Riff Raff

Ghost Story

And then the blood began to flow down the steps.

No, no -- kidding. Nothing down here but the plain tile floors and plain plywood-paneled walls of the backstage dressing rooms. No ghosts, and no relics to speak of, excepting the backstage bathroom door, whose placard proclaims "DAMES." Nothing going on upstairs in the balconies either: dark copier room stage right, dark hallway stage left. Down in the empty kitchen, a switch on the wall is marked "Air Supply," which calls up horrible, frightening associations. But not the sort that Glenda Marie Rock III is talking about.

A box of archives from the Music Hall is sitting on the main stage, which lays out the history of the venue. The brainchild of politico Chris Buckley, the Music Hall was built a year after the 1906 earthquake and opened as Blanco's, a restaurant and bordello that mirrored the best and worst of the Barbary Coast years. The place operated off and on in various guises until 1972, when it opened as the Music Hall we know today. One of the off periods was the Great Depression, though the venue was revived in the '30s by the famous fan-dancer Sally Rand, who operated it as the Music Box. Rand herself and celebrity impersonators performed on the main stage, while other forms of entertainment -- wink, wink, nudge, nudge -- could be obtained in the Blue Room upstairs.

In the box of archives is a newspaper clipping from Herb Caen's Nov. 2, 1977, column:

Joe Venuti, the 82-year-old jazz violinist who'll play at the Great American Music Hall's fifth birthday party Saturday, walked into the place and asked, "Hey, where's the dame with the feathers?" He meant Sally Rand, who ran that place as the Music Box pre-World War II. The ghost of Randy Sal is still there.

I call out to Ms. Rand and say hello. You would, too. No answer. Guess it's true that a lot of Caen's sources have clammed up since he passed away.

So, then, one more trip around the bowels of the Music Hall. Dark backstage, dark dames restroom, dark kitchen, dark copier room... except the copier's on this time, and its display is lit bright blue. I place my hand on the platen, which is hot. Obviously it's been on for a while. Just missed it the first time around. It is late.

But to hell with this. It's been hours, the place is empty, and if I'm going spend this much time in a club where there isn't even a band playing, I'd damn well better leave with something I can work with. I tell this to the recalcitrant ghosts, but they don't respond.

I pack up to leave, and make one more trip around the hall: dark staircase, dark backstage hallways, dark kitchen, dark dressing rooms, dark balconies. I open the door to the copier room one last time to check in on the machine.

The display flashes off, and then on again.image Send Bay Area music news, band stories, or petty gripes to mathitakis@sfweekly.com, or mail them to Riff Raff, c/o SF Weekly.

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