Elton John singing Candle in the Wind at this 200th concert in Vegas
Most people I know who haven’t been to Vegas have little desire to experience it. They have no connection to
the place. They see it as crass and glitzy.
But for me, Vegas means a lot. It holds 30 years of memories — of family, love and loss.
My first time was with the father of my daughters just before we married in
1975. I was smitten — with Vegas.
We never left the Tropicana: the food was free or close to it, the orange juice freshly squeezed, the lox abundant and succulent. It was my first encounter with the starry
glitter and tinkle of the slots. Not that I’m a gambler, but I’ve always liked the nickel machines.
My mother lived in Vegas for ten years. She moved there to be closer to Paul
Anka. Once at a show we saw together, he asked her to dance, recognizing her
from her many fan letters. She still has his autographed pictures on her walls:
“To Eva, Love Paul.”
On the Strip: Flamingo Hotel bathers
On my visits during those years, Mom and I would sit for hours in the piano bar
at one of the Strip’s cheaper hotels and watch Angelo, the singer-piano man, belt out our requests — hers being Nat King Cole and Paul, and mine, Elton John.
My sister Melanie moved to Vegas to live with my mother. Melanie had a tough
life and in Vegas she felt like a somebody. She loved the Strip, the slots, the
lights, the free drinks, the buffets, the music — and most of all, Neil Diamond.
Melanie died in Vegas in December 2000. She was 48. Her funeral was in a room at
her favorite hotel, the famous Golden Nugget.
I remember walking along the Strip the day of the funeral, having come from
Melanie’s apartment carrying our grandmother Molly’s wine glasses wrapped in our grandmother Laura’s embroidered tablecloth.
Melanie had no children, just a dog. I remember taking her aging Pekinese to
have him put to sleep. She would have hated me for that, but I just couldn’t take him on.
On this trip, I see Melanie everywhere.
I’ve come to Vegas to visit my daughters and accompany my husband on business. I
am staying at the Hilton Star Trek, just off the Strip. Gone are the days when
you could stay at the Aladdin or the Hilton Flamingo for $17 a night. These
rooms cost $160. Alas, the laid back Aladdin was blown up to make room for a
glitzier hotel, which is the fate of most Vegas hotels.
The slots have changed. Now you slide your bills in and if you win, the coins
don’t come pouring out. I miss that sound. Now it’s a fake jingling and you get a slip you can exchange in another machine. The
drinks at the slots are still free and are they ever strong! They still do
everything to get you to gamble.
There are no bookstores in sight. And I’m the only one this morning at the Hilton Buffet with a laptop. People are
looking at me like I’m weird.
The buffets are still good and plentiful, but prices are up. Today’s brunch is $14. It’s a better deal than the restaurants; the fresh fruit grown in California, just two hours away, is divine.
They now have penny slots in every hotel but the thing is you have to bet at
least 25 cents if you’re going to win more than a few pennies. I still love to watch the high rollers
bet $25,000 a shot. But I don’t dare try my hand at Black Jack anymore.
Now for my jackpot! Amy, Molly and I took in the Elton John show at Caesars.
Tickets start at $100 and peak at $250. We opted for $115 in the first row of
the second balcony. We all agreed the concert was the best we had ever seen. I
cried every second song, seeing 40 years of my life and Elton’s career pass before me in a flash, watching the big screen images of the
sixties, reveling in the memories and the present. Holding my daughters’ hands and swaying back and forth, we waved the black and red boas we had been
given in the lobby to celebrate Elton’s 200th concert in Vegas.
What a show! The stage was an ever-evolving magical place with massive inflated
breasts, red roses, a lipstick and other overtly playful phallic parts. I was
thrown back to the days when sex was less serious and more innocent. I cried
during Candle in the Wind, Rocket Man, and most of all, when he sang his finale — Your Song, in honour of his two bodyguards who had just tied the knot in California! I
laughed when he lovingly referred to Celine Dion as “that skinny bitch” who never has to worry about her weight as he does.
Amy, Mom, and Molly in our boas after the concert, taken from Amy's iPhone
He looked just lovely to me in his longish appliquéd jacket and the glasses, more muted than I remember – the whole Elton aging gracefully into a less raucous show-off, his virtuoso
piano playing more beautiful than ever, his voice strong and robust, having
lost none of its sexy, smooth tone. My girls and I knew all the words,
sometimes singing along. This is the sign of a star — to last more than two generations.
Molly and I walked over to the Riviera in the heat and were blessed with a
stunning rendition of Your Song by a house crooner, the talented and friendly Mark.
To cap off our stay, we saw Menopause — the Musical, a zany slapstick look at “the change” through the eyes of four icons of “our age” — the professional woman, the fading soap star, the Earth Mother, and the Iowa
housewife. The songs are takeoffs of tunes from the 60s and 70s, with themes ranging from the ever-present hot flashes to ever-present need for
food to the ever-present need for sex from hubby. The best performance of the
show was a very risqué dance rendition of My Guy sung to a huge red vibrator. (I just can’t bring myself to use the D-word).
All of us who have gone through the change were invited onstage to do an aging
can-can and receive buttons: I’ve changed.
I don’t have much change left as I leave this town. If you go to Vegas, I recommend
staying on the Strip. You can take the monorail (at $11 a day) to get around
but you’ll still have some walking to do. It’s much more expensive, more crowded, less accessible, and you get a lot less “bang for your buck.”
Vegas has changed — a lot since 1975! Little is free in this town. It’s not the easygoing place I fell in love with 30 years ago. Yet, all in all it
was a slice. Thanks Elton for playing my songs!
So, everyone, get off your high horses and live a little. You won’t find high culture here, but it’s a breath of not-so-fresh air in the city that never sleeps.
Elton John plays the Champlain Valley Fair in Vermont July 21.
Labels: Barbara, Music, Travel