Finding Heaven in the El ‘OrtezBy Quenby Moone
June 02, 2010
In a different life my husband and I were in the dank center of a rock band who had hit it big.
Screwy and the Pin-ups* was at the height of its draw. And we, our friends and us, were all tied to it, either because of professional necessity or friendship, or, in my case, plain old-fashioned matrimony. In this, there were problems. I liked everyone in the band, including the support crew and their spousal so-and-so’s. I knew some better than others. But we were all stuck together by the devil’s pact, and it was a good thing that we liked each other: we were together a lot.
The problem lay in the Svengali who was, for all intents and purposes, running the show. Nominally a band of equals, Sven was the true fulcrum. Unfortunately, he was nuts. But all of us were beholden to Sven because the only way anyone was going to get paid was to stay in his good graces. He was fickle, two-faced, mercurial, paranoid. Dastardly in his willingness to demean his fellow bandmates and employees, sometimes overtly, sometimes not. His underlings were abused mercilessly.
Sven and I had an unusual relationship. He loved my husband with true, heartfelt affection, and my husband dodged the rain of wrath that fell on everyone else. He was often placed in the unenviable position of being the de facto defense attorney for hapless employees as it fell to him to keep the sword of Damocles from falling on heads which didn’t deserve it. He had the golden ticket: while everyone else suffered horribly at the hands of Sven, my husband had a ring-side seat to watch the blood flow onto the mat. He intervened when he could, but he wasn’t abused in the same way.
Sven did not like the wives. None of us womenfolk were particularly welcome, unless we embraced some part of the stereotype: dumb, stacked or young. Preferably all three. I was none of these, nor were most of the other wives. A remarkably savvy, smart, sassy collection of women were married to the male cavalry that filled the ranks of the band’s day-to-day operations, and almost none of them were impressed by Sven.
Sven had complete control over the Screwy operation, except for those dastardly women: he couldn’t control the lives of his cohorts beyond the studio door or band tours. Once everyone went home, they had the nerve to have relationships away from him, honest-to-god conversations, probably about him. They had lives. This was a problem, and Sven went out of his way to drive wedges between his bandmates, employees and their partners. Rumors about spousal untrustworthiness abounded; questioning the integrity of wives and girlfriends was raised to the level of high art. It was so insidious that one band member and his wife moved out of town to get away from Sven.
I was a thorn to Sven because Sven loved my husband. They had been friends for many years before he found himself famous, and Sven appreciated the longevity and consistency of this one relationship that straddled both worlds. But my husband left him no doubt that he would hit the door if Sven cast aspersions upon me. He didn’t need to spell it out for him; it was obvious. So Sven didn’t meddle in our lives the same way he did with everyone else, but it didn’t mean we were chummy.
The problems began when we met. Screwy had just hit the big time, and Sven and his wife took my husband and I out to dinner, to an extremely frufru place I’m pretty sure was choreographed to make us uneasy. He was successful. I felt like I was walking into a special club with potential hazing rituals; will he make me take off my pants, draw “W * W” on my ass, and then drive me by bull whip through the fountain downtown? But before long, one realizes that fame adds nothing new to the table other than weird stares from the table next to you. His wife put me at my ease. Conversation flowed casually after a certain point. Sven invited us to his house, recently purchased with the largesse of the Screwy enormo-hit which had flooded the airwaves.
“I love this rug. I just bought it for ten grand. Look at this piano. A baby grand! I picked it up for thirty. We had these curtains custom made; I don’t remember how much they cost.”
He was drunk with the fact that he had arrived, with his own success. He dragged out every stick of furniture they had bought to fill their new house in a tony neighborhood and attached a price tag. My husband and I took the tour increasingly dazed by Sven’s desire to impress. But in the end, it was just a house.
“It’s six thousand square feet,” Sven boasted.
“Really?” I asked, looking around their living room. “It just doesn’t seem that big.”
He flashed at me with incredulity tinged with outright hostility. He tucked the look away quickly, but we all felt the air pressure in the room drop.
This was the hallmark of our relationship: he bragged, I said whatever came to the top of my head, completely inadvertently offending him. He talked about his specialization in fields both basic and arcane, and in the spirit of debate I would question him about it, putting him on the spot and making him uncomfortable. It turns out, for instance, that he did not actually know much about literature or art. And had he not dragged out his empty closet for me to look in, I wouldn’t have looked. We, none of us, gave one tiny shake of a gnat’s penis if he was an intellectual superhuman masquerading as a pop star or just a normal person. But he was incapable of being at ease with the windfall he had stumbled upon; he needed everyone to be impressed with everything he did all the time.
