Punking Out

You can never get enough Ramones and footage of 1970s CBGB, can you? So although this short documentary – it lasts only a smidgeon over 25 minutes – is not a millions miles away from this entry in the series, I reckon that Punking Out deserves a post here. Despite that awful title.

Directed, produced and edited by Maggi Carson, Juliusz Kossakowski and Ric Shore on a budget of around $7,000, Punking Out was filmed inside CBGB in the spring of 1977. Three acts are featured with snippets of their performances, together with interviews from some of the band members backstage after a set.

The documentary also talks to punters dotted around the bar. These range from committed regulars like Lydia Lunch and Helen Wheels, through to a couple of straights who had only ventured in to have a nosey at the much talked about bar. They weren’t going to come back. CBGB owner Hilly Kristal is also quizzed about noise and violence in the venue. It is noisy. It’s not terribly violent.

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Richard Hell’s great anthem Blank Generation opens proceedings, and we see more of the crowd, a real mix of music lovers. Some guys have long hair, some have bushy beards and nowhere is any kind of codified punk look in evidence. In other words, 1977 CBGB is absolutely nothing like Spike Lee’s vision of 1977 CGBG in his film Summer of Sam with mohicans, mohawks, piercings and a mosh pit. Whoever did the research for that film should never work in the same capacity ever again. Just as Randall Miller, the man behind the CBGB film of 2013, should never at any point in the future be allowed to step in front of a camera.

The interviews here come across as natural, with no questions and answers being discussed beforehand. Some look drunk, some stoned, some zapped on a high that isn’t entirely obvious.

‘Do you belong to the blank generation?’ a guy with fuzzy hair and aviator shades is asked. ‘I’m blank, you know,’ he replies, smiling. ‘There’s nuthin’ coming in and nuthin’ going out.’

Up next are The Dead Boys, who I always judged to be trying too hard to come across as young, loud and snotty. Here they play a pub band cover of Anarchy in the UK and when interviewed, they talk over themselves and are keen to stress that they haven’t rehearsed in a month.

The camera cuts to a pre-Teenage Jesus & The Jerks Lydia Lunch. With a mischevious grin, she talks about throwing a ‘genuinely used tampon’ at the band and tells us they’re ‘great fucks’ and that she’s fucked them. I’m guessing she must have skipped a few classes at finishing school. Inevitably we hear I Need Lunch.


Then it’s Ramones time. They blast through Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue and then a childlike Dee Dee, who’s wearing Bay City Rollers T-shirt, is quizzed about the song’s controversial lyrics. ‘It’s really just a frustration thing, cause there was nothing else to do. We got something better to do now. What’d’ya want me to say? That I want all kids to go drink ammonia or something? No, I don’t want that.’

You’ve likely seen some of this footage recycled in a number of later documentaries like The End of the Century: The Story of The Ramones and the punk episode of the BBC’s 1996 music documentary series Dancing in the Street. There’s a reason why it’s been reused so often. It’s fantastic.

Yeah, it would have been good to see some Patti Smith, Television and Talking Heads, and maybe some lesser known acts, but the documentary is only a snapshot of the venue that became one of the most legendary in music history.

CBGB Punters

Many now feel sad that some shop called Patagonia currently resides in what was once CBCG, but nothing lasts forever – and many of the faces we see in Punking Out are now dead: Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee and Tommy, Stiv Bators, Robert Quine of The Voidoids, Helen Wheels and Hilly himself.

Let’s face it; the Bowery has been utterly transformed since the 1970s, with retail values rocketing during the area’s gentrification. Going to see a show where you have to step over a Bowery bum on your way in to see Blondie or The Heartbreakers must have been a far different experience to sitting next to a horde of tourists and middle-class hipster locals while watching some group with precious little of the talent of the acts that helped establish CBGB as a byword for musical innovation.

As Patti Smith said during the set that would be the last performance there before the shutters came down for the final time: ‘Kids, they’ll find some other club.’

Helen Wheels in Punking Out

Its closure in 2006 did made me think back to my own teenage years. There was a plan in 1978 to convert the Glasgow Apollo into a bingo hall.

I was livid, I wanted The Clash and The Jam, not Legs Eleven and Two Fat Ladies. I’d seen many brilliant shows there, including The Ramones headlining. I’d seen The Dead Boys support The Damned and Richard Hell support The Clash. I signed all the petitions going to save the venue and dreaded it being shut and Glasgow becoming a ‘rock ghost town’. A reprieve was eventually granted but by the time it did close in 1985, I was hardly ever there. The Barrowlands had reinvented itself as a music venue and the old ballroom was a better place to see a band.

In his book Ramones (33 1/3), Nicholas Rombes called Punking Out ‘probably the best documentary of the 1970s CBGB scene’. It was selected for both the Chicago and the Philadelphia International Film Festival in 1978 and the following year it screened at the New York Film Expo. It is undoubtedly well worth seeking out.

For more on the film: http://www.punkingoutfilm.com/