Sometimes we think we were born too late — and the new book Max’s Kansas City: Art, Glamour, Rock and Roll only confirms that fear. In Steven Kasher’s tribute to the old, weird (that is, ’70s) New York artist haunt and music venue Max’s Kansas City, we see David Bowie snuggling up to David Johansen, Andy Warhol and Janis Joplin chatting over a dinner neither seems to be eating, Iggy Pop onstage in little more than glittery underpants and blood, and Willem de Kooning clutching a cigarette and staring solemnly into the middle distance.
But there’s more to the book than glamorous photos. We also learn the story behind Max’s, meeting its eccentric owner, Mickey Ruskin, and reading Danny Fields’ sprawling (albeit condensed) 1974 interview with him. In an evocative essay on its live music scene, critic and Patti Smith Group guitarist Lenny Kaye calls Max’s “a place to learn who you could be.” Kasher even includes menus, a list of the bands that performed at Max’s each year, and a cocktail list with drinks named for the place’s famous clientele: Want to make a Patti Smith? Just mix champagne and stout. According to Max’s, “It’s been making poets horny for years.” The more dramatic Suicide entailed lighting Green Chartreuse and 151-proof rum on fire.
To those of us who never got to experience it firsthand, Max’s Kansas City is the next best thing. Because Ruskin only allowed photographers he knew and trusted to take photos of the debauchery at Max’s, their pictures offer a true insider’s glimpse of a world where world-renowned artists and award-winning film directors shared bowls of chickpeas with downtown drag queens and scuzzy rockers. The book’s release coincides with an exhibition by the same name, of photos from Max’s and artwork created by the joint’s famous regulars, opening September 15 at Kasher’s New York gallery.
Click through for a gallery of images from Max’s Kansas City — including one of our favorite Mick Jagger shots of all time.
Debbie Harry, 1978. Photo by Nicky L/Lower Third Enterprises.