When I was 16 in 1971, I began crashing Max's Kansas City, the hippest hangout in my hometown of New York City. The drinking age was 18 and teens were randomly - but not aggressively -- carded in New York in those days. I went and got a pathetic fake ID to hedge my bets. Free times, baby! New York was FUN CITY! Upstairs at Max's was where the bands played. I saw Sir Doug Sahm, Gram Parsons & Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Bob Marley, Little Feat with my hero Lowell George, Bobby Neuwirth, and many others. At that point in time, Neuwirth was probably the biggest name and that was cause of Don't Look Back. The rest were either cult legends or not-yets.
The whole Warhol crowd was there every night.
I saw Martin Mull & His Fabulous Furniture there and he was hysterically funny. The next night I dragged National Lampoon editors Michael O'Donoghue and Anne Beatts to see him. Michael lit a joint at our table and a waitress came over and asked him to put it out. He did and re-lit it as soon as she walked away. She refrained from reprimanding him again and we finished the joint.
Martin became our friend. We used to have 3-hour, 3-course lunches with him, with a different brand of alcohol for each course. All on Michael's Lampoon expense account.
I saw Kinky Friedman's very first NYC gig there and Governor Kinkster and I became lifelong friends a few years later. Kinky's opening act was a pianist and songwriter named Billy Joel.
I saw Quacky Duck there, made up of two of Tony Bennett's sons and a very young David Mansfield (later with the Rolling Thunder Revue). That night I went to take a leak and Tony was standing in the next stall. I told him I was Lee Easton's son (my mother had been a jazz singer), and Tony's face lit up and he told me to please send my mother his love.
Then he put his cock back in his pants and flushed the urinal.
Upstairs at Max's was where I became pals with two young writers named Nick Tosches and Richard Meltzer, who took me on my very first barhop in '71, warning "Simmons -- we're gonna teach you how to drink."
It was the most effective education I ever got.
The reason I got in was the Upstairs doorman, a brother hippie named Faris Bouhafa. The first time I went, he asked me for proof of age and I showed him my comically counterfeited card. He laughed out loud, looked me in the eye, and said "Go in." We became friends.
A couple of years later, at age 18, I was now the doorman at The Village Gate when National Lampoon's Lemmings ran there. I used to bring Lemmings cast members John Belushi, Chevy Chase, Christopher Guest, Garry Goodrow and others to Max's and we never paid the cover cause Faris took care of us.
One day I got a phone call from Faris and he asks if he can bring folk legend Odetta to the Gate to see Lemmings. Of course, I say, I'll reserve two seats. He shows up with Odetta -- who was a radiant Goddess and had the kindest eyes I've ever seen -- and EIGHTEEN OTHER PEOPLE. I say "Faris, we're sold out. I thought it was just you and Odetta." He shrugs his shoulders and says, "Somehow the party grew." So I went upstairs and -- two by two -- brought 18 chairs down from a storage room.
Faris was half-Tunisian and half-Irish and all-freak -- a true New Yorker. He'd been an anti-war demonstrator at Columbia University in the late '60s and later became media director for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. He stood up for Arabs when they became the pariahs of racists and hypocrites. Later, he moved on to the Arab American Institute Foundation and fought the stereotype of Arabs as terrorists. He was a fighter, an activist, and a seeker of truth.
Faris Bouhafa died this past September 8th at age 60. I haven't seen him in over 30 years, but I miss him already.