More Überhaus Diary


Here is an Überhaus Diary entry from 1998 where I talk about a show and then bitch about rich people. Ever the trendsetter.

I remember this Headhunters show well. Paul Jackson, the bassist, broke a string on his bass in the middle of a solo. Rather than abandoning it, he motioned his bass tech over. The guy knelt in front  like he was fellating him and changed the string in about ninety seconds. Jackson didn’t drop a note. It was one of the most extraordinary feats of musicianship I ever witnessed.

I loved the Crystal Ballroom, I had the great good fortune of seeing it prior to its renovation by the McMenamin brothers in 1996. The erstwhile owner, Moon Louie (of the Portland Chinese restaurant dynasty) was in Cassidy’s Bar when I got off work. he offered to show it to me. The place is like no other. It has one of the last floating dance floors in the US.  A floating floor looks like your usual gorgeous wooden dance floor, except it bounces like a trampoline. Literally–boing boing boing. The floorboards rest on cups full of huge ball bearings set atop the adjustable floor joists. so the natural flex of the long oak functions as a kind of a spring. They were quite fashionable  in the 20s when dance marathons were all the rage.

The Crystal was also one of the only theaters that allowed Negro acts in the heavily segregated city. Acts included Duke Ellington. Cab Calloway, Goree Carter (okay, not sure about him, but you should check him out anyway) and the Isley Brothers (with a young James Hendrix on guitar, reportedly fired on the very stage for showboating and hogging the spotlight). A few years later, the Allman Brothers and the Grateful Dead played.

By the time I saw it, the place was a ruin. The floor was broken in several places, the fine plaster filigree cracked and pitted. A thick layer of dust covered everything. I looked at its faded glory, the hush of an abandoned cathedral right on the edge of downtown. High arched windows streaked with grime, the painted decorations around the proscenium peeling away. I wanted to live there. I hoped with all my heart that it would be saved.

The McMenamin Brothers rode in to the rescue, having rehabilitated old taverns, roadhouses and even the Multnomah County Poor Farm.  Mike and Brian loved old buildings, and they did a superb job of restoring the ballroom, adding a billiard hall in the bar below and a small annex across the street. I lived directly across from the place, and sometimes went on a weekday afternoon to shoot pool with a buddy who worked in outside sales.

These trips down memory lane are bittersweet, but I’m glad to take them. It was a hell of a great time, lots of life packed into a very few months. Isn’t that always the way?  I wrote this one right after the show. I had recently started working at a new bar and was having some run-ins with rich privileged bastards. I had no idea it was the start of a national trend.


Sept 21st 1998

Herbie Hancock sold out the Crystal Ballroom last night to an almost all-white audience. He played with the original Headhunters, his first really popular band, a band that was really the first to blur the lines between rock, jazz and funk. He had several what can only be classified as pop hits: Chameleon, Watermelon Man, Thrust. Suddenly, it seemed, jazz had become profitable.

Jazz has always seemed punk to me, not just because it’s difficult to do or because it has an exclusive language. No, the punkness of it comes from the fact that anybody who plays jazz never has a ghost of a chance of making any money. Modern jazz has never been a big-seller and the future doesn’t seem any different, so the players are all consigned to holding down day jobs or else living in perpetual poverty.

The reconciling of financial success must be a tough one for jazz and punk players alike. I remember a story about how Kurt Cobain, suddenly wealthy and famous from one hit song, bought a Lexus. His punker friends ripped him for being a yuppie and a sellout to the point that he took the car back to the dealership and retrieved his beater Volvo.

I’m sure that that didn’t help at all, at least  as far as his friends were concerned. Kurt had sold out. Bigtime.

But in this country, personal value and personal financial value are almost indistinguishable. The old credo of “if you’re so smart how come you’re not rich?” is burned into us at an early age, as is the notion that money is a fix-all which, if bestowed, makes for instant happiness and satisfaction.

Of course, if you look at the restless behavior of the wealthy celebrity set, you can see that the inverse is actually true; routine arrests, divorces and DUI’s are more the norm than anything. Money doesn’t buy happiness. It buys a great lawyer to bail your sorry famous ass out of jail, Dana Plato. It pays for more rehab, Courtney Love.

Any waiter at a restaurant with an uber rich celebrity clientele will share his opinion of his customers’ manners. A friend of mind described Sharon Stone having a tantrum at Morton’s because the leaves of her Caesar salad were too big. Or too small. Or something. She let the waiters have it, asked to see the manager. By the time they had made it right she had moved on to something else. He told me of the genuine distress of all the Little People that Miss Stone was so unhappy. I think they may have fired the busboy.

So the big question is “If you’re so smart, why ain’t you rich?” The big question is “if you’re so rich then why ain’t you satisfied?”

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