Recently I posted what is surely the earliest professionally shot full concert by The Patti Smith Group, a gig taped in Stockholm in 1976 for Swedish television, but a few days ago some even earlier Patti footage surfaced. It’s not exactly professionally shot (it’s likely to have been lensed by rock photographer Bob Gruen), but taken as a whole the clips might represent the entire performance.
Smith, then 27, performs nine numbers backed by Lenny Kaye and Richard Sohl, including both sides of her “Hey Joe/Piss Factory” single as well as Rolling Stones and Velvet Underground covers. Within a year Clive Davis would sign The Patti Smith Group to Arista Records and they would be recording Horses with producer John Cale.
On record, Smith’s cover of “Hey Joe” begins with the addition of a spoken word bit about Patty Hearst (“Patty Hearst, you’re standing there in front of the Symbionese Liberation Army flag with your legs spread, I was wondering were you gettin’ it every night from a black revolutionary man and his women?”) but this was before that became a part of the song.
“Piss Factory” is a powerful soliloquy about Smith’s horrible job working on a baby buggy assembly line when she was sixteen and dreaming of what her life was going to be like in New York City..
Below, in this brief (mildly NSFW) clip from the Kino Library, we see a typical evening at Max’s Kansas City with the likes of Candy Darling, a topless, insane-looking lipstick-smeared Brigid Berlin, Paul Morrissey, Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe, Taylor Mead, Ray Johnson, Marisol and others. That’s Warhol’s Factory assistant Gerard Malanga who we see smoking as the voiceover reader says the word “pretentious.”
Early B&W video footage of Bruce Springsteen performing “Growin’ Up” at Max’s Kansas City on August 10, 1972.
David Bowie happened to be there that night and this is what he had to say about the then unknown Boss’s performance:
“So this guy is sitting up there with an acoustic guitar doing a complete Dylan thing. My friend and I were about to leave when he started introducing a band who were joining him on stage.”
“The moment they kicked in he was another performer. All the Dylanesque stuff dropped off him and he rocked. I became a major fan that night and picked up Asbury Park immediately.”
In 1973 Bowie recorded “Growin’ Up” as part of the Pin Ups sessions. The song didn’t make the cut, but it would see Bowie record the very first Bruce Springsteen cover. Two years later, during the Young Americans sessions, Bowie laid down a soul version of Springsteen’s “It’s Hard to be a Saint In The City” with the Boss in attendance for the mixdown at Philadelphia recording studio, Sigma Sound.
Below, another song recorded at Max’s that same night (actually the set’s opening number), “Henry Boy.”
Ciao! Manhattan director David Weisman claims that this is “the only known footage of the inside of Max’s Kansas City.” Of course, he’s not including all the films and videos of performances shot at Max’s. But those don’t reveal what the club as a whole looked like.
A brief glimpse into New York’s epicenter of cool when everything and everyone seemed larger than life.
Viva, Richie Berlin, Ara Gallant and Paul America make fleeting appearances. This was shot in the late Sixties. Weisman narrates.
Paul Morrissey, Andy Warhol, Janis Joplin and Tim Buckley at Max’s Kansas City, 1968
In 1998, High on Rebellion, the definitive oral history of Max’s Kansas City, the bar/restaurant/nightclub that was THE in-spot of New York’s rock/art demimonde, was published. Written by Yvonne Sewall-Ruskin (once the wife of Max’s founder, Mickey Ruskin) it’s a classic book, one that should rightfully be as well-known as Edie: American Girl, Please Kill Me or POPism: The Warhol Sixties, one of a handful of truly must-read volumes if you want to understand what was happening culturally in New York City during the Sixties and the Seventies. Sadly, the book is obscure, but hopefully it will be republished one day.
At Max’s, the regulars would include names like Alice Cooper, Andy Warhol, Lou Reed, William Burroughs, Larry Rivers, Tennessee Williams, Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Philip Glass, Halston, Jackie Curtis, the New York Dolls, Candy Darling, Iggy Pop, John Waters, Salvador Dali, Patti Smith, Robert Mapplethorpe, Robert Rauschenberg, Carl Andre, Donald Judd, John Cale, the list could go on and on. Devo, Tim Buckley, Aerosmith, Bob Marley and the Wailers, Bruce Springteen, Tom Waits, Sid Vicious, the B-52s and Gram Parsons all played Max’s and Debbie Harry and Emmylou Harris were waitresses there. As Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler said, “You knew even the assholes would be famous one day. It was that kind of place.”
He’s right about that. Abrams Image has just published a gorgeous new coffee table book of photographs and ephemera (menus, newspaper ads, notes from an art auction) from Max’s, titled, appropriately enough Max’s Kansas City: Art, Glamour, Rock and Roll. Edited by NYC gallery owner Steven Kasher with contributions from Lou Reed, Lenny Kaye, Danny Fields, Lorraine O’Grady and Steven Watson, this oversized volume is one of the best books of this sort to come out in a long.long time. It also makes a nice, decade-late companion to High on Rebellion: If the earlier book was primarily anecdotal, Kasher’s volume takes the opposite approach of a picture being worth a thousand words. When the subject is a place like Max’s—once described by writer Terry Southern as “the lower circles of Dante’s Inferno filled with Bosch and Breughel characters—a well-framed photograph communicates more than words ever could...
For instance, a big part of Max’s legend was the infamous “back room” VIP area where anything could—and apparently did—happen. (The line in Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side” about drag queen Candy Darling: “In the back room, she was everybody’s darlin’” refers to Max’s). Not only is there a shot in the book of a man (identified as poet/artist Rene Ricard, although you can’t really see his face) giving another man a blow job right in the middle of the restaurant—tell me that’s not context, people!—there is also a photograph of someone standing on a table in the foreground, with people laughing, but in the background, where the camera wasn’t pointed, we see Warhol superstar Taylor Meade, bare-assed naked. Casual nudity seems like the way it was done at Max’s, if these photos are to be believed.
Max’s was open on Park Avenue South from 1965 until 1974 and reopened under different management in 1975. That incarnation lasted until 1981. 213 Park Avenue South, the building that once housed the insanity that was Max’s Kansas CIty is now occupied by a Korean deli (that I went to often). Mickey Ruskin died in 1983.
Below: Some (mostly silent) footage from the heyday of Max’s Kansas City shot by Anton Perich featuring Warhol actress Andrea Feldman (who killed herself at the age of 24), Taylor Meade, Candy Darling, Jackie Curtis, a gorgeous young Mary Woronov and towards the end (with audio) Max’s owner, Mickey Ruskin himself.