***The following story contains adult language which may not be suitable for those under the age of 18 or anyone from New England (note: the author was recently contacted us while serving a tour of duty in Iraq . He was amused that we still had his story on-line, more than a few years later. )***
by Mike Atkinson (a senior majoring in Belligerence, and featured columnist for the Oregon Commentator)
We now return to our story about the Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas Silver Anniversary Tour TM, where our two lunatics are surrendering to Sin City.
The LeBistro Lounge at the Riviera Hotel was the first place we found some legitimate live music, which was a welcome relief. They didn’t have the typical sleazy lounge act-no single-named “artists” crooning Cyndi Lauper covers to a drum machine. They had a real 13-piece band, complete with horns. As we took a table in front of the stage, a sultry diva burst through the rear curtain right in time for the opening verse of “Somebody to Love.” Her Grace Slick impersonation convinced us to stay for a round of 101 proof rum shots. The sparse crowd mildly responded when the song was over, providing plenty of dead time for the band to mull over their next tune. The tenor sax player took this opportunity to noodle around on some pussified Kenny G melody. This did not sit well with the fire in my belly; Lite jazz never does. I had already heard all I could tolerate that summer, at the Mount Hood Jazz Festival. Due to a horrendous misinterpretation of the schedule, I sat through half a set of Earl Klugh while expecting to see McCoy Tyner. I don’t rebound easily from such trauma, so the last thing my being needed was some smart-ass sax player jerkin’ off in my Budweiser. Luckily my Tourette’s syndrome intervened. “Cut that bullshit out!” I booed and heckled him relentlessly. “Sound off like you got a pair! Play some Coltrane, ya pussy! Gimme some goddamn Trane!”
This seemed to be just the kind of crowd energy the band thrived on. Lon Bronson, the emcee, came to the edge of the stage, eager to answer my battle cry. “Ladies and gentlemen, its seems we have a request of sorts. This kind gentleman would like to hear some John Coltrane. Well sir, you’re in luck, because Jay here can play the first two choruses of Trane’s solo on “Giant
“Bullshit!” I chided. I honestly didn’t believe that this guy could pull off one of the hairiest musical feats known to man. I forgot that these sax hacks dedicate their entire lives to that shit. Lon gave the drummer two quick counts, and they tore into “Giant Steps” at breakneck tempo. And darned if Jay didn’t nail that sucker to the wall. When it was finished, he dusted off his suit and mopped his brow as if he had just beaten someone to death. I jumped up and shook his hand for his ballsy effort. In just 32 bars, this guy had redeemed himself from my musical shitlist and established himself as a heavyweight. I turned to berate the stagnant crowd, who only mustered an indifferent smattering of applause for his solo. “Give it up, you shitferbrains putzes! Put your hands together!” The laymen couldn’t appreciate what he had just done-Coltrane’s solo is the musical equivalent of completing an entire decathlon in under one minute.
“Play some Skynyrd!” Austin prodded the band with the next test. Without hesitation, the guitarist broke into the opening riff of “Sweet Home Alabama.” “Turn it up!” They rocked it for all its Southern flavor.
The six-piece horn section put the hammer down on the next number- a balls-out rendition of Tower of Power’s funk anthem “What Is Hip?” Their brazen lines were tighter than Jenna Jameson’s ass. These guys cranked out more power than the Hoover Dam. At the climax of the tune, they gradually snowballed a background lick into a blazing shout chorus that made my soul shiver. I lost control-I sprang out of my chair and tore open my paisley shirt with a primal scream, scattering buttons all over the lounge. Again I razzed the passive audience, and this time they started to respond. People actually joined me in yelling incoherent approval slogans.
I lit up an H.Uppman after “What Is Hip?” I was in full “Cape Fear” mode now. Then Ollie Woodson, lead singer for the Temptations, came from out of nowhere to perform “Soul Man.” I died.
When the band finished their set around 3 a.m., Lon brought me up on stage in recognition of my cheerleading. With my expanding beer gut hanging out of my torn-open shirt, I blew kisses to the now-boisterous crowd with my cigar butt clenched in my molars. As the players packed up their instruments, we introduced ourselves as musicians. “We had you pegged as players the minute you walked in,” joked the baritone sax player, Gordon. “I’m not sure what gave it away first-your taste in requests, or your obnoxious behavior!”
The guys were in a hurry to get to their private post-gig party. Most of them had been playing in Vegas’ top showbands since 8 p.m., so they were eager to get loose. Gordon extended us an invitation, which was a offer we couldn’t refuse. He led us on a back corridor short-cut, around the infernal slot machine/life support systems, past the endless casino, directly to a hotel courtyard where funk and loud voices wafted from a pool-side suite. Two Neanderthal security guards recognized Gordon and waved us in the sliding-glass door. Band members greeted us with belligerent groans. “Who let you fuckers in?” Lon growled. “Naw, you guys are alright. You two were the craziest audience since Chris Farley was here! Make yourselves at home.”
