Artists at Max’s Kansas City, 1965–1974

Hetero-Holics and Some Women Too
Loretta Howard Gallery | Sept 15 – Oct 30

Max’s Kansas City
Steven Kasher Gallery | Sept 15 – Oct 9

“Ronald Bladen outside Max’s Kansas City.” Courtesy Loretta Howard Gallery.
“Ronald Bladen outside Max’s Kansas City.” Courtesy Loretta Howard Gallery.

I wasn’t there, but sometimes I feel like I was.

Andy Warhol was there, drinking and smoking with Morrissey and Janis Joplin, their table piled with a giant salad bowl and empty beer bottles all over the place. The Dolls and Television were there. Patti Smith was definitely there. A lot. And she was mean and tough back then. Or so they said. But not nearly as mean as Lou Reed, who was there, at a table, maybe by himself, meaner than all the drunks combined, even stone-cold sober. And of course, the Underground was there.

Some said it was a mean place generally, particularly for women. But I guess that didn’t bother Dorothea Rockburne, because she was there, maybe with Robert Rauschenburg, or Richard Serra, or Robert Smithson, or Brice Marden, who met Helen there—congratulations guys! I would like to see Serra in a conversation with Warhol. And, wait, did de Kooning actually give Rauschenberg that erasable drawing at Max’s?

 I think Peter Young was there. Jonas Mekas was certainly there. I’ll bet he got along with Serra. But he would have been the exception, because everyone else fought like fighting was breathing and there was no tomorrow. Michael Heizer liked that, or so I hear. And did anyone ever out-fight Al Held (who was also there, eating hamburgers with his daughter, Mara, who doesn’t remember anything except the hamburgers)? Probably. Maybe John Chamberlain. I don’t know if I would have liked the fighting-about-art part. In fact, I’m not even sure I can imagine it. No one talks anymore, at least not to those with whom they disagree. John Yau was there a couple of times and he liked it but said it was a little clubby. It probably was, which was why it was mean, but the truth is I probably would have liked it if I was in the club. Does that make me a Hetero-Holic?

Johnny Rotten was around, and Sid Vicious: the Pistols. As were the Ramones. Dee Dee and Vera Ramone, Richard Robinson and Lenny Kaye. Bruce Springsteen was there—somehow that doesn’t make sense—and I wonder if he met Iggy Pop. David Bowie definitely did. Joan Jett was there and so was Richard Hell, probably on his way out, and Jim Caroll—it’s like the place was invented for him—or maybe the other way around. Linda Francis remembers getting high with Debbie Harry and friends.

Alice Cooper was there?

And, Jesus! Vito, what are you doing to your arm? And, hey Benglis, what’s that in your armpit? Most of California seems to have been there. And we know Detroit was there and thank you, Brigid Berlin, for being there. Wow, Frosty, I had no idea!—and I thought that unicycle was cool!

Larry Zox, your paintings never looked so good.

Any show of photography in an art gallery is going to be a pale, pathetic refraction of the incredible energy a place like Max’s Kansas City surely had. And this article, this list, this tiny fraction of a fraction of a narrative is nothing. Just imagine who else might have been there—those known to us, and those other dark strangers to history, stragglers wandering in off the street in the evening and thrown back out onto it late at night. All those who died of excess and of love of excess and the feeling of deep connection that they only felt surrounded by others who also loved excess and loved them through it.

Thank you artists. Thank you rockers! Thank you Loretta Howard! Thank you Steven Kasher. But mostly, thank you Mickey Ruskin.


Ben La Rocco


OCT 2010

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