Life At Max's Kansas City 1978-80
(Episode 5)
by Cliff Hausman

Time for a brief description of Max's Kansas City. I have in front of me a picture on the cover of the first Max's compilation from 1976. It's a pretty cool LP with several great songs on it, including two of Wayne County's with Greg, my old roommate playing guitar. He is in the picture at the center standing one person away from Wayne herself. In the bottom right corner stands Marco, a busboy I knew early on in my employment. He's wearing our uniform: Max's t-shirt and black pants. Facing Park Avenue South, Max's was a two storied black walled front. There was a large amount of window facing out to the street. The top floor window was depicted on the live Velvet Underground LP with snake shapes of many colors pouring out. Between the two sets of windows was the Max's logo, lower case white letters on black. Hanging above the entrance was a large sign of the same lettering and color describing a sideways rectangular arch along the wall with a brief horizontal line at mid arch hawking 'steak, lobster, chick-peas' (of which, except lobster I served quite a lot). Jutting forth

Thru the draped entrance and to the right was the bar and restaurant where I worked. A first quarter or third was the bar which encompassed the inner portion of that space, on weekends ringed two people thick with customers. Afterward, the greater portion of the space was a dining area partitioned into two groups of dining tables, a smaller one on the right and a larger one on the left. The dining area on the right was truncated by the kitchen where I grabbed the meals, made the salad (with chick-peas), stole the cheesecake (and John's ice cream) etc. There was a narrow hallway between the main dining area and the back room. On the left was the service bar where my busboy friend eventually worked and where supposedly (according to Marco, not the same busboy) a homicidal maniac who killed Nancy Spungeon and used to toss empty beer bottles into the garbage cans sitting directly across the hall without looking for the frequently passing customer had worked. After the set of toilets and the dishwasher area and stairs into the basement (an area I knew having had to dish wash during the week (otherwise we had a sweet old Haitian who barely spoke English with a thick French/patois accent working the weekends (immigration officials would have been bad guests with the Chinese cooks (one of whom was always seeming to look after me but neither of the Chinese cooks could speak hardly any English so it was hard to say, we talked in gestures) and the Haitian dishwasher working at Max's)) and where I had to pass to go downstairs and fetch two heavy cases of beer and bend my tall head low to carry them up a low ceiling staircase while performing my bus boy duties) was the famous back room. Warhol and all his wasted cohorts would toast the night away in the midst of paintings Mickey Ruskin had acquired cheaply by giving the artists tabs for food and drink at the club. This was years before and the Deans turned the room into many table, leaving a large round one for the royalty like John or Robert when they were doing gigs upstairs. I don't remember the walls being decorated at all, though some of Bob Gruen's cool NYC punk images may have been back there. It mostly seemed an overflow area. During midweek evenings the space was used for local convention get-togethers. When my friends the waitresses worked those parties (and they looked forward to them: big tips) they were treated like any beautiful girls would be in the midst of a throng of less than middle aged men friends getting drunk. Mike was the one who got those gigs together and he blended right in with the group, sipping joyfully away at his scotch like a country club man lording over his friends. It reminded me of those second hand images of a prostitute bar and a whore house combined with Mike tossing his girls into the lions den. I wonder what percentage he got.

