The first-ever CBGB Festival kicked off Thursday and runs through Sunday, spreading some of the old magic at venues all over New York. Over 300 bands are taking part at participating venues in Manhattan and Brooklyn. CBGB’s closed in 2006.
Agnostic Front, Madball, Murphy’s Law, David Johansen, Glen Matlock of the Sex Pistols, Popa Chubby, Mike Peters of The Alarm, Sick Of It All, Cro-Mags, L.A. Guns, Donovan Frankenreiter, Redd Kross, Duff McKagan’s Loaded and D Generation are just a few of the bands participating.
Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic kicked off the fest on Thursday as the keynote speaker at Landmark Sunshine Cinema. CBGB Festival organizer Louise Parnassa-Staley revealed to Krist never played CBGB because their agent demanded an additional $300 to perform. “Corporate rock whores, we were,” Nirvana’s former bassist joked. “Bye-bye, anarchism.”
Novoselic credited Black Flag with giving his bandmates and him a creed: “Swimming in the mainstream is such a lame dream,” from “Beat My Head Against the Wall,” off 1983’s My War. “Music saved my life,” he said. “To have the opportunity to connect with these [punk] bands. It was really neat. But I found myself in a subculture. There were other individuals like myself who didn’t fit in with the dominant culture, with what was in the mainstream media.” It’s a feeling he’d experience again when he became more interested in politics after Nirvana ended.
But before he got into that, he paid tribute to the band’s fallen frontman, Kurt Cobain. “When people stop and recognize me, I always use that as an opportunity to remember Kurt Cobain,” Novoselic said. “That’s my opportunity to say, that’s for you, dude. That’s my regret, that Kurt Cobain isn’t alive and didn’t live. He was a wonderful person and he deserved a fulfilling life.”
He also talked about the bands that inspired him to pick up the bass guitar (among them, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and CBGB legends Talking Heads, Blondie and the Ramones), and how he transitioned from music to politics as chairman of FairVote, a not-for-profit group working to reform elections and increase turnout by calling on greater transparency in federal election spending, confronting voter suppression and supporting a “right to vote” Constitutional amendment.
“I’m not a crusader,” he insisted several times. “I don’t want to be a celebrity change agent. People have to decide for themselves.”
In an interview with Rolling Stone before his keynote speech, Novoselic said he first became politically aware at 19 in Aberdeen, Washington, when he voted for Democrat Walter Mondale over President Ronald Reagan in 1984. Most recently, Novoselic chaired his county’s Democratic Party until leaving in 2009. “I was disillusioned. I got tired of volunteering for a Super PAC. It wasn’t a grassroots organization. It could be if the other Democrats wanted it to be, but I wasn’t getting a very good value for my time and energy. So I’m an Independent now,” he said, adding he will support candidates from all political parties this year.
As for music, Novoselic rarely plays bass these days and admits he became “obsessed” last year with learning the Doors’ “Light My Fire” on the accordion Cobain gave him years ago. “I got that whole solo part,” he said. “My inner [Ray] Manzarek is being channeled.”
Novoselic also alluded to working again with Dave Grohl, with whom he last collaborated on a song for the Foo Fighters’ album Wasting Light. “I think there’s something cooking,” he said. “Ask Dave.”
Director Danny Garia premiered his documentary, ‘The Rise and Fall of the Clash,’ on Thursday night at New York’s Landmark Sunshine Cinema.
“I’ve been a Clash fan since I was nine or 10 years old. I fell in love with them since ‘Spanish Bombs,’ ” added Garcia, a Barcelona native. “They were speaking in Spanish! And I felt like they were speaking to me. But why did they disband the way they did?”
Three years in the making (and not entirely completed), ‘The Rise and Fall of the Clash’ explores the evolution of the band, from their early days playing small clubs in London in the Seventies, to their famed run at Bond’s International Casino in Times Square in 1981, to their downward spiral after their legendary Shea Stadium concert in 1982. Mick Jones is the sole original Clash member to be interviewed in the film, while Vince White, Nick Sheppard (Jones’ replacement) and drummer Pete Howard all appear to offer their perspectives on the band’s tumultuous latter years.
Garcia stated that Paul Simonon refused to take part in the documentary, as did the Clash’s “dictating” manager Bernie Rhodes, who is portrayed as the source of tension between Joe Strummer and Jones. “Bernie was worried about this project and he said he was gonna sue me,” Garica said. “I sent him the script. Then he said, ‘This is wrong, that is wrong, that guy is an asshole.’ But then he said, ‘Go for it.’ I actually like the guy. He’s a really clever guy.”
Garcia said it was really “fucked up” to find out the real story behind the band after reading White’s account in his book, ‘Out of Control: The Last Days of the Clash.’ “I thought, if I didn’t know this, other people don’t know this,” he explained.
Among those in attendance was Marky Ramone, who spoke to Rolling Stone before the screening about the Ramones’ days on tour with the Clash. “We toured with them in 1977 for five weeks, so I got to know them very well and they were great guys – especially Joe.”