I only spent two years in the 80s, but I’ve heard they were a great time for rock music. Glam and new-wave were in full swing by the time the decade began and as the years progressed, hair metal began to take over and before fans knew it the MTV era was in full force. Punk was evolving into new styles of rock with leather, spandex, and hairspray becoming the styles of choice, and there was even great rock and roll to go along with it. I wasn’t born until 1988 so I missed the decade of decadence if you will. Thursday night at Center 548 in Chelsea I got to experience a little of what the 80s had to offer with two legends from that era giving CBGB Festival a little taste of the great music of that era.
The night started out with a rockin performance by The Skins. The Brooklyn rockers bring a smooth south and sexy attitude along with a great modern rock sound back to the New York rock scene. Ex Cops followed next with a breezy 20 minute set highlighted by their newest single “Black Soap”
Of course the first real highlight of the night was the Q&A with none other than Billy Idol. While some may dismiss him as a character of the MTV era as a leather poster boy, he is very much considered in playing an integral role of the cultural revolution with punk rock and post-punk era as part of Generation X and as a solo artist. I tend to agree with the latter.
While most of the questions revolved around the new biography that Billy has out, he was still able to touch on the era of CBGB and the punk scene that was happening in NYC in the 80s.
“When I first saw The Sex Pistols they were doing a Tuesday night residency some place with hardly anyone there!” Billy said with a laugh when asked about the early years of punk.
“They were doing mostly covers then, mostly The Who songs or Small Faces, and Johnny would take the lyrics and instead of singing ‘I want you to know that I love you baby’ he’d sing ‘I want you to know that I HATE you baby’. And I think it just revolutionized how songs could be presented, and how you could make negativity positive, it was fantastic.” When asked about the NYC music scene and what was going on at venues like CBGB, Billy really lit up like an old man talking about his favorite boyhood memories. “We had really been into Velvet Underground and The New York Dolls, who were influencing artists like David Bowie and then Iggy & The Stooges and MC5. So I knew about all that. By the late 70s we would hear and see The Ramones, Blondie, and The Talking Heads at CBGB. We loved what was going on in New York. That’s why we wanted to get into punk rock because we knew very much it was all being inspired by what was going on in New York. New York was not only the mecca of punk and music, but living in England, you knew this is where so much great pop music had come from.” Of course by 1981 when Generation X disbanded Billy moved here to NYC to start a solo career. He touched on a brief memory on how when he moved here, he had no idea that clubs were playing ‘Dancing With Myself’.
“I was living on 73rd and Riverside with nothing but a mattress really, and was at the famous Hurrahs one night and of course it was packed, I was finding it impossible to get to the bar to get a drink because there were so many people and no one knew who I was, all of a sudden a song starts to play and people are darting from the bar to the dance floor pushing over chairs and tables to get to the floor. Of course first off I was happy to finally make it to the bar, but also wondering what the hell song was making everyone go nuts like that, and once I heard it I realized it was ‘Dancing With Myself’! I had no idea it had such a big connection over here, especially with the kind of music that was on the charts at the time.
Of course no Billy Idol appearance is complete without a badass performance. He was then joined on stage by longtime band mate, guitarist Steve Stevens who played on acoustic while Billy ripped through a short handful of hits including ‘White Wedding’ and ‘Rebel Yell’ which we took a video for.
The second half of the night featured a full-length set from Walking Papers. The veteran rock group is made up of Jeff Angell on guitar and vox, Barrett Martin on drums, and original Guns N Roses bassist Duff McKagan on bass. The veteran band that comes from the era where if you can’t perform live you wont make it in the biz showed why music only gets better with age in rock and roll. The band ripped and tore through songs from their debut album with blistering guitar and heavy bass and drumming. These guys don’t fuck around one bit and prove they can throw a great rock show like the 22-year olds they have trapped inside of them. Watch this amazing video from Walking Papers!
All in all it was a great fucking night for rock and roll that only a festival like CBGB could provide. I can only imagine what being at the original CBGB on a Friday night circa 1982 must’ve been like.
Article by: Tom Shackleford
Photos by: Shayne Hanley