Like a sore spot in his heel that rubbed wrong no matter what, I was one wife he couldn’t talk smack about without reaping costs too high to bear: the loss of his best friend. I drove him completely crazy.
I was strangely comfortable in that position.
And at some point, he was engaged anew, his marriage to wife #2 having fizzled in completely predictable ways, rife with infidelities and accusations and lies.
He decided to throw a party for his fiancee in Vegas for her 21st birthday.
Let me be clear: none of us were in our early twenties. Many of us had seen the back of our mid-thirties by this point. Sven had crossed the forty-yard line. But he wanted to throw a party for his child-bride, and he arranged to have the entire expense paid for with his impressive collection of air miles. Which is great, if there wasn’t such a forced, bizarre feeling to the whole thing. We liked his fiancee, but didn’t know her at all. And she was from, literally, a different generation. So stacking a hotel in Vegas with all his friends and cronies and calling it a celebration for her was a bit disingenuous. She had only one friend with her, another youngster who was as fresh-faced and bright-eyed as a fawn; we looked like wizened, grumpy ogres circling the sacrificial innocents.
We flew in on Friday night. The Master of Ceremonies and his fiancee went upstairs to change their clothes and left us in the Hard Rock casino to fend for ourselves. Half of us hit the bar, half of us hit the blackjack tables. The couple who moved out of state to avoid Sven hit the jackpot, won a couple hundred bucks on a slot machine and went to bed. Sven and his fiancee never surfaced, and while waiting for them we got drunk and eventually made our way to our rooms to pass out.
Sven liked to make people wait. If you asked me then what fame was about, I might have answered, “Making people wait,” because most of what my husband and everyone else in his operation did was wait for Sven. An entire eighteen-month period in our lives was spent waiting for Sven: to show up to record his album, to show up at the airport, to show up in the casino for a party ostensibly for his fiancee. If people weren’t waiting for Sven, they were rushing because they were late. It was just a little extra perk that came with being a part of “the inner circle.”
God only knows what happened Saturday afternoon. I have a photo of myself that speaks to the volume of my pounding head, so I’m pretty sure that I endured a hangover. But the plan for the evening was for everyone to meet at Nobu for sushi, and then catch one of the multiple Cirque du Soleil shows that have become entrenched in Vegas. Later, because my husband and I had been to Vegas multiple times to visit family, we were to be the tour guides to the seedier side of Vegas, or “True Vegas.”
We aren’t a Vegas Strip couple. The showy entertainment value of the Strip seems like marshmallow fluff covering the true heart of the matter: gambling and getting loaded. Why not just cut to the chase and get down to business? And we were thrilled to know which casino was arguably the worst casino in Vegas and our favorite place to wind up in all the glittering waste: The El Cortez.
So, after embarrassing ourselves by showing up in Nobu dressed the way we always dressed, which is poorly, and being wowed by Chinese contortionists in the Cirque, it was our time to shine. Much of Sven’s party opted to stay on the Strip, mostly to shake him. But a small band of intrepid explorers mounted up: two young girls dressed in miniskirts and halter tops in the chilly desert night, one Svengali dressed in a far-too expensive suit, our friend Uncle Nuthatch, who was one of Sven’s employees and had an even more complicated relationship with him than I did, my husband and myself. Six people in search of the divine seed of seediness.
We started outside The Plaza where things went south immediately. The girls were under-dressed and covered in goose bumps. Unlike the Strip, where women dress like hookers just for the fun of it as they hop from one insulated nightclub experience to the next, here the only people dressed like hookers were hookers and Sven’s two sweet doe-like companions. It was an uncomfortable juxtaposition: girls of radiant youth dressed like hookers walking down the street next to hookers desperately wearing the paint of radiant youth.
Sven wrapped his over-determined jacket around his fiancee’s shoulders; her friend was out of luck. The rest of us slobs didn’t have jackets to share. And the girls looked uneasy; this wasn’t exactly what they had bargained for. This was actually seedy. Downtown was actually full of people who looked like they had been gambling and smoking and drinking for their entire lives. This was not a movie full of quaint, slightly cheesy buffoons who whiled away the hours playing poker and patting the butts of cocktail waitresses, these were real people who had spent their lives in front of one-armed bandits hoping against their last quarter that they were finally, FINALLY going to hit it.
They were a little surprised. And Sven was offended.
The temperature Downtown was not nearly as chilly as the temperature rolling off of Sven. He was turning blue he was so arctic. It was as though we were personally shitting on him, what with all the grittiness and strippers and cigarette butts and stained walls and drunk middle-aged assholes and 99 cent shrimp & botulism cocktails. He seemed to blame us personally for placing this dingy reality there in front of him.
