Elevate Difference

Max's Kansas City: Art, Glamour, Rock and Roll

The iconic New York club Max’s Kansas City was the art world equivalent of the equally iconic CBGB; it was where all of the beautiful freaks and geeks; aspiring, wannabe, and legitimate artists congregated to see and be seen. Editor Steven Kash has done a magnificent job of compiling photographs that features all of the glitz and grime, genius and depravity that was the New York art scene of the 1970s.

Max’s Kansas City is a photography book, but there are a few well-written essays sprinkled in by Lou Reed, Lenny Kaye, Lorraine O’Grady, Danny Fields, and Steven Watson. Watson points out that though some of the female artists in the scene like Brigid Berlin and Sue Hoffman (aka Viva) weren’t taken seriously by their male contemporaries, they weren’t “just girlfriends” either. They had their own identities and were forming their own careers and according to Watson, were “on the cusp of feminism.”

I’d argue that they were seen as “just girlfriends” and that this is a common occurrence in artistic movements. Take the beat generation for example. Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs—they’ve become icons and the women writers were their caretakers and meal makers, struggling to get published. Just think of brilliant writers like Diane di Prima and Hettie Jones, who are—to this day—treated as minor footnotes or oddities in a scene comprised of men. Sadly, not much has changed.

Gender disparities of the scene aside, the photos are all inclusive. I have a thing for 70’s fashion and music, so flipping through the pages of Max’s Kansas City was nearly overload. How many images of young and beautiful icons like Patti Smith, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, Debbie Harry, and Tom Waits can a girl take before she drops? Oddly enough, what’s almost more interesting than the superstars are the images of the unknowns, the beautiful losers who appear to have just wandered in from off the street at the most opportune moment—when the cameras are flashing near Andy Warhol or Nico.

Some of the photographs are almost too up close and personal, like the one of a fresh-faced Janis Joplin sitting at a superstar populated table. What are they talking about and what kind of salad is that in front of them? And look, there’s an incredibly young and handsome John Waters holding a cigarette, the image so crystal clear you can almost smell the smoke.

What I especially love about Max’s Kansas City is that so many people associate the 70’s with polyester and bullshit disco music, but these images are proof that those on the outskirts of the city and on the fringes of society were creating groundbreaking art and music in dingy clubs tucked away in shady neighborhoods. To me, that’s so much more interesting than doin’ a little dance and makin’ a little love at a bullshit disco club.

Written by: Tina Vasquez, October 16th 2010