Life At Max's Kansas City 1978-80
(Episode 4)
by Cliff Hausman


It was on the top floor of a narrow old building whose basement business was a car rental place. A quarter block east across the street was the magnificent front, a large slab of concrete with an heroic relief, of the headquarters of the Salvation Army. The corner was surrounded on all sides by coffee shops. One, the most resembling the one on Seinfeld, wasn't very good (were any of them?) but I hung out for food or coffee or the phone (we had none at the apartment).

It was an acquisition of Barry Jones. He was a black man from England whose father was black, I believe Nigerian, and his mother was white. For some reason I remember him telling me how much he disliked his father. Barry's claim to fame was I guess two fold: He was one of the people who organized the famous Roxy. For one hundred days it showcased the punk rock scene in London including the Sex Pistols and Generation X and Wayne County and Siouxsie. It was forever remembered via the Punk Rock Movie. Much of the film was taped there (by Don Letts of B.A.D., another Englishman of African descent). Incidently, when the Heartbreakers are first heard in the movie, a painted up punk young woman sighs something like 'at last some decent music!' Secondly, Barry was in a band with Steve Dior called the 'Heroes', an okay pop/punk band with, when Jerry Nolan played drums for them, some real pretty guys on stage. Steve Dior was one of the more handsome young men around. Anyway, Barry was working sort of a handyman job for the Deans at Max's. That's how I met him. I think it was Ivan, the upstairs manager, who introduced me. I must have been between places cause he hooked me up to the place. He had just gotten a lease where he was to improve the space over a several month period and as he did so (or if he didn't, as was the case) the rent would slowly rise.

Through Barry I met Keith Levene. While John Lydon was out making a scene, Keith was in my apartment getting high. This was P.I.L.'s first tour through America. What a show that was. Keith intense at the guitar and synthesizer, Jah Wobble marching rectangles through their playing space while he and Martin (aka Brian Brain) set a great marshal beat. Keith would play inside the beat with an out of control electronic noise/melody. John would perform away at the center. It was the metal box tour, so the material was all first rate. Somewhere in the middle of their set, Keith's synthesizer was not working. He stomped off the stage, with John soon following after. Martin and Jah continued on for awhile, setting the beat alone as they did to start the show, until they realized they'd been left out there, and they stopped. Though I may have missed half the show (probably less) it was quite a little event. I remember feeling like the band had made it so the audience were swaying to the beat as one, like a wave from the front to the back and back front, the audience was swaying to the beat. Great show. Keith stopped by, like I said, when the tour was in NYC. He then stopped by a few days later. This time he had to fly to NYC from LA, stop at the apartment to get high, then fly back to the show. Keith liked to get high.

Ivan, the upstairs manager I mentioned before, was my roommate for awhile. He was a very charming very Jewish man, probably in his late twenties, who was kind of a loser. He was obviously skimming off the door, which he would collect the five nights he worked. He was always counting the money, a sure sign some tampering has being done, having to match up the checks (the lines made for each customer) with the cash in hand. He was most interested in managing bands, but not too good at it. I remember him and his partner sitting across from each other on a long and cluttered table in the large back room of the apartment. They were each on a phone trying to make some connections, trying to get music sold, trying to get gigs for his bands. Maybe they had some success, they seemed to work hard enough at it, but it always seemed they were frustrated about something, about getting his bands out there. I think he may have tried to get Gang War gigs. He had a tape in his possession, I think was a demo which has only a few years ago surfaced. His other major client was Richard Lloyd. At the time Richard was playing some fantastic gigs with basically the same band that did Alchemy (a great album). He was also playing some pretty awful gigs. The music was sophisticated enough with distinctive counterpoint interplayed by three guitarists to make it music one needed to be at least in key to play. There were shows where Richard would be out of key pretty much the entire show. And he wouldn't be too on rhythmically either. Richard would also go insane from time to time. He would see himself as Jesus, and would be put away for a month or two. In a sense Ivan had sabotaged himself working for Richard and John, two characters one could equally claim to be erratic and, in business terms, untrustworthy. Failure was inevitable.

I think it was through Ivan or Richard that I met Anita Pallenberg. This was near the time when she was going through a bad legal and psychological moment. While at her house on Long Island (hers and Keith Richard's) she had a young man in bed with her kill himself. Anita was not the most attractive woman in the world, unlike when young and thin like in Barbarella. She had put on quite a lot of weight and had not aged gracefully. I think she may have been interested in me as a friend or whatever. We got along fine I think. We were hanging out across that very same table Ivan was working on. Maybe she was making phone calls. Maybe she was getting high. I don't remember. I just remember sitting there. The one time I drove in a limousine was with her. We drove down to some little bar in Soho. I think there were many rockers there. Lux Interior might have been there. I don't know why I can't picture it so well. I think it was one of those scenes where there was a party in the bar and outside the limo drivers were partying so there must have been an array of sceansters, potential name droppings, but for the life of me I can't remember. I think it may have been one of those times when I was semi-intently on the prowl and I was prowling in a place of people not at all interested in striking up my conversation. I've been known to have my charming moments, but by and large I can stop a conversation at twenty feet. I imagine myself intimidated enough to stifle myself and anyone around. I guess I just wanted to forget the whole thing. Anita took off from the bar and I went with her. We were headed to the East Village by cab, she was probably looking to score, but all she had on her were hundreds. The cab driver was not amused, but I gotta admit I was. Though brief, I would say Anita was the most famous person I ever was friends with. I mean I've seen bigger stars, I saw Andy Warhol several times, including one time sitting with Truman Capote, but he would often catch a cab in front of Max's, pretty much every Sunday I worked, to go home uptown. Recently I ate a table away from Martin Sheen during his son Charlie's trials over some woman, I don't remember what. And of course all the people in the restaurants I worked at or even served. The rockers at Max's (and actors too, or at least one, Michael J. Pollard who was drunk and crazy, demanding not to be forgotten, acting like a complete asshole) which I have enumerated before. But I think I got to know Anita just a little bit, and she got to know me, probably even less.