We were stumped. Do we continue this charade of a tour downtown when the tourists themselves were so obviously uninterested, even chagrined? How do we politely suggest that we decamp somewhere else? We needn’t have worried, because I was about to rise to my own personal best in offending Sven.
“Let’s go uptown to hang out with a better class of people,” Sven said, not a whiff of irony in the frigid air.
“They’re not better class, just better dressed,” I noted.
He glowered, “I’m sure the amount of gingivitis is much worse here.”
“Nice paternalistic attitude,” I shot.
“What are you talking about?” He was seething now.
“These people are exactly like the people on the Strip, just poorer.”
He growled, “We’re going back.”
My husband, charmingly and unrealistically trying to salvage the tone of the evening, asked Sven, “Are you sure you don’t want to go to the El Cortez?”
The two lovely girls and the grumpy paternalistic snob piled into the first taxi they could hail, leaving us three bums standing in the middle of downtown.
“Thank god,” said Uncle Nuthatch.
“Now what?” I wondered.
“Go to El Cortez, of course!”
The mighty hand of our oppressor had been lifted, and like children we ran headlong into the face of that which he hated.
We passed through meth dealers and pawn shops, bail bonds, and shady souvenir stands across the small downtown to its dingy entrance, the neon sign on the hotel tower reading “El ‘ortez,” the ‘C’ having blinked out months or years earlier. The smell preceded the casino by several feet, damp tarry smoke greeting us through the sliding doors on our way to partake in the sleaziest gambling options Vegas had to offer.
The El Cortez is the best place to gamble in all of Vegas for a number of reasons. It is where dealers get trained, first and foremost, so the tables are manned by charming novices who can hardly tie their shoes, much less run a poker table. And for this reason, it offers the cheapest buy-in of any casino in town. There are even penny-slot machines which sit on the perimeter of the casino and don’t bother to give you money if you hit. Instead they spit out a receipt which you take to the ancient money changer behind the metal cage and she’ll hand you your fifty-cent winnings while coughing up tubercular germs on your quarters. Which you’ll promptly go spend on the roulette wheel.
Ah, roulette! Nowhere in Vegas could you have such a luxurious night at the wheel for as little as you spent at the El Cortez. Ten dollars kept you in chips all night long if you sat at the dime roulette wheel, which we did, right next to the lifers who only gambled there because their pension checks wouldn’t allow for higher stakes. We loved it! Hit red or black, bet on both. Play ten different numbers at the same time, one dime chip on each. Lose big? You’re down a huge pile of chips but make up for it in the fact that you spent three whole dollars! You’re a high roller if you buy in more than once; tip your waitress a five, you are guaranteed the best service in all of Nevada.
Uncle Nuthatch was in heaven. He sprung for twenty bucks worth of chips and sat at the roulette wheel all night like a king. He didn’t know how to play, and who cares? Pick some numbers, slide some chips here or there, bet against yourself fifty-fifty. When the stakes are that low you can play until you lose or win, and you’ll probably do a lot of both.
He walked to the bar where he was sucking down Seven & Seven’s, set up beforehand by the bartender who had served him enough to anticipate him. They were dinky and watery but only a buck. “Are you playing tonight, sir?” the earnest bartender asked Uncle Nuthatch.
“I’m at the roulette wheel,” he said.
“Drinks are on the house then,” he told him.
Uncle Nuthatch came back to his seat, glowing with his extreme good fortune. “If I lose all this,” he waved his hands over his pile of ten-cent chips, “I’m still ahead!” He had the woozy look of one imbibing ambrosia from Eleusis. “It’s like they’re paying me to drink!”
Around Uncle Nuthatch’s seventeenth cocktail the waitress thought the bartender should consider cutting him off. The bartender sized him up. “No, I think he’s a pro,” he said. Victorious, Uncle Nuthatch ordered another Seven & Seven. Hell, another round for everyone! Have a TWO DOLLAR TIP! I’m feeling benevolent!
In such a heady atmosphere, despite the acrid smell of smoke and disinfectant and the baleful glares of committed but impoverished gamblers, weak cocktails and the dubious skills of the dealers, time slips by as though life is eternal and unchanging. We were pashas and queens in a magical, albeit marginal, palace, all our wants and desires anticipated and surpassed. When your expectations are low and the quality demanded sub-par, you can have the best night of your life with very little effort.
But eventually the dream dissolves. The oasis fades away into the desert heat and your headache begins in earnest. As the sun began to rise, and our devoted bartender got off shift and I lost half of my lung capacity from the smoke of six beautiful hours in the El Cortez, we called our yellow chariot to take us back to the Strip, land of a better class of people.
