But in any case, the legend of this particular loo was cemented long before filmmakers turned their attention to the nightspot, which closed down in 2006. CBGB had already gone down in history as the least relieving place in the world to relieve oneself. (Woods infested with wild animals included.)
Even a lot of hardened punk musicians refused to use those particular facilities, choosing instead to take care of business at a nearby Ray's Pizza, or just hold it till they got back home to Hoboken.
Fred Schneider of the B-52s described his "shock" upon first encountering the CBGB men's room, which he told Rolling Stone had "the worst toilet in the world." David Byrne remarked that the bathroom was "legendarily nasty." Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore told the New York Times: “That’s the one thing that sears itself into your memory. It’s that toilet.”
When the facilities were recreated for a museum exhibit a few years ago, a commenter on the music-industry website Pollstar wrote: "The bathroom was not a cool or cultural thing. It was a toxic wasteland that someone should have been put in prison for allowing it to exist."
The urinals... one of which was carted to the new film's set; another is in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame annex …
It wasn't just the potential for contracting exotic diseases that made the CBGB commodes the stuff of legend. It was the lack of privacy. At some point, the bathrooms did have actual stalls, as mid-'70s photos reveal. But for most of its years, the CBGB men's room had a single, very public toilet — which eventually was placed on an elevated wooden block, where anyone entering the room or even just walking past couldn't help but get a gander of you doing your business. The thousands of dudes who sat on this raised throne couldn't have been less pleased about their coronations.
As the website Jaded Punk put it: The "platform for the toilet that put it about a foot higher than the rest of the bathroom... made you feel like King of the Punks. Until you remembered you were (doing No. 2) in front of a (doing No. 1) dude... The toilet seat also very rarely had an actual seat on it."
And as a commenter on Livewire put it, "For those that have never been, the best thing about this is that people coming down the stairs can see you taking a dump as well as the people in the bathroom." Another commenter in the club's final days wrote: "If you go to the bathroom there and go home with just hepititus, you're one lucky dude."
Less disgustingly, there was the graffiti and sticking, none of which was apparently ever completely removed. After a certain point, nothing in the collage was decipherable except for a few scrawls on the ceiling. Richard Hell rhapsodized to the Times about "the way Hilly (Kristal, the owner) just let it all remain, until very soon it blended into this outrageous, glaring, drippy, colorful, sad gorgeousness.”
Debbie Harry fondly remembered the "calls to be recognized by anyone who stepped into the zone of clandestine fulfillment that existed on the Bowery and especially at CB’s during the punk years. The tradition of writing on bathroom walls wasn’t particular to those toilets, but the ferocity was definitely related to the club, the music and all the people who went there.”
The difficulty of even reaching the bathrooms in the cramped club figures into ones of its more storied and bloody moments.
In 1976, Handsome Dick Manitoba of the Dictators had been heckling Wayne County, a transgender punk singer of some renown, when he felt nature calling. "In those days at CBGB's, you had to step up on the stage, literally, to get to the bathroom," Manitoba recalled in the book Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk. County thought that Manitoba was rushing the stage for an assault, not to get to the loo, and so took the microphone stand and broke the other singer's collarbone with it. "David Johansen was standing on the left of the stage, he couldn't believe it," recalled County. "I was sprayed with his blood from top to bottom." Manitoba got the potty break he was looking for... in the emergency room.
In 2006, CBGB was shuttered and turned into a clothing store after a long battle with the building owners, leaving the club's proprietors to subsist off T-shirt sales. But the bathrooms have proven oddly indestructible.
No fewer than three art exhibits have recreated part of all of the loos. In 2005, an artist created a replica for the the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut, which the Village Voice described as a tribute to "three decades of dried vomit and band stickers." In 2009, an original CBGB urinal was installed at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Museum annex in New York City. It's located near the actual men's room, but placed behind glass, lest such a priceless artifact actually serve its original utilitarian function.
The recreation at the Met recalls the cleaner, halcyon days when the CBGB bathroom had two toilets, not one
Tell it to the marketers who came up with the new movie's tag line, Richard. Last year, some of the furnishings from CBGB that had been stored in Brooklyn since the 2006 closing were put on a truck and shipped to the set that was constructed in Savannah, Georgia for filming. Among them was a urinal, presumably once used by the Police, Television, and the Dead Boys, now a talismanic prop for a glossy Hollywood production.
- Arts & Entertainment
- Debbie Harry