We fly in – and the pilot and crew keep warning that it’s 115 degrees or hotter even. We’re landing around 6pm Friday night. (We’re flying out Monday morning – so we’re on the Vegas Weekend Party Flights essentially). We’ve been to Las Vegas before. Nuttiest damn place I’ve ever been.
This town – in the middle of a desert, in the middle of nowhere – just arrives. You fly and fly over hot, dead, flat land. Next thing there’s a rollercoaster and some towers – a TRUMP one, even – and flashing lights and no sense of real time or any perspective. It’s just Vegas. It’s just always like this. Whatever it’s like…
The town seems to run at a loss as a business card to promote tourism – to entice people to visit and spend money to contribute to the loss that acts as the business card to promote tourism. There’s some circular logic, or lack of. I dunno. But we fucking loved this mad place last time. And we’re pretty sure we’re gonna love it again. We have good friends that live here. And we meet more each time. And – by fluke/coincidence, a visiting friend from New Zealand is over there at the same time to have her 40th. So we’re joining in on those celebrations too.
First things first: I have a Paul Williams concert to get to. There isn’t even time to dump the bags at the room for me. I have to leave Katy and Oscar to do that and I’m off to the South Point Casino’s Showroom to see the gig. I arrive just in time. Walk in, get a drink, park up at the balcony seat, have a quick chat with the couple sharing the table. They’re asking where else I’m going. I say I’m taking my son to Disneyland. The woman, whose name I never catch, says, “Oh, Ron designed some of the rides and worked there a while in maintenance”. I ask him if he gets free tickets for life. “Far from it”, he says. “He SHOULD!” his wife decides vehemently. Turns out Ron made the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. And they saw a radio showcase that featured one song with Paul Williams and snapped up tickets after for this show. They’re excited.
I’m at the show with my friend Matt Couper. He’s an artist and you should check out his work by clicking on his name there and going to his site – he’s also been a guest on the Sweetman Podcast, so you can listen to the episode for some more background. Matt’s my oldest friend in fact, we met at kindergarten. We went right through school together – we’ve been in touch our whole lives, and he’s been living in Vegas the last half-dozen years, the reason for our previous visit.
So Matt’s my tour guide for the weekend. And a great host he is too. We knew that from last time. We trust him – his friends we meet are great, any place he suggests is worth seeing…and there’s always plenty to catch up on, seeing his work, talking about his projects…
Paul Williams isn’t great, but it’s also sorta wonderful (full review is up above there in the link). It was just great to be in a Vegas showroom, being Vegas-entertained. Playboy bunnies, minus the cottontails and ears, walk drinks to tables. And if you thought that wouldn’t – or shouldn’t – fly in this day and age. Guess again cos: Vegas Baby…Vegas.
After the show we line up with the fans. Some have 10 or 12 records to be signed, others just want a photo. There was a woman from the front row, we saw her all shaky-limbed when Williams was doing the soft handshake thing during the show. She had a crazed-fan look in her eyes. We decided to manufacture a photo-bomb moment, and of course had to crouch down pretty low to make it happen.
Then, when Williams finished shaking hands and fake-smiling for photos the woman, punch-drunk and heaved over in a slot machine, yelled out, “I LOVE YOU PAUL!” She was breathing through the mouth. I have to assume we’re talking very moist palms too. She got up to wander off and her legs nearly buckled – with the weight of all she had experienced. We worried that if she keeled over then and there up to a dozen cats would go without food that night. And maybe longer.
Off down the Vegas Strip to rescue Oscar from a late dinner party and to get him home to bed. The place is so baffling. Everyone there to escape some version of themselves, to swap it out – temporarily – for some other version…
Katy and I are ships in the night in Vegas. Ships passing at 6.30am or 2am or 3pm or whenever it fucking is. Ride on the white lines and just make sure one of us has the kid.
We spot a sign offering a free Robby Krieger Band gig so that’s part of the next night’s plan. And shit it’s a good gig. Like really – really – good. All Doors songs. And Robby sounds amazing and his band is very good and the material holds up of course. A real treat. We’re in Downtown Vegas. Freemont Street. The old Vegas, as I think of it. The town the Rat Pack built. It’s a lot more fun than The Strip. The Strip is filled with meatheads. Some sort of Cubicle Worker’s Spring Break. I worry I’m the only one that’s packed more than one book on a trip to Vegas.