We lone uptown jerks stood patiently outside, save for one casino biddy, a tiny grizzled harpy who had spent her last nickel and needed a lift back from whence she came. She asked me if we had called a taxi. “Yes,” I told her. “The kiosk is inside,” and she scuttled sideways toward the lobby.
The sky was rosy when our taxi pulled up. We had wandered away from the curb and were just turning back to grab it when the biddy took one side-long glance at me and jumped in like a cat burglar.
“She’s stealing our taxi!” I shouted. I flung myself toward the door which was slowly closing around the crafty casino wench. “Hey, that’s our taxi!” I yelled at her.
She glared at me. “I got here first!” she croaked.
“I called them myself!” I barked as we squared off, toe to toe, one tiny crusty old lady and one woefully hungover tiny tourist ready to throw down over the only taxi on Fremont Street. Who of the two blisteringly loaded men intervened to prevent me from bodily pulling an ancient old woman out of our taxi at six a.m? I’m not sure, but in some divine compromise carved out of our perfect Vegas experience, we shared the cab with the mean wretch of a woman to her unbelievably depressing apartment complex set perfectly on the wrong side of the tracks.
We went back to our rooms in the Hard Rock, sun already bruising the side of the building. My husband fell into our shower to disinfect. I fell toward bed. The phone rang.
“Lookit,” Uncle Nuthatch slurred on the other end. “Lookit the sunrise. I swear, it’s fucking perfect,” he said. “This was the best night of my life.”
“Go to sleep,” I said.
“Okay,” he replied. “But lookit the sunrise, it’s fucking perfect.”
We curled up in our beds and slept like the dead.
Sven was never happy with the way things were, only the way they were supposed to be. Downtown Vegas didn’t meet his approval because it reminded him of the things he fled: himself, his normality, his humanity. No-one catered to Sven the Rock Star in true Vegas. Truthfully, no-one knew who he was, and therefore he found it wanting.
“I must have been a huge disappointment to him in many ways,” my husband said after I read this to him. It’s true. Sven wanted more than anything to elevate us, to make us a better class of people. He took us to restaurants not because he liked to eat there but because that’s where people like him ate. He bought his entire party of groomsmen custom Armani tuxes for his wedding to the child-bride. None of them wanted tuxes, everyone wanted Sven to save the money and just rent something. But he insisted. Six Armani tuxes still hang in closets, worn once after all these years.
“He didn’t realize that an asshole in a nice suit is still just an asshole,” I said. Sven surrounded himself with the kindest, most genuine people I’ve ever met; many of us are still great friends after all these years, including the now-ex-wife child-bride, no longer a child, and with a child of her own. And Sven knew he was lucky, but it wasn’t enough to make him appreciate it, or us.
He was smart enough to pick a great crew, but too stupid to follow them where they led, even if it was to the El Cortez.
*Obviously not their real name. Though it should be.
Quenby, I don’t know the band scene and I don’t know the Vegas scene, but now I’m feeling that I know a hell of a lot more about them than I did a few minutes ago. Good job.
I do know about people who get off on making people wait, and who aspire to a class that they don’t exactly belong to. Good job showing us what assholes they are, too, talented or not.
I spent the morning sorting out Rolling Stones from 1968-1971 in case somebody on EBay might like to buy them. I’m guessing that Screwy and the Pinups weren’t around then. And I found some promotional material for McIntosh MC3500 amps that were going for $1099 in the late sixties. I mention this as homage to your audio guru husband, just in case he’s heard of those beasts.
I will only say that Screwy, et al is from sometime between 1962 and 2009. That should narrow the field!
The making-people-wait thing drives me crazy. Such a cheap, disrespectful, passive aggressive blow. He was champion in this department. If I’m going to be more than 15 minutes late somewhere, I call. Is that too much to ask?
He would make people sit all freakin’ day and then never show up at all. Unbelievably frustrating. No amount of talent excuses that sort of diva behavior.
I’m not sure my husband will know these quaint oldies but goodies you mention but he just might–he’s got a whole arsenal in that brain pan of his for technical doobobs and thingies. I’ll ask him!
In a word, W * W.
This was terrific, QB.
Deriving Sven from Svengali is brilliant.
Thanks, boss! I’ll have to make you drop trou when we meet so I can make you run through a fountain with that across your ass, too!
Svengali is my new favorite word (thanks, Greg!). I’m going to call everyone that. Just all the time, regardless of anything.
You’re a Svengali! I can’t believe it.
She’s a Svengali, and we are all Trilbys.
