Good Reading : October 2010
22 goodreading ı OCTOBER 2010 It was November 1971 when Rolling Stone printed those immortal lines. Hunter S Thompson's second full-length work was subtitled 'A savage jour ney to the heart of the American Dream', and you'd have to go a long way to find a more decadent road trip than Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas; this is not Jack Kerouac ter ritory. Commissioned to cover the Mint 400 Desert Race and a narcotics convention, Thompson, as always, took the chance to explore bigger themes. Fear and Loathing is only peripherally about the real Las Vegas. It's more about what the place represents. Thompson's Las Vegas is a seedy ourist pleasure ground, an entire city devoted to greed and excess and an LITERARY LAS VEGAS book city LACHLAN JOBBINS checks out books that chronicle the seedy history and trashy allure of this entertainment and gambling mecca. embodiment of the dashed hopes of the 1960s counterculture. Fear and Loathing is a book worth revisiting -- it changes with repeated reading. But Thompson's gonzo weirdness was only a prelude to what Las Vegas would become. Where else can you get married by an Elvis impersonator in a drive-through wedding chapel, catch a Celine Dion or Bar ry Manilow show for the reception and sleep the night in a giant pyramid? Then wake up to a few rounds of blackjack, do the CSI Experience, and spend the after noon test-firing an AK-47? Writers of all types have been drawn to the bright lights in the desert. Literary Las Vegas is cur rently out of print, but this anthology (edited by Mike Tronnes) is worth hunting down for the breadth of its content: highlights include Tom Wolfe, Noel Coward, Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne. The city was founded in 1905, but it took the nearby Hoover Dam project and the legalisation of gambling in 1931 for it to really take off. Las Vegas became the capital of an increasingly lucrative 'entertainment' industry, attracting gamblers, tourists, perfor mers and mobsters like Benjamin 'Bugsy' Siegel. Check out When the Mob Ran Vegas by Steve Fischer for the grubby details. In the 1950s Sin City reinvented itself as the 'Entertainment Capital of the World' with acts such as Joe E Lewis, Liberace, Frank Sinatra and the rest of the Rat Pack performing there regularly, followed a few years later by Elvis Presley.The iconic 'Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas' sign was erected in 1959. The Fremont Street 'Glitter Gulch' strip was a popular setting for films, some of which -- Ocean's Eleven and Viva Las Vegas -- are like extended tourist promotions. In the late 1960s billionaire recluse Howard Hughes ran his empire from a penthouse on the ninth floor of the Desert Inn. James Ellroy's monumental The Cold Six Thousand features Vegas as the backdrop for much of his 'true' history of the period. 'We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.'