For a bus boy to get upstairs I used the stairs which were located directly to the back of the large dining area. Thru the back door entrance (not really, the true back door was not used a lot for upstairs access, mostly for getting rid of the upstairs garbage with a toss into the fairly near garbage can) to the upstairs I would emerge in the midst of the crowd watching the show, hauling up beers and ice for the bar or catching glimpses of the show myself (though it was strictly forbidden, which was one of the reasons I was fired). The stairs led to the area in front of the sound booth, where Bobby, late twenties/early thirties, was often at the board doing a great job. And on that stage and in the air, pounding against the black walls was the peculiar and often great music of everyone from Robert Gordon to Levi and the Rockats to Rhys Chatham to the Lounge Lizards to the Misfits to James Chance to the Nuns to the Mumps to Suicide to the Fast to the Plasmatics and of course John. It was a great showcase for bands. It's long rectangular black walls just made everything (along with Bobby's expertise) sound great. Most memorably the acoustics were amazing when I saw Suicide. With the lights down way low, the thud thud thud emanating from Marty Rev's synthesized musical contraption made me feel like I was inside a heartbeat and in fact my heartbeat was his. Alan Vega/Suicide, pranced about in his martial glam suit singing screaming or talking or not saying anything but mouthing crazy beautiful nonsense silent with a loud presence and the music still holding me at my chest and I loved it! It's where I saw the best and the worst shows of John and of Richard Lloyd. It's where one of the Misfits, maybe it was Bobby Steele, a friend to me in our acquaintance who was ousted from the group by Danzig who then dissed him greatly, or maybe Danzig himself, heaved a liquor glass back at the audience. The glass cracked on a table and a piece cut up a guy pretty bad. The Misfits were fired from Max's from then on. I saw the Plasmatics, I think it was their first show. Soon after they would be at the Paladium cutting up cars on stage with a chainsaw, but when I saw them it was like dolls and maybe a bike or something. It was pretty silly but entertaining. Most of the audience was intimate with Miss W.O.W. having seen her dance naked for them and be their hostess with the mostest. Her manager was the owner of the club she danced for. I think it was Jean Beauvoir, who became a mixer type, a club kind of music guy in the acid/house terms of today, who was playing bass dressed in a tutu like dress and a mohawk. Supposedly James Chance went out into the audience in one of his many appearances there and bit someone. I don't know if it was true or not, he was an extremely aggressive performer so it didn't take too much imagination to think it possible. It gave him a notoriety which I'm sure was embraced by the punks but others thought he was all too much. James was a like it or hate it kind of singer. I loved the Contortions. I remember one show with people like Arto Lindsey and Pat Place and Jody Harris and George Scott and Don Christenson just playing great and James blowing on his alto with squeaks and squawks, crazy funky shit, and this one keyboard player just wasn't quite there with the rest. It was Steve Kramer of the Wallets, a band of some momentary Local Minneapolis fame, an artschool band with some smart and clever songs with quick twist and turn tunes. And of course there was Robert Gordon with Chris Spedding completing the most beautiful subtle guitar fills ever heard. The Troggs took up residency at Max's. for awhile, a month or so, I don't know, the Troggs played Wild Thing four times a night, twice a set for a Thursday Friday Saturday stint. Drove the waitresses upstairs crazy. The Troggs were actually a great band, especially if you closed your eyes. Reg Presley sang sexy little tunes with a built in swagger and he would swagger his short fat little body around like the rest of the band. All these pudgy little middle aged rockers oozed sex out their pours and if you looked it was, well, kind of funny. Of the funny now but not so funny then was the night I was front and center for Levi and the Rockats, disciples of Dave Edmunds as were the similarly titled Stray Cats. Levi was rocking heavy, doing those rockabilly moves while the highly tattooed sleeveless upright bass player, Smitty Smiff played his bass standing on top of it when he wasn't twirling it. At the end of the show, Johansen joined him and they ripped up Little Richard's 'Rip It Up'. I think it was some kind of cutting contest, with Levi's exuberant singing and dancing encouraging even more exuberant singing and dancing from Johansen and vice versa the only thing left was to jump out on the table. Unfortunately the tables were those long temporary tables whose legs pull back into the table. The front middle table couldn't handle a hundred-fifty pound singer putting his weight with force onto it and it collapsed. Unfortunately it collapsed on my legs which were fortunately strong from lifting beer and ice up stairs over several months. I tried to keep it steady so he wouldn't fall and I guess I held it too steady, cause unfortunately Johansen decided to one up him by jumping on the very same table. I was not pleased, but I think they must have felt some unease cause it wasn't long, maybe ten excruciating seconds when they bounded back on stage, using my legs I guess as a trampoline. I heard nary a comment from them in my behalf. They may have been oblivious to my predicament, or were just too rock 'n' roll star to acknowledge my contribution to their health. Further back in the space was the bar, also occupying the interior part of the room it was in. The bartenders upstairs were pretty remarkable. One, a very Chinese looking Thai man would sooner knock you out with a kick in the head then take any abuse from his customers. One time I remember him hassling an African American guy who would call him 'my man'. He hated that. Another guy, a good looking, long black wavy tressed guy was a coke dealer and a charmer. I remember him most for big tips, huge coke lines at the end of the night and being friends with Ronnie Spector. She would spend a lot of time with him by herself, sitting at the same barstool for hours. She was a really cool lady, a really nice lady. And beautiful. The most famous person I saw at Max's was Lauren Bacall. She actually came a couple of times to see her friend Phyllis Newman's son in his band, some raucous rock 'n' roll punk band I think, nothing I can remember. I remember my usually cool, suave manager being ecstatic with happiness at her presence. It was pretty goddamned neat.

It was the peak experience of my life being at Max's. Being around John. My days at Max's were in some ways my most public moments. I was recognized often in the streets of New York. I guess I was most "famous" then. Ironically, having been, at least at one time and hopefully in the future, a performer myself albeit only in the contexts of performance art/poetry and/or theatrical plays, that it was a server, a customer service guy, like I am now at Cheapo Records, that I attained notoriety/fame and not as an artist. Oh well.

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Last modified: September 26, 1997

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