God, I wish that were true. As it stands, you all prove stubbornly willful and generally impossible.
(I’m a hat? Isn’t that what a trilby is? I’m so embarrassed.)
I’ve just Wikipedia’d it, and the name of the hat derives from the novel, and not the other way around.
Damn, what a story.
I worked in a very busy nightclub when I was in graduate school, and I met sososo many musicians like Sven. Your final line sums up that particular personality perfectly.
The El Cortez sounds like my kinda place.
Everyone knows a Sven! That’s the beauty of writing a story like this–everyone can point to one in their own lives, someone who feels completely annointed by the gods to behave like a jackass. We knew one pretty damned well. It was a tricky high-wire act all the time.
I’ve grown to the point where I have 0% tolerance for that sort of behavior, and will call bullshit on it right away. All those little “It doesn’t look that big!” comments? I’ll say them on purpose. Bastard that I am.
It’s all fine and dandy until someone is holding the purse strings. It was easy for me to be myself because the consequences were held in check by his need for my husband. And I just happen to be a cheeky bastard who says shit like that all the time.
But the people who had to walk on eggshells around him all the time were the ones who worked for him. It sucked. It was a blessing in disguise when it all fell apart; many lives were saved in the wreckage.
Quenby, what a great piece. There’s a capture of the incredulity and exuberance of that kind of life, just a spot-on portrayal.
this piece reminds me of something that my very good friend and writer, “Aardvark” were discussing some years ago…
…just how do you go about controlling the words that will come to exist about you, the words that will be written, what will the public record be about you, in the years to come, on the internet?
This piece is a FANTASTIC example of that conundrum. Revenge, served cold with a side of schadenfreude and a chaser of crow.
On a personal note, very interestingly we are only a few degrees of separation apart. I sometimes travel in the same general circles that your husband does, although he spends too much time at Gearslutz and not enough hangin’ with me and my buddies Mixerman, Slipperman, and Aardvark.
I just want you to know, in closing, that you made me miss a phone call, because I didn’t want to stop reading. Not that it’s a big milestone in your career, but enjoy!
The mystery! I love mystery and now I have a new one–you know my husband from the Slutz (NOT PORN, PEOPLE!) or the biz (Again, NOT PORN!), but we don’t know you…or we don’t know we know you. I love it.
As to the conundrum of lasting image, privacy and the interwebs, my whole being is tied up with thinking about that. It was a big issue for me in putting this piece up; on the one hand, I think it paints a perfect portrait of a moment that deserves one, but on the other hand it opens up the floodgates in many respects. Curiosity killed the cat and all that. People want to know secrets. It’s not enough to just get the story–people want to know who the story is about.
But that’s not even relevant. The “who” is just another jerk who treated people poorly; we all know them and it doesn’t serve anyone to reveal who it is. The story is the meat, not the “who,” or at least I hope so if it’s well told.
But yes, schadenfreude is at work, too. I asked two of the people whom are mentioned in this piece to read it. One wanted, in a slightly sadistic way, for Sven to know that I had written it; the other was scarred because it brought up so much crap. Everyone I know suffered thanklessly, tirelessly and endlessly working for Sven. It’s predictable that people derive some sweet satisfaction that he’s been painted here, even if behind a pseudonym. Revenge is a dish…etc.
What comes from it? A portrait that fame is pretty lonely, especially if you’re a dick. He was surrounded by great people and was the loneliest person I knew.
But you make your own bed.
As a side note, I will be seeking out your Mixerman, who we read with great delight, Slipperman, and Aardvark, one of the best names ever. Aardvark and Uncle Nuthatch should hang out in the El Cortez.
Yes, with the non-disclosure of Sven’s real name, it reminds me of the piece Jessica Blau wrote a few years back about the movie star hung like a hamster. You should read that one; it’s a great post.
Oooooh. I love it. I will seek it out immediately. Do I search for “Jessica Blau” or “hung like hamster?”
God, I love this. I love it!!!!! You are so funny and this is such a smooth and poignant read.
And thanks to you and your hubby for taking me the El ‘ortez so many years ago. It’s still one of my favorite Vegas shit-holes.
Ahhhhh the blurry memories.
Yes! We also got blind-drunk there–though I don’t think I wrestled any old ladies for taxis that night. Not that it’s too late; when writing this piece I looked it up online. It’s still there, though it’s looks tricked out from those days. Did they remodel and RUIN IT?
I’m thinking it’s still a dump and they just got a bunch of stock photos from some cheesy operation and put them on their website hoping to fool people. But we’ll know, Meg. We’ll know.
Maybe they just replaced some of the light bulbs.