Greg Van Cook was another roommate. He and his wife, Marguerite stayed in the back room. Greg was as crazy as anyone I ever knew. He was also a damn good guitarist. When he quit Wayne County (as part of her backing band, the Electric Chairs, nee the Back Street Boys) it took two guitarists to replace him. His sound was reminiscent of early solo Jeff Beck, full, clean and intelligent. He and his wife (a beautiful, very English looking black haired English woman) had tried to gig with a band called the Innocence, something like that, while they were still in London. The band fell apart and they took up residence with me on 14th Street. Greg rarely did gigs, unfortunately. I remember him reuniting with the Backstreet Boys, but it was, unfortunately, short-lived. His craziness was loud and repetitious. One time he would go 'Woo' and expose himself through his gym shorts. He would do it a thousand times. Maybe that's not crazy, but it was extreme. I remember another event well, when he discovered, while sticking his head out the front window, that across the hall from us, and thus just over one window, was now living Jayne County, formerly Wayne County. It was quite a coincidence, but, according to Greg, it was a curse. 'Oh my God that thing is over there!' He shouted and shouted and shouted and shouted and shouted. Making fun of his ex-bandmate (and according to Jayne, an-ex sex mate as well, which may have helped prolong the surprise) relentlessly over several, maybe thirty or more minutes. Greg was also a scary guy. He used to be a Golden Glove boxer, so you didn't want to ignite his anger too much. He would look at me sometimes, fortunately not often, like he could kill me and maybe would. Those unavoidable, and maybe too frequent times when I was being dense or stupid or just screwing up a moment, he would give me that look. His wife was basically keeping him alive. She worked midtown at some strip joint getting johns to buy her a drink for some conversation. She made a lot of money at it, and they would use it up quick. Eventually she was dancing for their living. Basically we were good friends journeying through that dark and decadent time together.

Another roommate for a short time, so I don't recall her name, was a beautiful white haired young woman. I was very attracted to her for awhile, and we did make out maybe once or twice. I don't think I was her type. She had coke whore tendencies. The kind of guy she liked would be the kind who could provide with more chemical kicks. One time she was going crazy with this latino guy, very NY gangster looking. I'm not sure what was up, but he was freaking her out (and her him) and she was barricading the door against him. They were both yelling at each other through the door for like hours or something. It was one of those completely disturbing nights of which I've had a few of over the years concerning crazy women and/or men and their relationships with each other. One time we went down to the East Village when she realized she was near Richard Hell's apartment. She had to go see him. She wanted to give him some drugs or get high with him or some other sort of seduction. He was not interested. He was annoyed at the disturbance of what had probably been a quiet evening. Though I'd seen Richard Hell concerts many times (in fact the Voidoids were my first live punk band when they played the Bard formal in 76), and I saw and/or knew most of the Voidoids and of course Richard Lloyd and the Heartbreakers while at Max's, this was the only time I can remember where I actually met Richard Hell, and he was rightly annoyed. Ironically this crazy, annoying woman was a journalist of supposedly some genius, though I never read her stuff.

While at Max's, I had very few relationships of any length. Maybe the NYC women wised up fast to my weirdness or unpleasantness or clumsiness or stupidity or I wised up to theirs or there just weren't women for me there or I just didn't pay attention to anyone for any length of time. In fact in a two and a half year period with me in my early twenties and not unattractive and working with and amongst some incredibly beautiful women, its amazing how few sexual liaisons I had, even fewer with any true ecstatic pleasure. One woman, a fellow Bard student who used to go out with another student and friend hooked up with me for a typically brief affair. I spent the night with her, coming home early (perhaps a sign of the weakness of the relationship or perhaps she had to work) only to find Johnny Thunders in my bed. I must have been a tired old grump, but I swiftly kicked him out of bed. He was a little surprised but more guilty, as he later told me he was worried I was angry for making a mess on my floor. Maybe because my floor was already a mess I never noticed any mess he made. When Barry was 'fixing up the place' he had managed to tack down some kind of large boards which presumably one was to put the regular long slats of floorboards or carpet or something over, but we never did. Ironically I think I gained some respect from John because of that gruff moment of mine.

Eventually I ended up living in the back room. While there my stuff was ripped off. As it turned out, the room was directly below the roof with several windows facing out into the alley. All you had to do was drop down from the roof on the fire escape, then open the window and take the stuff through the window, since the roof was so convenient to the fire escape. And of course the windows faced away from the street so the activity would not be spotted. Even though they stole all my LPs, of which I had probably a hundred including the metal box, I was more upset about the loss of my typewriter. I didn't do a ton of writing in NYC, but I had been working on a novel I was most fond of at the time, one which of course I never finished. It was probably this one guy who did it, a friend of friends. I never remember seeing him with the stuff, but somehow I found out it was him. Kind of an inside job, since he probably knew the layout pretty well. I shouldn't have been surprised. It is a symptom of the drug scene I was in at the apartment. In some ways that apartment was central to the scene. It's surprising it only happened that one time. Even though it was a dark time for most of us in that 14th Street apartment, and things got even darker for some, I have to say it was an incredible experience living there.


From The Johnny Thunders Cyber Lounge

Last modified: September 29, 1997

Managed by: Chris Ridpath