At some point during Richard Lloyd’s appearance last night at the Strand’s Rare Book Room, he scanned the audience for his Television bandmate, Tom Verlaine. “He’s probably outside looking at the dollar book rack,” Lloyd cracked.
Verlaine, who is often spotted browsing the discount books, famously worked at the bookstore years before he formed Television with Lloyd and Richard Hell. It wasn’t a huge shock that he wasn’t among the many CBGB scenesters that showed up last night. In Lloyd’s new memoir, Everything Is Combustible: Television, CBGB’s and Five Decades of Rock and Roll, he writes that Verlaine and Hell “felt that they were the ‘special two,’ and other people were nothing but insects bothering them. I received some of that treatment.”
On the other hand, things were nice and friendly between Lloyd and the moderator of last night’s Q&A at Strand. Talking Heads drummer Chris Frantz got the singer-guitarist to recall hanging out with Jimi Hendrix and John Lee Hooker, and got him to bitch about today’s “pay to play” model of gigging (Lloyd will play Bowery Electric again in April). But things got really interesting when Mark Dana Kristal, son of legendary CBGB impresario Hilly Kristal, spoke up during the audience participation portion of the evening.
Kristal started right in: “When I heard you were here— we don’t always agree— I was a little pissed off,” he told Lloyd, before softening his tone: “But when I went to the bookstore, I looked at your book— I gotta say, you really wrote a very good book.”
Still, Kristal, who has made it a point to debunk CBGB myths, had some quibbles– namely, about Lloyd’s account of meeting Hilly for the first time. In the book, Lloyd describes coming upon Hilly, in early 1974, as he used a stepladder to affix the iconic CBGB logo, designed by his ex-wife Karen, to the dive bar’s new awning.
Dana recalled it differently. “He couldn’t reach the canopy,” he said of father. “I held [the stepladder] as my mother [Karen] drew the canopy.”
That wasn’t his biggest gripe. In the same chapter, Lloyd describes how Television talked Hilly out of putting the stage in the front of his then-obscure dive bar. “I just remember him showing us around,” Lloyd told the crowd at Strand, “and he said, ‘I’m going to make it like a drive-in movie, where you pass the stage as you go in.’ And I said, ‘Look, nobody will be able to hear when you’re taking money at the door.’ And he said, ‘Oh, I’m not having loud music.’”
At that, the audience laughed, no doubt thinking about the Ramones and other notoriously amped-up bands that would come to be synonymous with CBGB.
As Lloyd describes it in the book, Verlaine convinced Hilly to move the stage to the opposite side of the room and rebuild it in three tiers. “That was my idea,” Lloyd writes of the multiple tiers, “because I thought it would put the drummer far enough back that he wouldn’t drive us crazy. It was also a kind of drum riser that would make the drummer look like Ringo because the Beatles always had a very tall drum riser.”
Dana begged to differ: “The reason [Hilly] built the new stage was because Patti Smith was playing and he had to build a bigger stage.”
“Hell no,” Lloyd countered. “Patti didn’t play for about two years. We were the ones who were playing there.” (Television played its first show at CBGB on March 29, 1974 while the Patti Smith Group debuted there on Feb. 14, 1975.)
As always with rock lore, it’s hard to know who or what to believe. Lloyd admits to being a “raging alcoholic” during the time he was hanging out at CBGBs nearly every night, but he also writes that he wasn’t yet using heroin during Television’s early days and has an “eidetic memory.” He did concede one thing. Dana asked him why “in the book you say my father was the owner”; in a lawsuit filed in 2008, Karen claimed she was the rightful owner of CBGB per an agreement struck with her ex-husband before the club opened.
“Boo boo!” Lloyd conceded, clearly losing patience with the fact-checking. “Mistake!”
“I wish she got a memorial,” Dana said of his mother, the club’s taskmaster. “Because she did a lot for everybody.”
“She pulled the plug a few times,” Lloyd couldn’t help but grumble.
On that, at least, they can agree. In a Facebook post commemorating his mother, who died in 2014, Dana once wrote, “Ramones and several other bands were consistently too loud, she warned the Ramones to turn their music down, they ignored her, so she pulled the plug on them!”
My favorite spot at CBGB in the late 80’s was standing right behind the drummer. No better place to feel the beat .