On another note, how is that you manage to make fame sound so wretched. I’m going to have to go and find a new dream now.
Thanks for that.
Fame is completely overrated for everyone except you. I think you will do fabulously well with the hyperbaric chambers and the Elephant Man skeletons and strange souvenirs bought through third parties via ex-soviet bloc countries.
Every famous person I have ever met has been thoroughly disabused of it. Except the up-and-comers.
I did some work for a band that had just come off a tour opening for Kiss. They were floating on air as if they had just been asked by St. John the Baptist to please hold this cup of water for a smidge, he’ll be right back.
Nothing too amazing or important for those folk. Deaf as doornails, too.
Sweet merciful Jeebus, the people who get the lucky break, really get a winning lottery ticket handed to them–they’re painful. I’m actually extremely sympathetic toward the people who are “engineered” to be something.
Sven was not. He was tenacious and ambitious and he worked for the brass ring. When he got it, it was crazy and it went to his head despite his hard work. But at least he knew what he was grasping for.
Many of the people who rise to fame are products of forces much greater and darker than themselves and I’m really compassionate. They almost always get chewed up and spit out by the dark matter that is the business. I hate the teen queens and the what-have-you’s-flavor-of-the-weeks because you know they’re going to become a trivia question during Beer Thursday in five years. And that their lives are probably a shambles.
I used to want fame. I do not want fame anymore. I would like respect if I could drum some up, but if I can’t then I would like anonymity. But the bargain is usually a lot harder than that.
Super piece from a super funny woman.
I love your writing Quenby, it always puts me in a great mood.
And now, I’m ready for Vegas.
You, my friend, need to prepare Vegas for YOU. I have a feeling little of it will be standing when you leave.
I can’t wait!
Wasn’t Mixerman a great read?
Us secrety people here
in Music City loved it
This was fun
& fun is the highest
I’m biased because Mixerman is a personal friend, but yes, a great read. He’s got a new book coming out that I’m proofreading, it’s fantastic. A different audience than the first book, but full of great anecdote and invective.
Thanks much, Double Secret Agent Blaine. I’m pretty sure Music City is located somewhere near Olathe, KS, right?
If fun is the highest praise you give, and I think very little I’ve read is “fun” to read, double the compliment for me. Thank you!
I don’t know anything about Vegas, nor do I understand the band life, but this was a fun read!
What a strange, strange life you led during this time.
There was a whole lot of normal packed into the off-hours, believe me. That’s the problem with the mythology of fame–that it precludes normality. Sven bought the myth too, and it made him constantly unhappy with what he perceived as the discrepancy between “fame” and “life.” Because really, he was still the same person who he was before the fame, just with fame added.
If you’re an unhappy mean jerk before you get famous, you’re probably going to be an unhappy mean jerk after, too.
And Vegas is the spiritual center of the United States. I think everyone needs to go just once, sort of like circling the Kaaba, except with gambling and excess instead of piety and homage.
Sven sounds like any one of the thousands of creative types who have been lucky enough to win at “Record Royalty Roulette.” Really great portrait of a person who has found a complete absence of solace in the achievement of his dreams. What a scary realization.
The funny thing about being around musicians (or bankers, actors, etc.) who have achieved some sort of notoriety is that they can’t seem to abide by the rest of the world enjoying lives without them. It’s a scary notion to accommodate- you’ve spent your whole life waiting to get to this level, and when you do, you find out that 99.9% of the world are more interested in their own lives than whatever it is that you’re doing.
Great read, Quenby! I loved all the parts where you just dug the knife in deeper! 🙂
Sven kept trying to force the dream into the reality and it never worked. He bought the fancy cars because that was what he was supposed to do, he ate at restaurants because other famous people ate there, but the food wasn’t good. We’re food snobs and we took him to places with really great food–but he always found them wanting because the experience didn’t match his vision of his celebrity cache.
He missed out on the great parts of his success because he kept forcing the really crap ones down our throats.
I am 90% certain that I’ve correctly guessed at Sven’s identity. I did the math based on bands from the NW who made a nationwide splash in the last twelve years or so, as well as Sven’s age, and what I’ve heard about him from other sources, which jibe with what you’ve said here, if I’m right.
But the El Cortez: Nick Belardes mentioned it recently, I think. Anyway, I know it well. The first time I ever went to Vegas, a friend insisted that we go to the El Cortez for all the reasons you mention. I returned there whenever I went to Vegas later. I loved sitting at the roulette wheel, where I would give myself a twenty-dollar roof on spending, and I never exceeded it, even after sitting there for a few hours. Also, I loved the low rollers around me: that was a major part of the appeal. In general, I always greatly preferred old Vegas — downtown Vegas — to the Strip. I guess, in my case, it’s the retro thing; and Vegas is so vulgar that, if you’re going to go vulgar, you might as well go so vulgar that it’s strangely no longer vulgar, if that makes any sense.
