New York is such a pity but at Max's Kansas City we won
December 31, 2007 4:36 PM   Subscribe

Max's Kansas City closed 25 years ago this night. Although Hilly Kristal's CBGB's is more iconic and perhaps better known today, Mickey Ruskin's Max's Kansas City (and its infamous back room) was every bit as important to fostering the punk scene of the late 1970s and early 80s. Located a 213 Park Avenue South, just up the street from historic Union Square, Max's played host to the Heartbreakers, Bruce Springsteen, the Ramones, Wayne/Jayne County and the Fast, the New York Dolls, and quite a few others. What's standing there today? Why, the 213 Park Avenue South Deli, of course.
posted by psmealey (26 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
As a highschool music fan in the Chicago suburbs in the early 80's Max's held more mistique for me than CBGBs. I think it was becasue of a profile in Creem or Trouser Press. I'm pretty sure the article mentioned Tuff Darts several times as regulars, which is what made me seek out the Tuff Darts album.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 5:23 PM on December 31, 2007

oh those raunchy days of yore...Andy Warhol molested me at Max's when I was 13, way back in 1967. I was sitting at a table with Aubrey Beardsley aficionado, Edmund Hennessy, John Giorno, the poet, and Warhol came up behind me and started caressing my neck. It was weird ( I did get to go to his Factory opening, when he reopened The Factory near Max's, got the see The Velvet Underground and Nico live too).

Those days Max's felt like an interesting mix of saloon and futuristic post apocalyptic creativity, a real life Mos Eisley Cantina.
posted by nickyskye at 5:30 PM on December 31, 2007 [5 favorites]

And, of course, the Velvets played there for 3 months in the summer of 1970.

The Max's album is the sound of failure and resignation. However, this version of the Velvets, with Doug Yule's underskilled, overplaying teenage brother Billy sitting in for the pregnant Mo, is not beyond gentle moments of joy and remembrance of musical accomplishments of more vital days. "Good evening," begins Lou, "we're called Velvet Underground. You're allowed to dance, in case you didn't know. And...ah, that's about it." Then the band launches into a thoroughly decent version of "I'm Waiting for the Man", on which Sterling Morrison riffs away as easily as he might have when he and Lou first played in their dorm rooms. This is the sound of humans doing their best to make something happen when nothing much is left capable of happening.
posted by maudlin at 5:31 PM on December 31, 2007 [1 favorite]

(This thread is now the #1 result on Google for "New York is such a pity". Too bad, so sad, Aerosmith.)
posted by maudlin at 5:33 PM on December 31, 2007

New York, Smew York.

Nicky Skye: Not only did I see both The Velvets and Nico live here in Liverpool, (albeit on seperate occasions, rather than together.) I met Giorno once too, when he was doing a reading tour with Burroughs. Victor Bockris introduced us, IIRC. I remember being surprised because the party line was that Burroughs was cured of his heroin addiction by the apomorphine cure, but there wasn't a single one of them able to keep their eyes open on the stage when they weren't actually reading themselves.

And despite that inferior Max's Kansas City line up, I was always very fond of that Velvets LP. I thought they worked very well as a bar band.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:51 PM on December 31, 2007

PeterMcDermott, cool we share interesting connections.

Like you I enjoy the early Velvet Underground and Nico. Brion Gysin did an album before he died (Self Portrait Jumping) that is quite good. You might like it too.

The last time I met Burroughs in London 1974, he was stone sober, clean of smak but macabre as ever. As Castaneda was big in those days (he asked me what I was reading that week) he turned me on to Robert Monroe, said his book was better. Took a pocket knife to the downtown London restaurant we ate at, saying "you can never be sure" with a sinister glint and smirk. He was such a caricature of himself. Others like playing the fool, he liked playing the ghoul.

Giorno went Buddhist in the mid 70's, a Dudjom Rinpoche devotee, think he cleaned up then. They, Burroughs, Giorno, Ginsberg, all gathered around Trungpa Rinpoche at Naropa in Boulder and there was major alcoholism going on. MeFite digaman is the local expert on the Naropa scene.

The Max's scene moved in some part to Naropa and many who didn't but went the way of Studio 54 didn't survive during the AIDS epidemic.

Heading to the roof to see the ball drop in Times Square. Happy New Year.
posted by nickyskye at 6:44 PM on December 31, 2007 [2 favorites]

I know it's not cool, but that Max's album is my very most favorite Velvets recording. The guys with the tape machine or wire recorder talk about drinks, the playing is so sweet, Lou's maudlin patter isn't, and the cassette I first heard it on was partially demagnetized on 'Sunday Morning,' the emotional center of the release, so that everything flutters and wows, time itself erasing the musical moment that Lou descibes as one of unbearable loss and perfection.

