Trouble in transit
Got through the roadblock
We blend in with the crowd
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If this song's lyrics sound confusing to you, it's because there's so, sooooo much story that it has to tell. Fasten your seatbelt, because we have a lot of miles to cover.
First, the place; CBGB's is mentioned right in the chorus. It was at 315 Bowery, Manhattan, New York, GPS coordinates (40 degrees 43'31"N-73 degrees 59'31"W). It's a landmark in the musical world for launching (or co-launching) the careers of many legendary bands, including the Ramones, Joan Jett, the Misfits, Patti Smith, the Cramps, Blondie, and yes, indeed, the Talking Heads. Ironic that the name CBGB stands for "Country, Blue Grass, and Blues," because almost no one can name a country or blues band associated with the place. Instead, New Wave was practically born in CBGB's lap.
Okay, but what other places are associated with this song? David Byrne, the excessively eccentric front man for Talking Heads, says that he wrote the lyrics from Seventh and A Avenue in New York, in the place known as "Alphabet City." Byrne wrote the song lyrics revolving around political unrest in the U.S. in the late '70s, specifically current events of the time, including the Patty Heart kidnapping/brainwashing incident, the Baader-Meinhof Group (RAF), and the Vietnam War protests nearby in Tompkins Square Park.
Hence, the lyrics are about paranoid thoughts and preparations for munitions, not standing by the window lest you get shot, counting your jars of peanut butter to see how long you can hold out, and making do with minimal supplies. Does it all make sense now? These stories might be lost to history now, but to appreciate the spirit of the times, you really should dig into the archives. They were paranoid times with grave stories playing on the nightly news. The time is so serious that, unlike what the hipsters would have you think, this ain't
no party, and there was a lot less time for frolicking at the clubs than you'd think.
CBGB the day after it closed
The Alphabet City part of Manhattan is quite a weirdness magnet all by itself. Tompkins Square Park was the zenith of the problems of crime, homeless people, and heroin usage plaguing the area. Oh, and it was also where a whack job, name of Daniel Rakowitz, made a little scene in 1989 by claiming to have killed a woman, eaten her brain, and made soup out of her to feed the homeless people. We should mention the 1973 film Soylent Green
was set in New York(!)
CBGB's shuttered for good in 2006, after a bitter dispute between owner Hilly Kristal and the Bowery Residents Committee. Kristal vowed to relocate the club to Las Vegas, Nevada, and furthermore said he'd strip every fixture from the building to move it there. In the last days, Patti Smith, Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Blondie all sang their finale to the club. However, all was lost when Kristal died in 2007, and though the doctor said it was lung cancer, the music world secretly knew it was from a broken heart.
There's a men's clothing store set up in the place currently, but if you ask to use the restroom, the ghost of Joey Ramone just might reach under the stall to bum a cigarette off you.
~ "Penguin" Pete Trbovich
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