CBGB Bettie Ringam Marc Miller

Snapshots of CBGB: The iconic punk club at the centre of everything in the 1970’s

For a while, in New York City there was only one place you wanted to be if you were a rock star. Four letters but one hell of scene the iconic punk club CBGB was in the middle of the blood, sweat and tears mauling that was rock and roll in the most decadent decade of all the 1970’s.

These snapshots of the most gruesome embodiment of the US punk scene show a place where there was no pretense, no grace period, no manners and holds barred – this was CBGB’s and they weren’t here to fuck around.

Everyone who had even the slightest grit between their razored teeth in the New York punk scene cut their pearly whites on the grime-ridden stage. The Ramones, Blondie, Talking Heads, The Planets, Living Colour, The Voidoids, Devo, Misfits, Television, Patti Smith Group, New York Dolls, The Dead Boys, The Dictators, The Cramps, and Joan Jett all found time to either perform or hang out at the snot-swap spot.

Opened by Hilly Kristal on Bowery St in 1973 the club would play host to some iconic moments in punk and rock and roll history. With the club reduce down to an acronym as its colloquial name, Hilly has endlessly been answering the question of what all the letters stand for so we’ll do it for him. Deep breath… CBGB OMFUG: Country, Bluegrass, Blues and Other Music for Uplifting Gourmandizers.

But while the club was frequented by every rock and roll star worth their salt it also held the great and the good of New York’s punk scene on an almost nightly basis. One such pair of customers and documenters of the burning movement was the duo of Bettie Ringma and Marc Miller.

Through Ringma and Miller’s work with their Polaroid camera project, they captured some of rock’s dirty and deranged through one of the most debilitating mediums – the portrait.

Offering the ‘cool kids’ of the Bowery venue a chance to drop their acts and lift a smile presents us with some candid imagery of the memorable punk palace CBGB. Armed with their concept, a smiles and a willing photographer in Marc Miller the duo found themselves locking arms with rock stars and the rest is a piece of history.

“Richard Hell still lives in the neighbourhood here. He was the frontman and the singer, and the others were the musicians. This is often what you see with these groups: he was a very jovial guy, the other two were kind of going along with the photo, standing there sheepishly. Group dynamics are fascinating.” All photographs: Marc H Miller And Bettie Ringma, courtesy Of 98 Bowery
Ringma with Richard Hell (r)
“Patti Smith was hanging around at the bar, but no one was taking pictures of her because she was super-shy. She posed with me and then just went away: some musicians are like that, they’re not into socialising. They’re just artists.”
Ringma with Patti Smith

“Our first photograph of Bettie with the movers and shakers at CBGB was taken during our very first visit to the club in late 1976. Standing alone by the bar was one of Bettie’s favorite performers, the poet-rocker Patti Smith. At home at CBGB and a wee bit tipsy, Patti was more than happy to oblige our request for a picture with Bettie. Soon we were CBGB regulars, checking out the different bands and slowly adding to our collection of pictures. Although the buzz about CBGB was growing, the place was still a neighborhood bar where future rock legends were just as likely to be hanging out and drinking by the pinball machine as performing on stage. In addition to the musicians, there were music writers, fashion designers, commercial photographers, as well as a small group of artists like us who were part of the Soho and Tribeca art scene. As our “Paparazzi Self-Portraits” morphed into “Bettie Visits CBGB,” we saw our photographs as a reflection of the new aesthetic emerging at CBGB, a contradictory mix of high and low culture energized by fun and humor, the lure of fame and fortune, and a cynical appreciation of the power of a good hype.” – Marc Miller

“I saw these two girls and they looked totally out of place there. It was a totally funky place, with everything tattered and run-down. And here were these dressed-up, long-haired girls. I said to Marc, these are not musicians, but let’s just take a picture with them. And then later Nancy Spungen became Sid Vicious’s girlfriend, and you know what happened there. Sad story.”
Ringma & Nancy Spungen
“Frankly, when I look at the picture I can’t really remember that moment, some of them just went like that. Most of the time I didn’t really have a big exchange with the bands, it was just a picture and goodbye.”
“They were a very different group of people: they came from a visual arts background, and I think they were also a little bit more intellectual compared to the others. I had a nice little chat with Tina Weymouth, the bassist. I thought it was pretty cool that a woman was the bass guitarist.”
Ringma with Talking Heads
“He was also a little shy, but it was fun.”
Ringma with David Byrne
“Joey Ramone was really a sweetie pie. At one point we had an exhibit of our photographs, and we made a whole board of pictures of Joey Ramone and me, which we’d sell for $1. Joey came and signed a whole bunch of those photos.”
Ringma with Joey Ramone
“Debbie Harry is a really great singer. She had a very different style from what was emerging there at that time. She was not shy, but she was very aloof: you can see that in the picture, hiding half her face behind her hair. It wasn’t something she needed, because she was very pretty, she was the frontwoman. But it gave her safety.”
Ringma with Debbie Harry
“They were a lot of fun – they were totally un-dead. Many of the bands were from the suburbs, so organising the car and the instruments was a big thing. They were super-happy and excited to get it all together and then perform and get paid a few dollars.”
Ringma with The Dead Boys
“I just love the Ramones. When their music starts I can’t sit still, I just have to start hopping and dancing, and I’m 71 now. We saw them live about 10 times: we would go out of our way to see them perform.”
Ringma with The Ramones
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