I've never been to CBGB OMFUG. Why do I care about a punk music club whose entrance was always spattered with graffiti and most of whose musical appearances were by people I knew almost nothing about -- except Bruce Springsteen [he wrote this with Patti Smith] , Patti Smith [two favorites: People Have the Power, Peaceable Kingdom], Joan Jett [I Love Rock and Roll] and a few others? (I don't t know the lore all that well - but it always seemed to me that women really got a crack at center stage at CBGB.) I think it was just nice to see it there - waving its fist in the air. It has closed - maybe to reopen, maybe not - and I'm just kind of sad to see it losing its lease to what some have called "the suburbification of Manhattan."
Patti Smith, whom I had the honor to meet at last year's Media Reform conference in St. Louis, was a real CBGB heroine and I felt, meeting her, a deep connection. We're the same age. She's a heartbreakingly honest person who lost her husband way too soon (and wrote People Have the Power partly at his instigation) -- a mom and a singular human soul. The music she made was remarkably articulate (she is a poet after all) and inspiring. I've linked above to two of my favorites -- one of which, People Have the Power, was an anthem of the Vote for Change election tour in 2004.
So what do the final days of a gritty music club where I never went have to do with my life as an observant Jew? Believe it or not - plenty. Both of them were fascinating universes I always observed from the outside and wondered about. Both stood for making one's own way to truth. That search has taken me, for some reason I'm still grappling with, to the Orthodox Jewish community where I've found a home and spirit that brings a new kind of meaning to my life.
At my last big birthday I complained to a friend about my age and her response was "but you're completely reborn in this new life - you're not old AT ALL!" In some ways she's right. I certainly feel that there's a universe I'm traveling through that's new, moving, inspiring and mysterious. Sometimes though it's also a pain. For the past several weeks, from Rosh Hashanah (the New Year) to the end of Simchas Torah (Ending the annual, week-by-week reading of the Torah: the five books of Moses - Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy and beginning again) the holidays consumed days of time: in synagogue, inviting guests to meals and going to meals at friends, building and dismantling a sukkah and observing the prohibition on driving and work. Since this year many of these days fell on weekends it meant NO catching up on work on Sundays and no farmer's market. (two weird examples, I admit.) Since it's the end of tomato season that last was sad though not critical to the future of the human race or my household. Even so, all these small requirements, which I try to follow since I've made this commitment, can consume time and tax serenity and spirituality. I've come to love the prohibition on the Sabbath and enjoy the quiet days reading, taking walks, visiting, napping and sharing ideas. But the surrender to and acceptance of all these rules is a peculiar experience and I grapple with it daily. Even so, the quest, like that of the young rebels who put CBGB on the map, is a great adventure - and the learning is exhilarating.
Go listen to People Have the Power whether this post makes sense or not. It will make you happy on a Monday - although that's easier here today since it's the third amazingly gorgeous fall day in a row - with leaves turning and leaf smells beginning to fill the air. Which, I just realized, takes us right back to faith and gratitude for the world's beauty when it shows up.