Last night I stood outside the grand opening of the John Varvatos store on Bowery, watching and listening to the battle for New York's soul rage on. When I arrived, Varvatos was on the sidewalk being interviewed for a film about CBGB's by rock documentarian Ernie Fritz. Varvatos talked about all the good he believes he's doing for rock 'n' roll and the neighborhood.
Varvatos and Sid Vicious
Soon, the fashionistas and old punks started rolling through the labyrinth of ropes guarded by big, burly bouncers and girls with clipboards dressed in "Varvatos 315 Bowery: Birthplace of Punk" t-shirts. I was not on their list and could not get inside.
I waited for Rebecca Moore and her protesters to arrive. Reverend Billy was in the group. I asked him why he came out for the protest. He told me, "I'm dismayed by the blasphemy of CBGB's being overtaken by what looks like Soho. Are we going to get Soho'd all the way to Alphabet City? Where do we draw the line? Punk was an egalitarian movement, it was about low prices, and it resulted in this very culture that these moneyed people are now enjoying."
more protester pics
Rebecca, Billy, and their posse chanted "Down with $800 pants!" Not everyone agreed. Heated exchanges ensued. Arturo Vega, Ramones artistic director and designer of their logo, got into the fray. He had just been telling documentarian Fritz, "It's natural. Everything dies and transforms. The excitement is still here. The tourists will come. In there, you're closer than ever to rock 'n' roll."
Now he got in Rebecca's face. The screaming match consisted of Vega shouting that Varvatos is a great guy and this store is the best thing that could happen to the CB's space and what would have been better, a fucking bank? a fucking Starbucks?
Monte Melnick and Arturo Vega
Rebecca shouted back, "Can you understand the connection between a music venue where anybody could get in and this? This is a whitewash!" They changed their chant to "Who cares if John's a nice guy!"
They got a similar argument (Varvatos is keeping the music alive, etc.) from a former member of The Misfits who pushed at the protesters in rage and finished his diatribe by shouting, "I am on the side of New York City fucking rock 'n' roll!" before spitting on Rebecca's sign. (More coverage of the loogie hocking here.)
The bouncers did not step in during either of these altercations, which at times seemed about to erupt into physical violence, but they did manage to push a few homeless panhandlers down the street and away from the fashionistas. Other homeless men shouted from the shelter above, "Why don't you shut up, we're sleeping here!"
I went around to Extra Place, roped off as the backstage area, where a "talent trailer" was parked among luxury cars. I watched Joan Jett climb out of a black Cadillac. This gave me an adolescent thrill and I stuck around on the sidewalk long enough to hear her do "Bad Reputation" from deep inside the bowels of Varvatos.
Randy Jones and Pattie Boyd
"The Lower East Side is dead anyway, at least the music is still here," people said, like weary citizens of a defeated town occupied by an enemy army, repeating and repeating: "It's not so bad. It could be worse. It could have been a bank or a Starbucks."
Sid and girls on cell phones