It’s hard for me to imagine any indie type not having the same attitude. But, then, Sven didn’t know much about literature or art, yes? Yet I have the strangest feeling that he may have known a fair amount about one of the two.
I don’t mean to cast aspersions on Vegas, incidentally. I feel about Vegas as I feel about L.A.: its seediness is the key to its charm.
You cheeky monkey! I knew someone was going to connect the dots. I should have expected that it was you since we already share so many other strange little segues. Keep your brilliantly mastered conclusions on the DL, you dastardly detective!
It’s probably not hard to figure out–but I’ll never cop.
As to the Vegas seediness–exactly. The charm is the seediness. The Strip is trying to mask the seediness under a glow of white tigers and pirate battles, but Fremont just lets it all hang out. Why didn’t he want to be confronted with it? I have no idea; he was absolutely familiar with grittiness, and god knows people in bands are no stranger to weirdness. It’s like he decided he was above all of that, that he had matured beyond seediness. He was the one who asked us to take them to Fremont; I don’t think the girls cared. But when the little Vegas biddies with their dirty coin gloves replaced the vision of Frank and Dino at the tables, I think he felt cheated.
Well, I don’t know. I know that most of us just lived our lives the way we always did, and it was never enough. His expectations didn’t ever meet the reality, I guess. Pretty sad for such a charmed situation.
Oh, please! just 10 minutes with google, and the right keywords, and you’re in the clear. But I wouldn’t spoil the denouement for $438 CDN.
Only a smart-aleck that doesn’t care about other people blurts out the punchline. And anyway, it’s better that the person is left as an abstraction, an archetype, rather than as a lowly plain old made-of-meat person.
You guys totally figured it out. Barry Manilow is going to send his people after me now. Thanks for nothing!
Quenby, I am loving your writing a bit more every time. I’m glad to hear you are still friends with the once-child-bride. I’ve always wondered about people like Sven. Is there anything that can make them wake up?
In the end they just have to choose humanity over whatever they think their status owes them.
The once-child-bride is one of our nearest and dearest. We rarely speak of Sven, though sometimes, like war buddies, people tell stories. Mostly the people scarred most deeply by him avoid even thinking about him altogether, just like victims of abuse. It was crazy.
My guess was Rod Stewart.
damn your eyes, google!
Smoooooth as silk sox, QB! Uncle Nuthatch is my man, brilliantly described and quoted.
You and the tax-stealer—-classic comedy!
All of this is silk, but I’ll pick out two total pleasers: “She had only one friend with her, another youngster who was as fresh-faced and bright-eyed as a fawn; we looked like wizened, grumpy ogres circling the sacrificial innocents.”
And: ” . . . she’ll hand you your fifty-cent winnings while coughing up tubercular germs on your quarters. Which you’ll promptly go spend on the roulette wheel.”
Thank you, Judy! I love your comments, and I love that you love Uncle Nuthatch. Rodent and Uncle Nuthatch are probably soul-mates and we just don’t know it! Uncle Nuthatch is the man. He’s one of the finest examples of a human being we know.
I like your hand-selected quotes, too. They were such sweet lasses and we were completely over it. Not cynical, quite, but just over it. Been through the wars and all.
A fine juxtaposition with your other quote about tubercular old ladies. Two peas in a pod of contradiction! Awesome.
QB, you darling woman! You credit me with your brain! Could you please write my latest play? I’m just a little tired of my own brain, and yours seems much fizzier. P’raps it’s the 93-degree heat here in Norfolk Va today. My brain sizzles whilst yours fizzes.
Fabulously entertaining as usual Quenby! I could spend a whole night just sitting around reading about your adventures–great stuff, and I love your detached point of view.
I understand names have been changed. But is NUT-HATCH a real name?!
Uncle Nuthatch is the nom de guerre for our friend. That’s actually what we call him sometimes, but no-one would come up to us and say, “Have you seen Uncle Nuthatch around? I’ve been looking for him everywhere.”
And thank you. I’m intrigued that it reads like a detached point of view! I can remember it so well! Most of it anyway. I’m sure there were a couple of points at the roulette wheel which could be a bit more lucid–but it’s Vegas. That’s just the way it has to be in Vegas.
And after I read your piece about Celebrity, I felt a kinship! Seriously hilarious. The googling aspect freaks me out, but I relate on so many levels!