Years later when I picked up the LP (and eventually the CD, although as of RIGHT NOW I am pissed that years of shuffling iTunes libraries have apparently misplaced the ripped copy of the record) I was at first really bummed out that the degraded recording quality was due to my casette copy, not due to the guys with the Pernod. Now I like the fact that I have a unique and personal relationship with the copy I originally learned the record from.

Max's, you made my life better without even meaning to. I bet (it's a near thing) I didn't even get that tape until after the bar closed. Hmm, math. 2007 - 25 = 1982. Yep. I got the tape from a girlfriend around 1984.
posted by mwhybark at 7:19 PM on December 31, 2007 [1 favorite]

nickysyke, you are like a hip Forrest Gump. My claim to fame is smoking weed with the remaining members of Nirvana. And then they got high and started talking about filing taxes (it was near that time of the year).
posted by geoff. at 8:41 PM on December 31, 2007

Haw, wikipedia sez the guy who wants Pernod and is very enthused about Dilaudid is none other than Jim Carroll.
posted by mwhybark at 9:01 PM on December 31, 2007

WARNING - just hit the Max's "back room" link and my anti-virus software trapped a trojan. BEWARE!
posted by the_very_hungry_caterpillar at 3:27 AM on January 1, 2008

Max's Kansas City... my parents met there, in the back room, around 1970. I'm not sure when exactly. I've often wished I was able to experience it, and go back in time. I also love that Velvet's recording. Maybe it's sentiment, but it's good sentiment.
posted by miss tea at 6:09 AM on January 1, 2008

DEVO made their NYC debut at Max's Kansas City on May 25th, 1977, opening for a band called Allan Turner & Rocks. We know which made the bigger impact.

Just six months later, on November 15th, when they played Max's Kansas City for the third time, they were introduced by David Bowie who called them "the band of the future."

Damn it, I was born two decades too late.
posted by SansPoint at 8:34 AM on January 1, 2008

Just remember, SansPoint and others, that 90 percent of the bands that played Max's and CB's in the glory days of punk and new wave stank to high heaven, the unisex toilets were ankle deep in piss, and the cash you paid for your beer went straight to the mafia. (Max's real glory days, as you can read from the above posts, were the pre-punk 60s and early 70s). We should be thankful that the organized crime figures who run rock and roll finally got their act together in the late 90s, and founded "House of Blues" -- a chain of rock clubs that finally gets the club experience right. Really, Max's and CB's (especially CB's) were just litter boxes for dopey, filthy-fied upper-middle-class half-wits who didn't know better than not to shit where they eat, and the pandering parasites who picked their patch pockets.
posted by Faze at 11:36 AM on January 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Faze, the same can be said about any rock club in NYC or elsewhere at pretty much any point in history. Many of the downtown rock clubs in NYC are still mobbed up, even today. I think some people (like NickySkye above) have some special memories that are inextricably linked to some of these places (I have my own special memories of CBs and Lounge Ax).
posted by psmealey at 11:42 AM on January 1, 2008

Peter Crowley, who ran the club from 75 to 81 and did most of the booking, has a MySpace page. His blog makes for some interesting reading. I moved to NYC 20 years too late, but made a pilgrimage to the site soon after I moved. As I stood on the corner lost in my rock and roll day dreams, Ric Ocasek walked by.
posted by kimdog at 11:50 AM on January 1, 2008

I have my own special memories of CBs and Lounge Ax

Sorry... brain freeze. I meant Maxwell's and Lounge Ax. The only "special" memory I have of CBGBs is nearly getting into a fistfight with the asshole sound guy for shoving my bandmate. Also, to that list, I'll add RKCNDY, another cinderblock shithole with disgusting bathrooms that meant a lot to me back in the day.
posted by psmealey at 11:59 AM on January 1, 2008

"House of Blues" -- a chain of rock clubs that finally gets the club experience right.

"chain" and "rock club" do not go together. HoB may provide uniform McConcerts for straight non-filthy upper-middle-class full-wits but it will never make history. If the bathrooms ain't a pit, it ain't rock and roll!
posted by bonefish at 12:04 PM on January 1, 2008

"House of Blues" -- a chain of rock clubs that finally gets the club experience right

Oh my. You have got to be fucking kidding. House of Blues gets the club experience right about as much as watching a Max Hardcore video gets the sex experience right.
posted by item at 1:25 PM on January 1, 2008

geoff., nickysyke, you are like a hip Forrest Gump

oh that's funny. NYC in the 60's was a Christmas plum pudding, chock a block with fruits and nuts, quite delicious and often spiked with something intoxicating. There wasn't much room not to bump into somebody interesting in any part of town.

