The Valentine’s Day Review: CBGB Was My High School, by GK Stritch

This is such an amazing find for a contemporary memoir. Having set aside time to absorb it, I found I devoured the whole thing on a long train journey.
Meet young GK, a soft-spoken, well-brought-up girl, who wanted more than anything to study well and become an artist. But thwarted academically early on, she and her sisters (and friends, and sometimes her more insular brother) venture out of New Jersey and into Manhattan at nights, to experience the lifestyle of the arts and music set instead – and unwittingly, through becoming regulars in the Bowery scene of CBGB and bringing a touch of sober class to everyone they meet, find themselves in some of the most pivotal parts of rock history of the 70’s and 80’s.
The Ramones live at CBGB, 1977 “Sheena Is A Punk Rocker”

From touring with The Ramones, to running from the amorous attentions of soon-to-be famous college professors and ‘the short one from Hall & Oates’, to giving celebrity facials and waxing Cher – GK was never a ‘wannabe’ but always someone with her own mind, and knowledge of what was the right way to live and what was destructive, even while in the middle of it herself.
The Police perform live at CBGB, for their first time in New York (excerpt)
And once she finds her own New York ‘apartment’ observing herself growing up even as others seemed unable to detach themselves… She experienced everything the heart of Manhattan had to offer – the glamour, the danger, the poverty, the privileges, the wildness, the incredible opportunities, the generosity, and the bereavements – before the artist in herself finally won her over. She finds her own true role models at last, once she acknowledges her own great need for academia.
The multi-faceted Vincent Gallo, whom GK knew as a friend and plate-washer in Manhattan – his film “Buffalo 66” would later become her & her husband’s preferred Valentine’s Day viewing.
Some of her friends succeeded – became stars of stage and screen – while others succumbed or sadly expired, and even at times when GK seemed almost lost and unlucky in her early and sometimes toxic relationships, a higher consciousness of her own always seemed to emerge to snatch her back from those jaws.

Joan Jett at CBGB (excerpt)

…GK was no shrinking violet waiting to be swamped, but a lady I think few she encountered would realise was one whose inner spark would lead her out of the dark times, and onto the path of true personal fulfilment.

Well-read, poetic, historic, and excitingly insightful in parts, this is a real account of the Manhattan scene as it should be remembered.

Patti Smith has the final word with “Elegie” at CBGB on October 15th, 2006 – the end of an era

The famous set are portrayed as real people the author knew and interacted with, as part of her own social landscape. Although in awe of some, her observations are a tonic to the pages of the trashy magazines of today. A truly literary rock and roll memoir.

GK Stritch photographed by Suzanne DeChillo for The New York Times, January 14th, 2012. Images provided by the author, and used here with permission.