Punk-rock nostalgia has an oxymoronic quality. Ah, the good, cozy days… of shooting up in the CBGB bathroom while the Dead Boys plundered Western civilization on stage. Sid Vicious, we’ve barely met you! However, the nostalgia for punk, as contradictory as it may be, has grown to years. Part of the reason for this is that punk, with its aggressive presence and lack of subtle challenge, appears to be essentially pre-digital punk. In these times of pandemics and social media, direct human contact is something many of us are starved for, and punk was a beacon of human contact. The bands were against you, you were against them, and everyone was against the wacko beer drinker next to you. No wonder this is what some people want right now.
If you’re someone who gets emotional when you remember what it was like – or should be – to stumble out of a dirty rock club at 4 in the morning after having your ears, you’ll want everything possible to see” Nightclubbing: The Birth of Punk Rock in NYC.” This is Max’s first Kansas City documentary, and he’s embarking on a summer tour of US theaters, as well as a few European ones (here’s schedule); after that, it will be accessible online. Directed by Danny Garcia, who has collected a large number of punk documentaries over the last decade (he has made films about Johnny Thunders, Stiv Bators, the last days of Sid and Nancy, and the final days of the Clash), “Nightclubbing” is a raw slice inside punk nostalgia and history. (Screening in conjunction with the 20-minute documentary “Sid Vicious: The Final Curtain.”)
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It’s also a great film for anyone who thinks CBGB was 10 times more important than any other punk club – an easy misconception, as it’s generally portrayed. Since 1977, more or less, every aspect of the CBGB has been not only articulated, but mythologised. Since it started out as a biker bar and was located on the Bowery, a legendary boulevard of sleaze where there was a kind of karmic continuity between the thugs on the street and the discordant patrons of the CBs. The fact that the club was a sweaty, claustrophobic rectangle that critic James Wolcott described as “a subway train to hell”; the fact that the bathrooms were squalid bacteria pits with apocalyptic graffiti.
And of course there was the legendary roster of big bands that played there, like the Ramones and Talking Heads and Blondie and Television and Patti Smith, as well as the lesser but more outrageous bands that helped set the tone fix the psyche. . destructive club, like the Dead Boys and the Plasmatics. When I first walked into the CBGB, the place was so iconic that I felt like I was walking into the Cave Club. In its disgusting way of fucking the mainstream, CBGB arrived at the right time to become a media meme.
Kansas City Max was different. In New York, it was as formative and famous as CBGB, but it opened its doors in December 1965, when the media and rock ‘n’ roll were still strange bedfellows. So, while the club became a magnet for trendy celebrities, it kept its underground character. As “Nightclubbing” goes, Max was like CBGB with some Studio 54 exclusives, which might sound like the ultimate danger, but you can’t understand punk if you don’t recognize how he was snobbish. You had to be the right kind of ass to fit in. Located on South Park Avenue, a block from Union Square, Max’s was a restaurant with a garish exterior. But the VIP action in the back room was legendary, and to get in you had to get permission from club owner and proprietor Mickey Ruskin. It is vital that the first punk club had a velvet rope. Max’s was the nobility of debauchery.
Once inside, you could see everyone from Frank Zappa to Elizabeth Taylor to Janis Joplin and Jack Nicholson, and especially Andy Warhol (the Factory was only three blocks away), bringing their entourage along of nights, which went a long way towards establishing Max’s as. a famous link drawn from the worlds of art, fashion, music and film that are now coming together. This was embodied in Warhol’s shepherding of the Velvet Underground, who became a regular at Max (in 1970, they recorded a live album there). Forget the MC5s, whose abandoned spirit was shattered without the talent; punk was born under the shadow of acceleration and drive of the Velvet.
In “Nightclubbing,” Jayne County, the sharp-tongued transgender singer, DJ, and quack who was a regular at Max’s (she’s like a John Waters character), tells us that the club’s essence is that everyone’s been there. They were drugged there, all the time. However, once in the back room, they spoke. The place is described as a squalid counterculture version of the Algonquin Table, which is like a stretch, but Max did not host musical performances until 1969, and imagine how much you want to be a fly on the wall for some of it. those conversations, even as David Bowie once said: “I met Iggy Pop at Max’s Kansas City in 1970 or 1971. Me, Iggy and Lou Reed at a table with nothing to say to each other, just looking at eye makeup together. ”
There was cross-pollination. After all, Bowie wasn’t a punk. But Max’s was the petri dish where “rock” became “punk” and “punk” infused “rock,” through the dense glam. Iggy, the father of the twisted young animal punk, played there, and there were glam rocker Marc Bolan and electronica pioneers Suicide as well as Alice Cooper and Bob Marley and Phil Ochs and Aerosmith and 22-year-old Bruce Springsteen. (Clive Davis was hired at Max’s by Bruce and Aerosmith.) Alice Cooper is interviewed extensively in “Nightclubbing,” and testifies to how the club was the epicenter of fashion that broke categories even as it created them.
When the New York Dolls appeared, in all their genre glory, they were like an organism created in Max’s lab. Malcolm McLaren met the Dolls at Max’s and made his first foray into Svengali punk image management by trying to get them to show up to wear the fashions he marketed. The plan fell through, but McLaren learned from his mistakes and returned to London to package the Sex Pistols, which he envisioned as the Dolls meeting the Ramones dressed as Richard Hell. Part of Max’s lore is that Debbie Harry was a waitress there, which seems like the remnant of a sexist world, but Harry, trying to break into an all-male rock establishment, had found a way to to do. Everyone there knew there was more in store for her.
“Nightclubbing” is packed with incredible comedy archive footage, as well as interviews with many of Max’s musicians, managers and survivors, creating a living oral history. After the Sex Pistols broke up, Sid Vicious performed there, and I always assumed (largely based on a scene from “Sid and Nancy”) that his performances were dissolute. But then we see extended clips from his last gig, when he was backed by a band that included Mick Jones and Johnny Thunders, and guess what? Not only was the band good, but Sid was good. I left thinking that, if he hadn’t destroyed himself with heroin, he might have had a career.
But the glamor of self-destruction was part of Max’s fabric, as was a certain right to do as he pleased. The film is full of precious stories that bear witness to the two kingdoms. We learned that Warhol superstar Brigid Berlin injected amphetamine through her jeans. We heard George Harrison carrying a bag full of rubies and putting one in front of a woman he wanted to pick up: “If she took the ruby,” recalls Alice Cooper, “it was a done deal.” We heard Iggy swinging the tables. and he walled in broken glass until blood spurted all over the club, at which point he had to be taken to hospital. We learn that, in 1974, the club was closed due to default, and after Tommy Dean reopened it a year later, Max’s became an even crazier place, with Dean running a counterfeit money operation in the basement.
By this time, CBGB was making headlines. However, Max’s and CBs became the head and yang of punk performance, with famous CBGB bands going back and forth between the two clubs, many of them preferring to play Max’s, where Hilly Kristal did not hold their own. one observer, they used to). Max closed in 1981, although not before helping to launch the movement that would become the heart of the 80s, hosting headlining concerts with bands such as Bad Brains. The club lasted 16 years; in the age of rock, it lasted three or four revolutions. What all the witnesses on “Nightclubs” confirm is that you had to be there. You had to feel the noise.