Good for you for sticking around with an asshole like Sven for so long. I have such a low tolerance for people like that. But I guess if you’re honest and don’t pander to his shit, it must be a little satisfying.
I’ve definitely seen his type before. I was only ever in one band – all great guys – but I’ve hung around a few more. There’s usually one asshole from the beginning, and he gets worse with every passing month.
I love that you call her the “child-bride,” too. That’s hilarious.
Good for you for sticking around with an asshole like Sven for so long.
No, it was a part of the deal. Sometimes your boss is crazy; my husband’s life was crazy. What can you do? You just roll with it until you can’t anymore or something blows up. There’s always a guarantee of shit blowing up with people like Sven so it’s always going to be a finite deal. Our was longer than we expected but it blew up, as it always does.
And he had me, the needling pain in the ass to make him grumpy. It wasn’t much, but what the hell? We do what we can.
you make me want to go to the El Cortez. and i hate Vegas.
but i love your piece!
El Cortez is a special sort of horror that I think everyone who wants to understand America needs to visit just once!
This makes me laugh and I can relate to so much of it, but I really can’t comment any further than that.
I’m going to just let my imagination run wild with your coy lack of commentary!
Thanks, it makes me laugh, too. Although at the time–not so much.
Hi Quenby, I loved this it was like a rollercoaster of the band life. It felt Medieval at first and then it got seedier and seedier. I too was in a band. One not famous at all. 35 Summers. http://www.myspace.com/tammyallens I played the Fremont in the 90’s just before they redid it. Chris was our Sven but he was just dillusional. I was a depressed drunk that the bass player usually watched over. They used to lock me in the van. One time in Louisiana the freaking Continentals were playing and I had to be locked in the van. I had also just started Prozac that made me much more insane. I loved being in a band. I loved that connection more than any connection ever. I was a bit of a prima donna when I wasn’t drunk.
This was very entertaining and gave me some great memories. One of my favorite lines is:
“If I lose all this,” he waved his hands over his pile of ten-cent chips, “I’m still ahead!” He had the woozy look of one imbibing ambrosia from Eleusis. “It’s like they’re paying me to drink!”
It’s classic. Thanks.
Wow. Your story sounds EPIC. I love it!
And yeah, I imagine that playing for people is a huge thrill–one of the only reasons people tolerated Sven well past the expiration date. I can understand why you would still look fondly on it.
I love your confessions, too! Drunk and forced to stay in the van? That sounds like classic story-telling to me! Prima donna when you weren’t drunk? TELL ME MORE! Seriously, it’s never too late to start outing your checkered past for the universe to read; look at me!
That line from Uncle Nuthatch might just be one of my all-time favorite moments. I’m glad you like it too.
Thanks for reading and playing along with the craziness!
[…] hangs out with rock stars, or used to. She swears a lot. In creative ways, dang-nabbit. When she wants to find the […]
Wow, this is lovely, Q. I know the type, and I’m always fascinated in how people deal with these folks on the page. I read this greedily, wondering if there was anything I could steal for my own writing. Thanks for the frank look.
NO PROBLEM! Please, steal away. He deserves to be cribbed for fiction.
I’ll say this, though. He didn’t really embrace the rock star ethos as much as the “paternalistic blue blooded snob” ethos, because he was always trying to escape his past. It was really bizarre. We didn’t party like rock stars with him; we ate in totally mediocre restaurants which catered to other people fleeing their roots. He could have eaten anywhere but chose the places guaranteed to be boringly, predictably whatever.
It was like that with everything. Sort of classically nouveau riche.
At the end of the day, you just can’t escape being boring.
[…] QUENBY MOONE rolls the dice at the El Ortiz in Las Vegas. […]
A nice read!
I’ve actually spent the greater part of this day reading your work and have been delighted by everything I’ve read.
…but I’ve known of your talents for quite some time now.
You see you and I and your life partner crossed paths many times back in the day, well, a day anyway.
With the father of your son I toured briefly as a drummer in one of his bands many opening acts. But the band I was in was just happened to be one of your favs at the time which brought you and I together also for a brief period of time.
That all came to a crash over the airwaves on a pirate radio station in Seattle in December of 1995. That’s when you, your partner, and I all sat down and had a nice little conversation about how incredibly fucked up the music industry is.
That was the last time I saw you. Since then I have sailed two-thirds of the way around the globe in a tiny sailing vessel with a woman I met only a few months after that radio interview.
Quenby I always knew you’d be a writer and I’m not in the least surprised you’re a good one. My only real surprise is that it took me this long to find out.
P.S. hit me back at this email address, we got some catching up to do.