We already were at home. This party was the closest I’d ever seen to utopia. Gordon gave us a tour of the luxurious amenities. The ice-filled bathtub was stocked with Bigfoot Ale and Schlitz. There was also a full no-host bar (which rhymes with “no-holds-barred”), plus a buffet of gourmet hors-d’oeuvres to wash the liquor down. It doesn’t get any better than this,
right? That’s when a troupe of exotic dancers from the “Crazy Girls Cabaret” came sashaying around in Daisy Dukes and bikini tops. After Lon introduced us to “the talent,” I proposed a raucous toast “to sex, drugs and rock and roll.”
“Speaking of drugs…” Gordon said with a mischievous grin as he produced a leather kit bag from his pocket. “Anyone who requests Coltrane and Skynyrd in the same set can toke off my stash any day.” He unveiled a humungous spliff, which he jammed it in my mouth. “have a hit of this shit, kid.”
After a few pulls on the herbal jazz cigarette, my equilibrium called it a night. I was spinning like a dreidel; my vision was a twisted kaleidoscope of blurry strippers and greasy musicians. The curtain was quickly closing on my first night in Vegas, until someone spoon-fed me some “pepsi.” I was instantly rejuvenated; born again hard. Back to the front. I suddenly became the life of the party, clowning and schmoozing with unusual verbosity. I had diarrhea of the mouth, which made me pure comedy. I cracked up the ladies by quoting the movie “Showgirls”: “Ice those nipples, girls. I want perky, perky, PERKY!” I killed the guys with my impersonations of Robert Plant, Joe Cocker and Axl Rose.
As we partied into the night, the players oozed musical wisdom from their collective decades of professional experience. These guys were grizzly studio veterans and show band jocks who had toiled in the shadows of Diana Ross, Doc Severinsen and Sinatra, just to name a few. (Months afterwards, Austin saw Lon and Gordon struttin’ around Vegas with Wayne Newton on some HBO special-these guys are starz!) They were excited to meet two younger musicians who were so curious about their lifestyle. They obliged us with wild stories of their many misadventures in show-biz, such as when the whole band got banned from Reno. I shared the story of my high school jazz band intentionally slaughtering “Hail To The Chief” for President Bush when he spoke at Bob Packwood’s campaign luncheon in 1991.
My recollection of events after the “pepsi” wore off is quite hazy. I remember the first break of daylight inspiring me to go for a swim. I dropped my drawers and ran out to the pool. After throwing a chaise-lounge in the water, I scaled the life guard chair at the deep-end. I pounded my chest and bellowed, “GOOD MORNING LAS VEGAS!” at the top of my lungs before executing a perfect belly-flop. The security guards then kindly told me that the pool didn’t open until 8 a.m.
I returned to the party soaking wet. Nothing could’ve prepared me for the wall of ashen faces that I walked into. The stereo was silent; no one spoke. The tension was so thick you couldn’t have cut it with a Stihl chainsaw. All eyes turned to a man charging toward me holding a coffee pot filled to the brim with a foul yellow brew. This was Fred, the burly ex-Marine who engineered sound for the “Crazy Girlz Cabaret.” I never could’ve guessed Fred’s age if it wasn’t his 50th birthday party. He was still in Boot Camp shape, wound up tighter than a baseball. He appeared to be on DEFCON 1, ready to be called up to kick some Commie ass at a moment’s notice. His chiseled upper-body distorted the star-spangled message printed on his tight
T-shirt: AMERICA-LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT.
Apparently I had slipped into a vegetative state and mistaken Fred’s Krups coffee pot for a bedpan. It was a brand-new birthday gift. Fred was not amused. His jugular vein bulged out of his taut neck. His eyes were as wide as Hulk Hogan’s when it’s payback time. He was in full attack mode. “Take your clothes, and get the fuck out of my room,” he ordered in a demonic, guttural voice. He quaked as he struggled to speak slowly and clearly. It took every ounce of this soldier’s discipline to refrain from tearing my spine out. “Get the fuck out, before I break this on your head,” he barked as he raised the tainted coffee pot above my head. Austin leaped into lawyer mode, stammering off profuse apologies and improvising some explanation of my rare mental illness.
I was shocked and appalled to learn of my debacle. I’ve committed my share of party fouls over the years, but nothing as bad as this. I pleaded to make amends. “Gosh, Fred… I’m really sorry! Tellyawhut, I’ll buy you a new…” “Just get out!” Fred snapped as he pointed to the door. “You are forgotten, but not forgiven.” Funny choice of words coming from a Vietnam Vet.
To be continued…