Book Review — High on Rebellion: Inside the Underground at Max’s Kansas City

The artist must maintain his swagger, he must, he must
He must be intoxicated by ritual as well as result
Look at me, I am laughing, I am laughing
I am lapping cocaine from the hard brown palm of the bouncer
~ Patti Smith, “High on Rebellion”

High on Rebellion by Yvonne Sewall-Ruskin

High on Rebellion: Inside the Underground at Max’s Kansas City by Yvonne Sewall-Ruskin is a memorial to the bar that started and sustained so many careers. Sewall-Ruskin is the wife of the late Mickey Ruskin, the original owner of Max’s Kansas City. She started as a waitress at Max’s Kansas City.

High on Rebellion reads like an online memorial page — Remember that time… It is not set up in chapters and paragraphs as such, but rather groupings of comments from patrons and employees strung together to form a coherent story. Leee Black Childers also inserts short biographies throughout the text. The big names hung out at Max’s and there is no shortage of name-dropping throughout the book. An employee tells how Mickey told Janis Joplin to leave because she looked dirty and unkempt. That was the same reason Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe were not allowed in. Mickey allowed a lot of things but being physically dirty was not one on them. Lou Reed was even interviewed or contributed to the book; but unfortunately, many of the big names are no longer alive. Andy Warhol, Candy Darling, Jim Morrison and many others have not survived and live as memories in this book.

There was also two personalities of Max’s. In the daytime, it was a nice restaurant with monied clients. One story is about a lunch customer that happens to enter Max’s at night. The next day she returns and asks Mickey if he had any idea what went on in this place at night. Night brought out the artists, poets, and musicians and with them came the drugs, drunken debauchery, and wild times. There were times of chaos. The reader will feel this chaos as the story moves from storyteller to storyteller. The reader will almost feel like he or she is in the backroom amongst the mayhem and celebrity.

Artist’s would trade their work for credit which kept many of them fed. Musicians got their first taste of New York there. Bruce Springsteen played there with Bob Marley opening. Aerosmith’s first New York show was at Max’s. Deborah Harry waitressed there. The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, and Led Zeppelin visited Max’s. Iggy Pop and Lou Reed were regulars. Max’s was the starting place for many and the hangout for the famous. Yvonne Sewall-Ruskin has put together a piece of music and art history in what feels like a living record. Rather than just documenting she allows the survivors to reenact the history in their own words with little narration. A great history told in a unique way.



1 Comment

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One response to “Book Review — High on Rebellion: Inside the Underground at Max’s Kansas City

  1. B. James Wilson

    Thanks again, Joe. Good review.

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