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Thursday, March 8, 2012

Some Photographs by Joseph Holmes:

CBGB is one of the most important spaces in contemporary culture. But just in this statement there are problems already, because I assume that there is common understanding about what ‘contemporary’ and ‘culture’ is.

This problem I can neutralize. Let’s just say that ‘contemporary’ is whatever happened to the Western world since Rock and Roll; and ‘culture’ is Rock and Roll. Whether you like to listen to other styles of music is beside the point. Because there was nothing and then there was whatever you listen to. And that is Rock and Roll.

That settled, the more serious problem is that of distance. The space between wherever we are and wherever this place is. It is now infinitely far away, because CBGB closed down in October 2006 (what happened after this is kind of pointless. Read the Wiki if you’re interested). It represents counter-culture--bands revolted against the very culture that allowed them their freedom. They questioned the institute that - to the previous generation - was rebellion. For me it’s just an icon of the rebellious expressiveness of youth in the form of music, part legend. That is all the experience and knowledge I could ever hope to have of it.

Now, in those days, rebellion was multi-layered. Youth is in itself rebellious. But there were other forces - political, economical and cultural - that society could not interact with any more. Those forces needed to be expressed in a critical way by those that it affected. The creativity of musicians to say something without words, through making some kind of noise, was the instrument of change. The song became a vehicle of disruptive noise that unsettled those who were passive, and ignited the passions of the concerned. Lyrics ranged from the banal to the profound, but it was the clanging, distorted, simple, obnoxious, disturbing mayhem that expressed the unsayable.

In our protected little space - South Africa - during those days, we were ignorant of the change. It was felt, but not enacted. Well, wherever it was enacted, it was done by the permission of the authorities - which rendered it essentially meaningless. But let’s move beyond our bitter point of view for now. This place was a point of intersection for many famous bands. Since this essay is not about name dropping, again I refer you to the WIki.

I’m interested in these photographs because of the sense of the emptiness around it: the fact that it is represented as a space in itself.

It’s as if the layers of graffiti and stickers form a cocoon. It is kind of womb like. The walls and floors are an expression of being hyper aware of the space itself. In fact, it seems as if the tradition of marking everything was at some point transcended by the fact that everything in that space was a full expression of expression itself.

It reminds me of the Lascaux cave paintings in France. The markings are ritualistic, almost religious, dedicated. It is worn through use, not neglect. Worn in the fullest sense - clothed and covered and scuffed and polished. Its authenticity is covered up by itself and now exists in memory; then those that were part of it will die and there will only be an artifact.

The image that stands out for me is titled “Stage Left”. I am a musician and having played on similar looking stages, this point of view seems strangely comforting to me. To those who cannot relate, let me say that this photograph represents the deepest meaning of CBGB. The stage is its reason for being. And it is such an awkward little structure...