When I was about 14, I started sneaking out at night. Me and my friend Rita heard all about Max’s Kansas City from my babysitter, Ty (later known as Ty Stixx). Ty lived on the 15th floor of my building, and my family lived on the 8th floor.
Ty’s aunt and my grandmother, who lived a few blocks from us, were best friends. They’d both come over from Hungary in the 1950s. Ty was a rock’n’roller through and through, and a magnificent piano player. His mother had been a songwriter, most famously writing the lyrics to “I Remember April,” which became a jazz standard. She died of a pill overdose when Ty was very young, so his aunt, Margit, was raising him and his sister. Margit doted on Ty, but Ty was not a well-behaved kid. He stayed home from school frequently, and Margit indulged him, so he kind of turned into a holy terror, as far as adults were concerned.
Being Ty’s friend was awesome. He and his sister had brought downstairs Meet the Beatles and High Tide and Green Grass when I was five years old – so he started my rock’n’roll education early. He taught my brother and sister and me “Paint it Black” when I was 7 or 8, and we chanted it the whole ride up to Vermont, where my family had rented a summer cottage.
When I got a little older, I’d go up to Ty’s after school. Ty would come in with some just-bought records, delicately slide them out of the brown paper bag they’d come in, and delicately slit the shrink wrap. I heard Paranoid, Hunky Dory, Queen 1, Ziggy Stardust and many more, by the glowing light of Ty’s stereo. We’d drink instant coffee, eat cornflakes, and, eventually, smoke Vantage cigarettes listening to the greatest rock’n’roll ever. He was the coolest. He had high heeled boots, a long, dark camel-hair coat, and he’d be off, downtown, to hang out at Max’s, or Ungano’s or Steve Paul’s The Scene. I was too young, then, but by 14, I knew I’d just have to get downtown somehow. That’s when Rita and I decided to tell our mothers that we were staying at each other’s houses, and we made that first fateful trip to Max’s. That’s how it all began for me, and though that first time they wouldn’t let me in downstairs, they did let us upstairs, and we saw a band called JF Murphy Salt. I don’t even remember what they were like, and we had an arduous trip home at 4 in the morning, I can tell you, but it whetted our appetite. Next stop: Club 82 to see the Dolls!