We start off in a bar called Atomic – a classic dive bar, open all hours, killer old juke-box in the corner, signs on the wall from when this was the place where atomic bomb testing was carried out. A different type of fallout plagues this space now. We meet Sean and Liz and Mike. Good, good people. Mike asks Liz if she can drive him home to score some weed for everyone. She says no, not tonight. He replies, “We could have been heroes, Liz!” They’re from Chicago originally. Everyone in Las Vegas is from somewhere else. Originally. Well, I meet a couple of born and breds. They’re no weirder for staying there than anyone is for choosing to live there by the way. It’s just one of those places where people seem to end up by fluke or mistake. But since they’ve landed on their feet they kick on, keep going.
Later in the night I meet another Mike, a guy I’ve known on Facebook for a few years. A fellow writer. We swap a few war stories and get to know each other a little better than Facebook allows. You think you know someone well from social media, and then one 90-minute conversation in the real replaces and enhances all that bit-by-bit Tetris-block moving that’s been carried over so many years as you ascertain and show off tastes and trends, the by-product of shovelling data at whoever wants to sell you things: which is everyone.
Breakfasts are fried and nearly everything is burgers and sandwiches and you can drink anything anywhere at any time. And so you see people walking around aimlessly with giant shoes or plastic guitars filled with liquor. You see people all stumbling one after the other through malls that link on to other malls and that all have the aim of rabbit-warrening you back to the slots, to give back to the town that has given you so much all at a giant loss to and for itself.
We’ve got Blue Man Group tickets for the last night – and it’s good, really good – I saw the show (a slightly different show in a different casino) on my first visit to Vegas four years earlier. There’s something very wonderful about the Pure Entertainment Madness of Blue Man Group’s show. Normally to describe something as being utterly and completely without nuance might seem negative. Not here. Blue Man Group is full-noise fun. And it wins you over. Wins anyone over. You go in cynical – you leave a fan of the spectacle. Baffled and elated.
And that’s Vegas I guess – baffling and elating. Three gigs in three nights, a few walking tours of anyone else’s attempt to get rich quick, to rid themselves of a year’s saved spare-change; the zombie-stroll of people so sure they can finally be anyone right here, right now, so they settle for being no one, in a version of Nowhere or just some other version of themselves. The version they could always be anywhere else anyway.
The What Goes On Tour ethos is strong here. And strange here. Because time is out the window and walking anywhere out from under the air-con is to step into a heat curtain. It’s very much head in the oven stuff. Vegas Baby! Vegas…
A giant façade. Built on dreams. Now housing so many failed ones.
I’ll be back. I don’t gamble. Don’t drink all that much. No drugs. Am not even tempted to use up spare coins in a slotty. But I’ll be back. I don’t fit the model at all. But still I’m baffled and elated. Baffled and elated. Fucking strangest place I’ve been.
We’re off early on the plane to L.A. first thing Monday morning. We’ve squeezed in a lot, including visits to the most disgusting monuments to (and for) consumerism: A two-storey shop dedicated to Hershey’s product/s, and four fucking floors devoted to M&Ms candy and toys. I felt sick inside those places. It was horrifying watching people buying up a chunk of each store.
You can’t avoid the heat. You’re always in this weird and wonderful kitchen. But you also get the feeling that everyone (and everything?) is temporary/temporarily in Vegas. The couple of locals I spoke to, the born and breds, are sure it’s time for them to leave. Whether they will or not is anyone’s guess. That’s also fitting for anything and everything and everyone in and around Vegas. Why they or the place is there – arriving out of nowhere in the middle of a giant, searing desert – is anyone’s guess. But while we are there and while it is there we are won over, fans of the spectacle. That’s all Vegas needs of course to survive. The house always wins.
To read Tour Diary # 1 – The Streets of San Francisco click here
To read Tour Diary # 2 – A Great Day To Turn 40, No Poo at The Zoo…click here
To read Tour Diary # 3 – Past The Mission – I Don’t Believe I Went Too Far…click here
To read Tour Diary # 4 – We Hardly Even Seattle But I Like It click here