While Max Weiss was an undergrad at Bennington College in Vermont, studying music and literature, her parents moved from Long Island to Timonium. So after she graduated, she came home to a new hometown — Baltimore. It immediately felt right to her in a way Long Island never had. And as warmly as she embraced her new city, it embraced her right back.
In short order, she scored internships at WJHU (now WYPR) and the City Paper. She started doing movie reviews on radio, then on TV. She was “Media Max.” She was “Max and Mike at the Movies.” She was “Nice Girl” — “it was blogging before blogging,” she explains, a lifestyle column syndicated in alternative newspapers around the country. After leaving City Paper, she accepted a job offer from then-editor Ramsey Flynn at Baltimore magazine.
At the time, to a Bennington girl, Baltimore magazine seemed a bit… mainstream. Bougie, perhaps. Thirty years later, having moved steadily up the masthead to Editor-in-Chief, she smiles to remember it.
We caught up with Max via Zoom to discuss her life in and out of the Baltimore media winner’s circle.
Tell us about your double life as a musician.
My sister Felicia and and I were so lucky that our parents nurtured and encouraged our creative interests. They never said, that’s not a career! You should be a doctor! Or a lawyer! On the other hand, they never forced music on me, which is why I am the cellist I am today. Back-of-a-minor-orchestra level. I love to play but I don’t love to practice.
It’s so shocking to me that there are people who went through Julliard or Peabody, then they put down their instruments and that’s the end of it. Music is such a gift! I love playing cello! And I particularly love to play chamber music. My sister, who lives in DC, is an extremely talented pianist. She may love music even more than I do. We play together with violinist Renee Roberts in a group called the Doghouse Trio.
A couple of years ago I started playing with the Hopkins Symphony Orchestra. These kids who got into Hopkins, music may have been just one of their 10,000 extracurriculars, but some of them could very well be conservatory musicians. So it’s about 65% these great Hopkins kids, 35% amateur adults from the community. You have to audition to get in. It was very scary. It had been a long time since I’d done an audition.
Music is one thing I do that isn’t just thinking all the time. It’s not words, words, words, analyzing. You’re tapping into something more soulful, deeper within yourself.
Do you exercise?
No, I do not. I hated gym as a child and I hate the gym to this day. I do walk my dog, Oscar, very frequently.
Any other hobbies?
Anybody who knows me knows that I love me some Twitter. I also hate me some Twitter. Any reasonable person on Twitter both loves it and hates it. Also, I am a big sports fan.
Which are your teams?
I really love the NBA. The Lakers are probably my favorite. There were no sports at Bennington, so I had to adopt the Terps, and I have, along with the Orioles and the Ravens. I’m a huge tennis fan. Tennis might very well be my favorite. I have the Open on right now with the sound off.
People don’t always think I’m going to be a sports fan. Like it doesn’t track with other things about me. But I got into it as a child. Unlike some other women, it wasn’t my dad who got me into it. In fact, it was the other way around, my dad got into sports because of my interest. My reason was that I wanted something to talk to boys about. Then my interest became a lifelong interest, and perhaps even surpassed their own.
Sports talk is a great equalizer— you can talk to anybody about it, have instant rapport with complete strangers. It’s so great, especially right now, when we’re so divided, and It’s so hard to find common ground.
And film, right?
I’m very passionate about film, about pop culture in general. And in everything I do, from the way that I eat to the way that I consume culture, I like the most lowbrow to the most highbrow. With food, for example, I could be happy eating a Taco Supreme from Taco Bell, and I can be happy eating sea urchin and caviar. I watch The Bachelor, then I watch something like Céline Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady On Fire, and I love it all. From the new Harry Styles album to Shostakovich and Ravel.
When you have a visitor to Baltimore who has never been here before, what are the top things you take them to?
Funny you ask, because my really good girlfriend from Poland is coming in about a month. The museums: AVAM, the BMA, maybe the Walters, If I can drag her. She doesn’t love museums quite as much as I do. Hampden. Fort McHenry. Camden Yards, except it’s the wrong time of year. Then just drive around showing off the neighborhoods: Federal Hill, Canton, Locust Point.
And where will you eat?
Well, my number one new favorite place is Heritage Kitchen at the Whitehall Mill. Filipino food. I get the pancit noodles and the pork adobo. At JBGB, they have this white pizza with sausage and peppers that I’m obsessed with. Peerce’s in the county. Chuck’s Trading Post. 18-8 for sushi.
Cinghiale. Talk about a nice place. Go sit at the bar at Cinghiale, get a bottle of wine, get some pasta — that’s living. Tony Foreman has turned me on to some really good wine, which is a mixed blessing. Once you’ve tasted really good wine, it’s difficult to go back.
What about crab cakes?
I like Koco’s. And for crabs, Ocean Pride. Assuming my friend’s eating meat these days, but she may not.
How are you feeling about all the new energy in the city’s media situation?
I think Baltimore becomes a better town when multiple media outlets are competing with each other but also supporting each other. We’re all passionate about Baltimore, and I think it’s great when you’re sort of in this brotherhood or sisterhood of journalists.
I’m thrilled to see the Beat and the Brew, the Fishbowl, the Banner, along with the Sun. As far as Baltimore magazine is concerned‚ we are the oldest, continuously operating city/regional magazine in the country, founded in 1907. I think of myself as a caretaker. I just don’t want to screw it up.
Frankly, I think the magazine has gotten better. I think we have found a perfect balance of celebrating the city without burying our heads in the sand. So, for example, we recently had Ron Cassie’s piece on the legacy of The Wire, and Jane Marion wrote about classic Maryland recipes. Then for balance, you get Lydia Woolever on the racist history of the Eastern shore.
I think Baltimore is this magical city and I want the magazine to reflect that. I want people who live here to open up the magazine and say, Yeah, that’s us.
Who do you consider your greatest influences or heroes?
My parents, who encouraged me from the start. Certain professors at Bennington were really important. Somebody in Baltimore that I just absolutely adore is John Waters. He has figured out the secret, right? He is so kind, so witty, he is still so hip. He’s not a snob. He’ll talk to anybody, and he gives the greatest sound bites. He is like the perfect party guest. Nobody is wittier or has a wider range of interests and opinions. That’s a model to me for how to live your life.
Is your real name Maxine?
No! Max is a nickname that came about in a silly way, while I was in college. I was flirting with a boy, and we started calling each other Max and Finnegan, because those were the names of our teacher’s sons. When I got out of college, I realized Max felt more like me than my real name, more reflective of the rebirth I had experienced in college. When I had my first byline, I decided: Max Weiss is it. Finny and I are still good friends to this day!
What is your real name?
I’ll never tell.