Technically, it was the Palace of Auburn Hills, but no one corrected him. No one ever did. For he was Alan Greenspan, he was on tour, and 22,000 eager fans had paid up to $125 apiece to see him, not including the Ticketmaster surcharge. They roared their approval as one. They’d been patient through the opening acts — Alice Rivlin and her trained dogs, Kid Rock, Cokie Roberts’ amusing anecdotes from This Week (her David Brinkley impersonation was uncanny) — but now, the place just went fucking nuts.
Alan let them go on a little while, then finally spoke: “I hope there isn’t any irrational exuberance going on!” That, of course, just set them off again. Looking closely at Alan from the wings, I could see him slump a little. It was clear that, ten cities into a twelve-city tour, the grind was getting to be a bit much. What’s more, this wasn’t even the tour he’d envisioned: He’d wanted to devote this one to acoustic performances, in smaller venues. But the promoters had come to him and patiently explained that he could make much, much more money with another swing through the big showplaces. They calculated the work-to- revenue ratios for everyone involved; they showed him bar graphs that tallied up the difference. The promoters knew their man: Alan had always been a sucker for bar graphs. He sighed, smiled wanly, and announced that he’d do the arena tour. “It seems like the more prudent course,” he said, trying to convince himself as much as anyone else.
Prudent it may have been, but at this point, I couldn’t help but wonder if it had been worth it. Not that I had much time to ponder the question: I had to set off the flash pots. They went off, and while the audience was distracted by the light and smoke, the other roadies quickly lifted the scrim that had hidden the conference-room set; it was all done so seamlessly that it looked like the set had materialized out of thin air.
It’s funny: The conference-room scene was more or less the same as it had been during the past three tours, but the crowd still loved it. Essentially, it consisted of the Fed governors trying to persuade Alan to raise rates, and him gallantly fighting them off. The governors took turns being the heavy in this scene, so as not to prejudice the public against any one of them. We learned our lesson on the ‘97 Tour, when Ed Kelley played the bad guy, night after night; by the end of it, his family was receiving death threats. Tonight, it was Ed Gramlich’s turn; Gramlich was always my favorite, the most natural actor of the bunch. “Mr. Greenspan,” he said in his big moment, “we simply cannot afford to play dice with the nation’s economy.”
“Well, Ed,” Greenspan replied, “I’ve always been a bit of a riverboat gambler.”
It wasn’t even an especially snappy comeback, but the audience always roared at the line. Then they started the chanting, sort of a low rumble, sounding like an enormous collective ‘Moo.’ Obviously, they were trying to replicate the ‘Bruuuuuuuce’ familiar to Springsteen concertgoers, but it was apparent that the crowd was split between ‘Aaaaaalllaaaaaaan’ and ‘Greeeeeeeeenspaaaaaaaan,’ with a few diehards going with ‘Buuuuuuuuuck,’ Greenspan’s lesser-known Phi Psi nickname. Anyway, the diverging chants blended together and didn’t make much sense, but it was the spirit of it that mattered, I supposed.
Surveying the crowd, I could see that it was much the same as always: A thick clot of pinstriped bankers and fund managers near the stage, and, in the distance, individual investors in the cheaper seats. I once pointed out to Alan that it seemed unfair that the small investors, who’d been responsible for much of his popularity, weren’t closer to the stage; I even suggested that we bring a couple of folks from the nosebleed sections and put them in the front row, the way Springsteen does. He fixed me with that stern but patient look of his and said, “It’s a free market economy.” I felt like a fool.
The rest of the evening went according to plan — the conference room scene giving way to a set consisting of a table and a glass of water, as Greenspan defended his policies to the Joint Economic Committee. When he got to the big money line
- “Betting against markets is usually precarious, at best”- a few fund managers threw their underpants onto the stage. The underpants-tossing had begun as a joke a few years back, at a show in Dallas, but it had now become a nightly ritual, one that always discomfited Alan. Then came the medley of Alan’s best- known speeches, with the other governors each getting a solo of their own finest moments.
Then Alan announced that he was going to “slow things down a bit,” pulled out his guitar, and began the four-song set that he’d insisted he be allowed to do every night; tonight, he did “Kentucky Rain,” “Always on My Mind,” “Daydream Believer,” and — a surprise fourth choice — Warren Zevon’s “Accidentally Like a Martyr.” The crowd got restless during the singing — they always did — but I sensed that it was the one part of the show that Alan actually looked forward to, and he didn’t really give a rat’s ass whether the crowd enjoyed it or not. That was Alan.
After that, there came a bit of padding — a performance from Cirque du Soleil, with Alan giving some witty patter about how this acrobat represents interest rates, while that one represents housing starts, etc — and then the big finale, when Alan took questions from the audience. The first question, as always, was “So, are you going to raise rates?”, to which Alan gave the exact same answer he always did: “Yes.” (Pause, wait for gasp.) “Oh, I’m sorry, did you ask about raising rates? I thought you asked if I like Yeats.” Again, not a great line, but the audience howled.
Then came the usual three or four or five additional attempts to weasel the information out of him
- “Should I be buying stocks right now?”; “What would you invest in these days, cyclical or non-cyclical stocks?” and so on, followed by a few softballs on the Latin American economy and, this time, a Detroit specific question about the auto industry. Then, as always, they started asking the weird stuff — “What do you eat for breakfast?” ; “How’s Andrea doing?”; “Can I kiss you?” — before Alan finally thanked them for their time and waved good night. After standing in the wings for about two minutes of applause, he straightened his jacket, smoothed down his tie, and came back for the encore — where he did the usual, a magic trick in which he appeared to levitate his “surprise” special guest Robert Rubin.
Then, finally, Alan was hustled out the back door before the applause even ended. The crowd milled around for a little while, hoping he’d come back for another encore, or maybe they’d catch a glimpse of him grabbing a favorite towel off the stage. And then, the part of the job I liked the best: I cleared my throat, picked up the microphone and spoke into the P.A. system.
“Ladies and gentleman,” I announced. “The Fed chairman has left the building.”
Not very original, I realize, but Alan liked sticking to the script, and who was I to argue? I was a mere roadie, and I would have followed him anywhere.