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xmag.com : June 2005 : I Love Las Vegas

New York rock club CBGB’s will lose its lease in August. CB’s has rented the ground floor and basement of a homeless shelter for the past thirty-two years. Its rent has increased erratically in the last five years (this year it will double to $40,000/month), and club owner Hilly Krystal, claiming poor landlord-tenant communication, is in arrears. Barring divine intervention, in two months the birthplace of punk will revert to an anteroom for Bowery bums.
The Save CBGB’s folks, who rightly claim that the little piss-soaked bar is an NYC institution, are trying to foment enough public outcry to prompt lease renegotiation. To that effect they’ve mounted a group art show featuring works by new and old scenesters. [They are also marketing a “Save CBGB’s” chocolate bar.]
I was in NYC last month to wish my friend Nick Tosches, who was moving to Paris, bon voyage. I stopped by the storied bar to pay my respects. As I sipped an eight-dollar shot of Wild Turkey and absorbed Joey Ramone’s trenchant crayon drawings of kitties on newsprint, I realized I would not be sad to see CB’s go. It was a fluke after all that the punk movement coalesced in this shithole club devoted to “Country, Bluegrass and Blues.” Blondie, Television, the New York Dolls, the Dictators, Suicide, the Dead Boys and Talking Heads needed somewhere to play and Hilly Krystal, in a management style that would prove his undoing, was laissez faire enough to let the kids have the stage.
But CBGB’s was over and done two decades ago; now it’s a five dollar Hot Topic t-shirt. Its raw rock scene moved east to Alphabet City and Brooklyn and west to . . . Portland.
To be an artist in New York City requires far more luck and tenacity (and money) than most creative types can muster. Increasingly New York’s idea of art is whatever Oprah likes or whoever’s the toast of Reality TV. There are pockets of insurgency. At the “Save CBGB’s” art show, I ran into Ethan Minsker, the founder and leader of the Antagonist Movement.
The Antagonist Movement is a burgeoning scene of young hungry artists working to promote art that is not for promotion’s sake and which eschews the trappings of corporate sponsorship. The Antagonist Movement, like the CB’s scene in the seventies, is living, breathing, fighting. Still it’s difficult to forget in NYC that our nation is united under one God: Viacom.
Many have fled. Nick Tosches is fleeing to Paris.
Nick says that in Paris you can still smoke and drink freely. Nick says that in Paris they name streets after writers and philosophers, not O.J. Simpson.
The author of several best-selling novels and acclaimed biographies on Jerry Lee Lewis, Dean Martin and more, Nick Tosches is accorded rock star treatment in New York. He counts among his close friends Patti Smith and Keith Richards. He is godfather to Johnny Depp’s kid. When Nick Tosches walks into an East Village bar, the curtains are drawn, the doors are shut, and he is free to have a cigarette—or a bag of powdered drugs—with his white wine.
On the eve of Nick’s departure, we sat in a park around the corner from his Tribeca apartment, smoking cigarettes and tossing croissant crumbs to birds. A homeless man rummaged through the trash, grinning from ear to ear. Nick, too, was happier than I’d ever seen him.
“You know, babydoll, I’m already gone. I haven’t been to a bar in a month. I’m saving myself for that first afternoon in Paris. I’m going to crack a bottle of Bordeaux and sit on my balcony and drink the whole thing. Then I figure I’ll take up residence on a bench in Jardin Luxembourg and sit there—just do nothing—for three months.”
Three days later I flee, too. Back to the opium woods.
On the plane a Continental Vision music segment appears on the overhead monitors. A wooden puppet of a woman cheerfully updates me on America’s top-ten: cookie cutter hip-pop by the American Idols and regurgitated refried smack from washed-up rock gods of yesteryear. I muse that America should just rename itself American Idol.
We hit the cloud cover and the turbulence bumps me out of my reverie. Mt. Hood quietly welcomes us home. Soon we are over the city. The sky is fourteen shades of gray and the hills are a seductive palate of greens and blacks. The sky in Paris, they say, is one hundred shades of gray.
I am happy to be back. There’s still enough mulch, enough mud in Portland for creativity to fester. Sure, maybe no one from Portland “goes anywhere.” It’s cliché that if you do become successful here, you are branded a sell-out and then summarily cast out. But maybe that’s not such a bad thing.
The Antagonist (aka the Artist) never creates for wealth, power or fame. The Antagonist is ever vigilant that his ideas are not co-opted by the money machine for it will twist and torture them into something false. The Antagonist creates because he must, because creativity is an act of mutiny on the sea of mortality. And thank God the Antagonist creates, because only creation will stymie the slow suicide of our collective soul.
Nick Tosches will be contributing to Exotic, beginning next month. He has agreed to author new pieces on occasion and is allowing us to run favorites from his vast published oeuvre. This is a coup d’etat: I’ve heard that Vanity Fair pays him $40,000 for his contributions to their magazine. We can only offer him thanks and enough US$ for a bottle of decent Bordeaux.
Merci, baby. À Paris!





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