On August 29th, 2007, Hilly Kristal, CBGB founder, died of cancer at age 75.
Tina Weymouth, founding member of Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club Had this to say:
Hilly was the best of men in the worst of places. Humble -- we think of him tranquilly sweeping the front sidewalk after long hours of hardcore mayhem -- he was impossible to intimidate. He kept his cool, first with the Hell's Angels, then with the punks, and finally, to the end, with the little bourgeois landlord who, not content with milking the city of millions with a phony "hospice" operation (the flop house upstairs), opted to evict him in favor of even more lucrative rents from some corporate chain store that, with ironic justice, has never materialized. (And who would dare? That hallowed block bounded by Joey Ramone Way is still too sacrosanct.)
It's a little too early to make history but Hilly's CBGB's is already a legend. Like some uncannily knowing art gallery collector, Hilly got things to happen by allowing them to happen. He instated blessedly few restrictions (the strictly pragmatic to keep the fire department happy) and he never EVER tried to impose his artistic vision on the musicians. Virtually devoid of greed and totally unfazed by the powers that be, Hilly was never much tempted to cash in on the success he was instrumental in helping his bands to achieve. Akin to our great UK favorite, Tony Wilson, his art was the artless willingness to support us to grow better utterly without favoritism.
Hilly was super cool. He led the kids not by lecturing but by example. For years and years he kept his day job, a backbreaking piano and refrigerator moving business, so as to keep the ticket prices low for the fans and the profits and sound systems optimal for the bands. He had a dream and he fulfilled it. When he was made to leave the Bowery he took it all with him -- graffitti'd walls, the stiletto etched bar, the neon signs with the greasy dust an inch thick, the toilets (never mind what still clung to them!) -- he took it all to be rebuilt in the seediest part of that revolting West Coast mecca of the decadent, Las Vegas. He did it for the kids. May they mosh forever as Hilly's spirit carries on through their own inspired enterprises.
Hilly was a big guy with a big heart. Personally, we're going to miss him like water. Our kids are going to miss him, too. CBGB's was the last place their hip little underground bands could play in Manhattan. They'll have to cross the bridges to the boroughs and to New Jersey now, same as all the other young artists attempting to make their way in NYC today. It kind of makes you wish for a big economic recession like we ourselves had that made CBGB's possible for Hilly and the 70's so great for the Manhattan art and music scene.