Saturday, December 17, 2005

See Changes

Since the last post, I have sold or given away about half of my worldly goods, thrown a giant farewell party for myself and my house, moved out of that house, and driven a third of the way across these United States. Lordy Zim, Lordy Zim, where have you been? I've been to Las Vegas, to take in the scene conjured up by my esteemed former neighbor and great talent Johnny Coppola, who brought his latter-day rat pack stylings to the Riviera for two nights.

I hadn't been to Sin City in 15 or more years. Everything seemed so alien. Wandering through a dozen or so casinos I observed that in the low-rent venues, a thin layer of pop music floats above the bleeps and chirps of thousands of slots and other fund-removal devices, laying a cheesy veneer atop the entire desperate gestalt. In higher-end casinos, however, an invigorating sonic tapestry underlays all the other noise. It lacks melody and percussion, beginning and end, but it envelopes all the bleeps and bloops into a comprehensive New Age-y soundscape of endless hope and irresolution. Brian Eno wrote "Music for Airports" to calm travelers for the possibility of death, so "Ambient Music 7: Music for Casinos" readies gamblers for the likelihood of total loss. It makes the world seem manageable and fun, full of hope and promise, even as cherries line up with pears and bananas into a fruitless salad.

That's what I thought when we first walked through the Paris. I was convinced that the music was a highly refined psychological tool invented in labs and perfected in focus groups. But today, when I heard virtually the same sounds at Mandalay Bay, I listened more carefully and decided that there is no music programming -- that the complicated, sophisticated sound is just the cumulative effect of millions of bleeps and bloops, all somehow bleeping and blooping in key, like an exponential expansion on windchimes. And someone recognized that a pop soundtrack doesn't really add anything to the experience.

Of course, I'm probably wrong.

Speaking of pop music in Las Vegas, both Elton John and Celine Dion have their own retail outlets in the hotel where they perform. The very young woman behind the counter of Mr. John's store said that no, she's never seen him in the store and they do not sell toupees, but yes, they do sell sunglasses, and many people do ask why such a wide variety of items proclaim "The Bitch Is Back." Folks just don't remember that 1974 song. By contrast, Ms. Dion's store looked like a cosmetics counter.

And here's a funny little snapshot that sums it all up:


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