In many ways the internet is like that now, a sort of city in space, where things are fun, different, exhilarating, futuristic. Where a motley assortment meets casually, constantly subversive, creative.

Faze, fascinating comment. Always thought of the music distribution aspect of the music business to be a kind of mafia that kept music from evolving and that has been liberated by the whole internet music phenom. But never knew about organised crime and music venues. Would love to read/know more about this. Would you be so kind to offer links or book titles?
posted by nickyskye at 2:08 PM on January 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

nickyskye: never knew about organised crime and music venues. Would love to read/know more about this.

exhibit A: The Cotton Club
posted by bonefish at 5:49 PM on January 1, 2008

nickyskye -- Organized crime has not infiltrated the music business. It is the music business. At the lowest, grubbiest street level, such as a dive bar with crummy bands, it is low, grubby organized crime, mainly having to do with money laundering, and liquor distribution. At the highest level, where people can make millions of dollars overnight, it is like the race track or casino business, neat and well run, but ugly if crossed (I'm sure you've read this news story).

Legitimate businesses are flexible. They change with the market. But organized crime is highly conservative -- mainly because change means a certain amount of real and economic violence in their world. The mob tries to enforce the status quo with crude bullying, in this case by lawyers.

Organized crime domination of popular music is one of the reasons why what you hear on the radio has changed so little over the past 35 years. I mean, punk, hip hop, metal, classic rock? These are 30 year-old genres. The Beatles changed more in six years than the entire music business did over the next three decades. The mob likes consistancy. New York pizza slices will never change, because NY pizza joints are locked into certain suppliers of flour, sauce, ovens, etc., and the suppliers don't feel like changing, and their suppliers don't feel like changing. Why do you think the biggest money in the music business right now is live concerts by big, reliable classic rock acts? For the first 69 years of the 20th century, popular music was incredibly dynamic, moving from ragtime, through Rogers and Hammerstein, to Simon and Garfunkle. This dynamism made popular music a huge revenue producer -- at the same time that the mob already controlled many of the choke points: the bars, nightclubs and concert halls (stagehands union, look into it) where acts got their start, or performed on their way up or way down. As for the record business, why do you think that these classic rock acts still have to tour? Or why Frank Sinatra still toured into his eighties? Because much of the money you've spent on their records over the past 30 years has gone into the pockets of crooks -- and still does. Hip hop has created an interesting African American varient of this story, but it is still the same story. Why do you think today African American popular music is so mind-numbingly similar and consistant and tired and conservative?
posted by Faze at 7:07 PM on January 1, 2008

It's kinda tragic that places with such musical history like Max's and CBGB have been shut down. The other day I was walking down St. Mark's and saw a CBGB merchandise store--anyone know what the deal is with that?
posted by nangsta at 7:27 PM on January 1, 2008

Faze, as usual, every word you write is bullshit including "and" and "the". You really think "punk, hip hop, metal, classic rock" are what we hear on the radio now? Without that, your argument sublimates. (For that matter, you think I can't get a wide range of pizza styles, from sicilian to vera pizza napoletana to brick-oven to deep-dish to cut-with-scissors Lazio-style, within about five blocks of my apartment?)

Everyone else, be aware that Faze is a bitter ex-NYer ex-musician troll. Who can't spell "Garfunkel".
posted by nicwolff at 7:41 PM on January 1, 2008 in NYC and being from Kansas City, I have to ask...why was it called Max's Kansas City? Was there any connection to Kansas City at all, or was the name just a typical NYC-centric joke implying that anywhere else in the world is meaningless?
posted by bingo at 8:51 PM on January 1, 2008

I don't know much about Faze's posting history, but there's definitely some truth to what he's saying. I have had numerous friends that tried to start rock clubs in Manhattan over the years, and ran into exactly the sort of people he's talking about. I think this explains (other than the high cost of rent in Manhattan) a bit why the independent music scene went elsewhere in the late 80s / early 90s (Hoboken, Brooklyn, Jersey City, etc.), and in the city you were left with 8 bands for 8 bucks at the Acme and a bunch of crappy vomit metal bands at CB's. There were still decent clubs like the (old) Knitting Factory and Arlene Grocery, but these were the exception and not the rule.
posted by psmealey at 7:19 AM on January 2, 2008

« Older music videos from West Africa   |   New Year's Eve In Times Square Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments