Defying Gravity

The ad shows Sheena Easton in a tailored two-button suit. She is sans blouse. She is wearing one of those Victoria’s Secret support bras. Presumably, back in her heyday, the bra would have been superfluous. Time and gravity have their effect. On the next page there’s a photo of Dennis DeYoung, once of Styx, who has been heard of late in the VW “Mr. Roboto” commercial. The ad is black and white. Perhaps this is done for purposes of being kind to this paunchy crooner. Yet the fact that his hair is white makes the color choice not particularly flattering. The kiosk display in the lobby announces the Scorpions, Deep Purple, and special guest Dio. Another is for ZZ Top. The billboard shows Rick Springfield in “EFX.” And lest this seem as though this is only a case of stale Wonder Bread, there are signs for bands including The Who.

Yes. Las Vegas. When I caught a shuttle from the airport to the Strip, I was directed to the van by a man resembling the old Elvis. He was wearing a golf shirt and Sans-a-Belt slacks. I didn’t know whether it would be appropriate to comment on his excellently eerie appearance: “Gee, you look just like the image on the rows and rows of slot machines.”

The city is clearly an Entertainment Zone, one that transcends the exaggerated creations found in William Gibson or Jean Baudrillard. The facade is promise. Gravity is the enemy. Gravity in terms of seriousness. Gravity in terms of the universal force that drags us into heat death. Entropy.


The tables are surrounded by young men with dark, cheesy mustaches. Behind them stand their raven-haired girlfriends with sparkle-filled makeup and dresses two sizes too small. The tables are surrounded by dazed-eyed convention attendees from Topeka and Toledo, giddy with the comped bottles of Bud. The slots are peopled by retirees with gimmie caps and oxygen tanks. By waitresses with hellish jobs, hoping for a break better than the alimony they’re not getting.


The question: What happens to an old act? Do the Boomers who are frequenting the gambling arenas (Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. . .) want to see their images of youth—freshness, vitality—replaced by the time-ravaged memories of these performers? Sure, we all age. The sustained popularity of, say, Jim Morrison or Kurt Cobain, is largely predicated by their dying young. We capture their images. They will never age. And as we relate to them, we have not aged, either. Strength retained after exhaustion.

(One of the problems faced by the Elvis Industry is that he was seen post-prime, so there is always the young Elvis undercut by the amphetamine-gobbling.)


Even with every light turned on in my room at the Aladdin, it seems sepia-colored inside. Even though the Desert Passage Shopping Mall—all 500,000-square feet of it—sells jewels, Hugo Boss, Faberge eggs, Tumi baggage, etc., there is no bookstore. You probably aren’t meant to read in brown rooms. Outside my window I can see—and hear—the labor of a clever entrepreneur, who offers helicopter rides over the strip. But the perspective would be all wrong. The edifices that line the strip are meant to be looked up at, to put you in your proper perspective.

Where else would an impersonator be a favorite?


It’s not that I begrudge these people their livelihood, nor do I want to keep the people who find them entertaining to be entertained. It just seems rather odd to see that performers who have (mainly) disappeared from the ordinary world have this huge presence. Presumably, if Sheena Easton were to play Detroit there might be a small ad in the entertainment section of the Sunday paper, her visage (and cleavage) wouldn’t be on taxi-mounted signboards. Billboards wouldn’t be erected in Chicago announcing the Scorps and ‘ Purple back together again for the first time in almost as many years as the people arriving in cabs at the Aladdin at 4:45 am on a Saturday morning have been alive.

Where else would an impersonator be a favorite?

8 thoughts on “Defying Gravity”

  1. Vegas. I’ve never been there and am a little nervous to ever go. Sounds freaky. Even worse than it used to be because it’s now catering to families. Let’s get back to sin and everyone will feel more comfortable.

  2. There are lots of themed resturants, hotels, etc. Lots of family packages too. I have relatives who go out there with kids and all that. Sounds creepy to me.

  3. One of the more pathetic things is to see the people who are pushing strollers through the smoke-filled (Smokeaters working overtime) casinos, which is necessary to get from the check-in desk to the room elevators. I wonder how many kids are locked in the hotel rooms while Dad and Sis–er, Mom–are on the floor all night, playing Carribean stud poker.The major hotel/casinos have Disney-like spectacles out front, like pirate ships that shoot at one another or mega-scale “dancing” fountains. New York New York has a roller coaster; The Venetian has gondola rides; Caesar’s has an in-door light and sound spectacle. All of this is nothing compared with those machines that cry “Feed me” like that MiracleGro plant in “The Little Shop of Horrors.”

  4. I’ve never been to vegas either. I think I would probably hate it, but there is something that seems kind of intriguing about the place, kind of surreal, absurd (in the existential sense)…

  5. To be is to bet. . .Not-being is not-betting. . .(taken from *Being & Bettingness*, a little-known volume from Jean-Paul (aka “Jacks or Better”) Satre)

  6. Vegas never goes away, but in a period of renewed escapism in America, its the paradise of surreality, and middle America is bound to flock. If you’ve never been, you’ve gotta go, at least once, if only for the benefit of the how much less you’ll take for granted the simple things, like the smell of grass, buildings made of wood, and women made of flesh and bone, instead of collagen and silicone.

  7. Vegas, like most of the rest of what’s cool here in America, has been blown up into to a grotesque version of what it once was. Too much of a good thing…The most depressing thing about Vegas is how it splays out the worst of our culture without the veneer of appropriateness that clouds our daily lives back in the real world.

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