on Variety’s website a couple of months ago about a film in development about CBGB. A second opportunity is that there is a group which bought the rights to the CBGB logo who are trying to build a new version of the club in New York -- though I don’t think it’s on the Bowery. I really hope both efforts get done (if they’re not too Hollywood or too Hark Rock Cafe) – I’d be willing to help to ensure a another chance to maybe take a trip there through film and when the new location finally opens I’ll make it a priority to go.
I still love though that I get to reconnect to a formative period in my life during times when all of a sudden my iPod inexplicably decides it has to put music out from that place and that time over and again while on desolate windswept stretches of highway near tiny towns like Elida, New Mexico. Even though they’ll never get a chance either, I suspect there’s a young person or two in places like Elida that also now wish they had had a chance to visit the home of American punk. They still can though, even if the film doesn’t get produced or the new club is more a t-shirt shop, it can happen through downloads and their iPod or other music device acting magically. My iPod by the way also has a bunch of country, bluegrass and blues on it too.
Photographs by ©Ivan Calhoun