Let­ter From Amer­ica

There was booz­ing, lev­i­ta­tion, cow­boy fan­tasies… oh, and a wed­ding

The Oldie - - CONTENTS - Do­minic Green is a colum­nist at Spec­ta­tor USA do­minic green

‘Now we could live the dream and still be back in time for Elvis’

We were drink­ing long gin and ton­ics at the rooftop bar of the Man­dalay Bay — Amer­i­cans take their gin and tonic like Me­la­nia Trump, tall and icy — and ad­mir­ing the glow­ing sham­bles of Las Ve­gas as the sun set over the desert, when I recog­nised the back­ground mu­sic.

‘Isn’t that you?’ I asked Gary the bass player.

‘It is,’ Gary said. ‘With the Karmin­sky Ex­pe­ri­ence.’ He winced, as if from too much ice. ‘They paid me 50 quid.’

The last time we’d had this con­ver­sa­tion was in the pub near Jay’s stu­dio in Bal­ham. I don’t see enough of the mu­si­cians from my days as a jazz guitarist in Lon­don, now that I’m a writer in Amer­ica.

So when Jay said that he and Rachel were get­ting mar­ried by Elvis in Las Ve­gas, and that the other band mem­bers – Gary, Jay’s brother Dom, and Di­a­mond Geezer – were go­ing to be there, I bought a ticket, picked out my best Fredo Cor­leone out­fit (flow­ery shirt, brown pin­stripe three­piece by Mr Ed­die, wide-banded porkpie hat) and pre­pared for what Dy­lan Thomas’s coro­ner called an ‘in­sult to the brain’.

I flew South­west. There are no frills on South­west, but plenty of rhine­stone and tat­toos, and a re­as­sur­ing sense of safety. In Au­gust 2000, a man fly­ing South­west from Ve­gas to Salt Lake City kicked open the cock­pit door. Eight other pas­sen­gers jumped on him, beat him up, and then throt­tled him to death. That was a year be­fore 9/11. Try that now on South­west, and you’d be beaten, throt­tled and dis­mem­bered, then flushed down the loo.

That sort of thing can also hap­pen on the ground, espe­cially in gam­bling cities. In 1997, the South China Morn­ing Post re­ported that, af­ter guests had com­plained that the toi­lets at the Ho­tel Pres­i­dente in Ma­cau were back­ing up, san­i­ta­tion work­ers re­trieved ‘three nail-var­nished fin­gers, a breast, plus in­testines and other or­gans’ from the ho­tel’s waste pipes.

The line that ‘What hap­pens in Ve­gas stays in Ve­gas’ isn’t strictly true, ei­ther. Lots of peo­ple have been killed there, then driven out­side the city lim­its, to be dumped or buried in the desert.

We were par­a­lytic be­fore the stretch limo took us from the Man­dalay Bay to Cae­sars Palace. Once, we would have gone on stage in that state. Now, we made an ex­hi­bi­tion of our­selves in Sushi Roku, throw­ing back cold pro­tein and hot sake un­til we had reached a con­di­tion of deliri­ous vul­gar­ity. As this was Ve­gas, no one no­ticed. Be­low the win­dows, the Strip stretched away into the black desert. It was like be­ing in a sub­ma­rine.

We went back to an­other bar at the Man­dalay Bay, which was sub­di­vided by pan­els of or­nate, Chi­nese wood­work, each with a port­hole at its cen­tre. Dom’s wife lev­i­tated hor­i­zon­tally over our ta­ble by climb­ing head­first through the port­hole.

Mo­ments like this re­mind me of why I came to Amer­ica. This is the only place where you have a le­gal right to do what­ever you want, and with a clean con­science, too. The pur­suit of hap­pi­ness is not just a phrase in the Con­sti­tu­tion.

The next morn­ing, I felt less like Fredo than Moe Greene af­ter he had been shot in the eye. I found Gary eat­ing the free rib-eye din­ner for break­fast. Nei­ther of us are gam­blers; so the in­ces­sant ping­ing and ring­ing from the thou­sands of slots just made us feel sad. We wan­dered through the for­est of ma­chines, each with an ad­dict chained to its crank.

Our au­di­ence with the King wasn’t till four in the af­ter­noon. A leaflet on the re­cep­tion desk caught my eye: ‘Cow­boy Trail Rides at Bon­nie Springs’. It was fate. A cou­ple of years ear­lier, we had pi­o­neered a new mu­si­cal genre, a fu­sion of funk and coun­try mu­sic called South By South­west. (Gary the bass player and I had done what is known in the busi­ness as ‘bits and pieces’ with the Karmin­sky Ex­pe­ri­ence – two DJS with a vast col­lec­tion of sam­ples.) Now we could live the dream and still be back in time for Elvis.

The ranch had even been used as a movie set, like the Spahn Ranch where Charles Man­son set up his cult. We rounded up Jay and Dom, sad­dled up an olive-green Hum­mer, and drove past half-built sub­di­vi­sions to the wastes of Red Rock Canyon.

It was 100F out­side, and none of the horses had air-con­di­tion­ing. We weren’t dressed for pok­ing longhorn on the Chisholm Trail, ei­ther, but they gave us boots and hel­mets at the ranch. Thorns tore our trousers, the hel­mets poached our brains, and Gary’s ride spooked Dom’s by lean­ing for­ward and bit­ing his tes­ti­cles. We re­turned sad­dle-sore, filthy with red dust, awash with gin-and-sake sweat, and per­haps a lit­tle bit late.

Rachel was wait­ing in the lobby in her white gown as Jay tot­tered in, bow­legged and fixin’ to die from the chaf­ing. She sent him to his room in dis­grace and or­dered us to clean our­selves up.

We got them to the chapel in the end. If you could have bot­tled our Elvis, he would have been Château Pres­ley 1972: white jump­suit with vis­i­ble thong line, jew­elled boxer’s belt, big dark glasses, and just fat enough to look lu­di­crous when, hav­ing pro­nounced them ‘man and wife, ah-huh’, he did a karate kick.

The wed­ding break­fast was a rib-eye din­ner at the Top of the World, on the 106th floor of the Strato­sphere, 800ft above the Strip. The bride was ra­di­ant, and the groom smelt like a horse.

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