If you’ve ever seen New York rocker Jesse Malin in concert, you know that he can tell one heck of a story. He fills in small details and shades his characters in a way that very few other storytellers can replicate. I greatly enjoyed reading his heartfelt tribute in the current issue of NYC’s Village Voice about the late great Hilly Kristal, patriarch of the legendary punk rock club CBGB.
Malin writes in part:
“I knew Hilly for more than 27 years, but had very few exchanges with him. I first played the club when I was 12 years old on one of those Monday audition nights. Nobody cared that we were underage. We didn’t pass the audition, but I would eventually play there at least a hundred times. I could never tell if he liked me or not. Then one day, he walked over to the bar on an empty Tuesday night and bought me a beer. We spoke about his time there, and he told me he liked the bands that came back to visit after they had made it big. He told me he liked the Talking Heads because they lifted their own equipment. Maybe he liked me because I was lifting other bands’ equipment with my ‘Man with Van’ schlep rock job.
In the mid-1990s, we were neighbors on what is known as the safest block in New York, East 3rd Street between First and Second avenues (next-door to the Hells Angels). We would occasionally wave to each other from across the way as he’d be walking home with his black leather briefcase. One night, I ran into Hilly at a party at Don Hill’s nightclub: He had told me that he’d just gotten back from Beijing, China. I tried to visualize this Bowery cowboy in the great Red East. I figured he deserved to have some fun, and what else was he going to do with all that T-shirt money? “